Ben Shearn is a trailblazer in the hospitality sector in Plymouth. He has designed, project managed and opened many venues within the city including bars, restaurants, pubs and cafes. He has been a serving board director of Plymouth Waterfront Partnership since its fruition, a Trustee of Jeremiahs Journey, Member of the Plymouth Area Business Council and was Chairman of the Association of Barbican Businesses for 11 years.
In the last 30+ years he is credited for shaping the cultural and social landscape of Plymouth and the Barbican. In an interview with Bracken Jelier he reflects on turning 50 as his business, The Treasury Bar, celebrates 20 years.
Turning 50 is slightly daunting! It does mean I’m looking back reflecting on 50 years, which is hard to… I genuinely struggle to imagine myself at 50. I believe every decade you are evolving. And I think we as human beings are still evolving and I think we change, or certainly a lot of people change quite dramatically decade by decade.
The Treasury business has evolved with me as a person. When I had my first child, then it was the first time we ever had baby changing facilities. And then as they got older, I then introduced a children’s menu. Whereas we didn’t have that before. I always thought it’s nice to have places that are for adults without children. So yes, it’s evolved much like I feel like I have as well.
The geographical position of Plymouth is what means the most to me. So close to the moors, so close to the sea, coastal villages of Cornwall, the coastal villages of Devon. I think that, geographically, is the most appealing and the thing that keeps me in Plymouth. It’s a great city, there’s some great architecture in the city, fabulous conservation areas in the city. But yeah, geographically is what I think really stands out about Plymouth. The Hoe and the Plymouth Sound in particular. If you ever need inspiration, I think vista is a wonderful thing. So a walk on Plymouth Hoe looking out. The vista at Plymouth Sound, I think it can convey uplifting and inspiration.
I think the Marine Park is the future of Plymouth. I think that really will… With the support the government and the lottery, etc put Plymouth Marine Park on the map. I think that’s where Plymouth will really come into its own. And I think all the resources they can find should be channeled into promoting that.
I was brought up in Cornwall, but went to school in Plymouth, so that’s where my sort of love of Plymouth came from. I’ve still got the circle of friends. And after leaving school, after A levels, I went to work for Sainsbury’s head office in the management training scheme, which was mainly management graduates only, but they’ve made some allowances and I squeezed myself in there, I believe, back then with two and a half thousand applicants and 25 jobs. And then when you actually get a position in a store when you start and realise you can’t even move a can of beans to the left without having a memo from head office. So I’ve found that quite disappointing. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to sort of show an innovative entrepreneurial spirit. And so it seems they offered me a place and I was like, “Thank you very much, but no, here’s my resignation.”
And then came back down to Plymouth very quickly and opened a sandwich and coffee bar, which I’d witnessed a lot in London. And so yeah, wanted to do that. And the idea was just to start it up and sell it on the go traveling. And then I think it was six years later, I had two or three of them that were Bites sandwich bars around the city and it was just too good and I was enjoying it too much to actually do the traveling thing. And then it grew out that.
One business rolled into another and morphed into another until the collection of keys got bigger. And then that escalated into finding the Treasury, which was very old dilapidated building at the time, wanting to create a bar environment where you could go in and eat at lunchtime, have a coffee, have a drink in the afternoon, but stay till one or two in the morning listening to cool DJs.
And that wasn’t happening down in Plymouth. It was very much the 11 o’clock pub closure and then the nightclubs would open after that. So it was very much a first too and a bit of a coup to start the Treasury as it was back 20 years ago.
I’m proud of some of the trailblazing. I believe that myself and my teams over the years have forged forward. So going right back to introducing the first sandwich takeaway and the first coffee bar takeaway, and I recall having to educate people what the difference between a cappuccino and an espresso was. So, yeah, proud of that. But again, my life choices of being a self-employed entrepreneur have allowed me to play with different businesses, different ideas. And it’s been good to me from that point of view. And some of them worked, thankfully, would’ve helped and paid for some of the others that haven’t worked. But as a whole, they’ve all been pretty decent and looked after me really.