Escapism Leeds: Meet the managing director of the bar group behind Call Lane Social, Mean Eyed Cat and Verve
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Helping to oversee the company’s expansion is Escapism’s manager director Grant Dexter, who started working in bars as a glass collector when he was just 15. Originally from Newcastle, he swapped one party city for another and moved to Leeds around seven years ago, joining Escapism just before the first lockdown.
Grant told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “Over the past few years the support has been phenomenal. Joining just before Covid was a strange experience for me.
"When we reopened, we reopened with new cocktail menus, different service styles and quick order and pay apps. Because of that, I think people saw that Escapism was there to support them through that time and give them the same experience we offered before.”
Despite the challenges, the business grew quickly after the pandemic and has held on to growth of almost 30% year on year. Escapism has recently opened bars in Liverpool and Manchester and plans to open two sites each year for the next four years.
While growing the seven existing brands - Mean Eyed Cat (formerly Reform), Verve, Call Lane Social, Tiki Hideaway, Cuckoo, Brooklyn and the Maven - outside of Leeds is the priority, Grant didn’t rule out opening another bar in Leeds if the right opportunity came about.
He added: “The venues are built in the way they are, with different themes, to allow somebody to escape.
“Somebody can walk into Tiki Hideaway and completely forget what’s going on outside, be mesmerised by the brand, let loose and enjoy themselves, escape from everyday life.
“With the original seven brands being in Leeds, it was really important to have different, unique factors to each of the bars, especially with five of them being on Call Lane. Phil is the creative mind of the business and he’s dreamt up everything from the craziness of Cuckoo to the Tiki Hideaway.
“It’s important for people to be able to visit each of the venues and have a different experience, escaping in different ways.
"We’re exactly in the middle of a bar and a nightclub. Early on it’s a bar with music and great drinks and cocktails, then later on it transitions into that party.”
While he’s no longer on the ground every day, Grant said he loves hearing from his teams - and the company has invested money into learning and development programmes for its staff since the pandemic.
Grant said: “Working in the industry from a young age, I was able to be in a bar or club when I shouldn’t have and get to experience nightlife. I’ve never fallen out of love with the customer experience, and trying to create a great experience for everybody who walks through the door.
“Even though now I’m not in the bars all the time, I love chatting to the team and popping my head in - hearing from them gets me really excited about what we’re doing as a company.”