Food & Drink

Published: July 25, 2022 | Updated: July 26, 2022

Dave calls time on his 100% alcohol-free bar but it’s a change of tack rather than last orders

Dave Tonkes, Owner, Sobar in Ashley Cross, Poole. Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Dave Tonkes is calling time on his 100 per cent alcohol-free bar.

The businessman conceded his ‘baby’ may have been ahead of its time.

But it’s far from ‘last orders’ for Sobar – a variation on ‘sober’ – which opened in a blaze of publicity just over five months ago.

Instead, the South’s first independent alcohol-free bar and coffee shop in Ashley Cross, Poole, is changing direction.

Subject to approval from the licensing authority, the bar will have a small amount of alcohol available when it reopens next month after a three-week break.

Sobar has also teamed up with a local plant-based restaurant and will offer a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Saturday.

In the meantime, the coffee shop, which has built up a loyal clientele, will remain open from 9am to 1pm, Tuesday to Saturday, until the beginning of August.

Dave, who sunk upwards of £75,000 into the venture, said: “The current format of the bar isn’t financially sustainable.

“I’ve put my heart, soul, energy, focus and personal resources into getting this project off the ground for the last 12 months.

“But I simply cannot afford to keep it going in its current format as a 100 per cent alcohol-free bar.

“There are exciting times ahead, though.

“Subject to approval from the licensing authority, a small amount of alcohol will be available for those that do like an alcoholic drink.

“The focus will remain on providing a safe and fun alcohol-free space, with a 75 per cent alcohol free/25 per cent alcohol split.

“This will still be the largest alcohol-free offering in the area and certainly won’t encourage an alcohol-fuelled environment.

“This is an absolute necessity in order to be able to continue offering a fantastic range of alcohol-free drink options.

“It also offers a fantastic alternative, not available in other bars, to couples, friends and groups where there is a mix of drinkers and non-drinkers.

“Everyone will be able to enjoy a drink of their choice rather than cheap nasty alternatives, fruit juice or lime and soda

“I’m really excited about the future plans.”

Speaking to Dorset Biz News, Dave, 52, said: “I think it’s a little bit like plant-based food was five years ago – we were slightly ahead of our time.

“All businesses have to evolve and sometimes initial ideas have to change.

“I’m still upbeat about it, in fact even more so.

“There is a market for what we’re offering but not as big as initially thought.

“I’m not against alcohol and, hopefully, this new arrangement will allow us to keep a foot in both camps.

“We’ll still be offering a nice chilled space where people can have a good time.”

Dave, a father of three, has spent 32 years in the financial services industry including the last 11 running his own consultancy, Complianz.

But the ‘pipe dream’ of owning a bar had always been in the back of his mind.

He ran the bar at East Dorset Tennis Club on a voluntary basis for six years, and then privately for a further four.

Dave stopped drinking alcohol in March 2021 after what he described as “a long and very unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”

Since opening Sobar on February 18 he’s worked 60 to 70 hour weeks on top of his compliance work.

Dave said: “I’ve had no staff so been doing absolutely everything from the coffee shop, bar, the limited food on offer, cleaning – the whole lot.

“I feel mentally and physically shattered and will be taking a short holiday.

“But I have no regrets.

“It’s been a massive learning curve but I’m proud of the space that’s been created.

“The business has also washed its face, covering the rent, electricity and other bills.

“However, it’s good to take a step back and look at things differently.

“The collaboration with the plant-based restaurant is going to be a good thing.

“I’m really excited about the future plans.”