When Tiny Rebel announced it was closing its city centre bar in Newport last week even owners Brad Cummings and Gazz (Gareth) Williams were surprised by the response. Minutes after the brother-in-laws endorsed a post which described their home city as “slowly imploding”, national and regional newspapers had picked it up and messages were pouring in.

Not all of those messages have been positive. Their stinging parting statement had touched such a nerve with the city council that it felt compelled to hit back with its own opinion accusing the company of not asking for funding support. Some suggested the company, the biggest independent brewery business in Wales, did not really care about Newport. One posted: “There’s a clear difference between people who actually go out in Newport and can see there’s good stuff happening and the people sat at home moaning everything is s***.”

There is important context. Newport city centre, long described by many as not having had enough investment or care in recent years from government, has seen a bit of a revival. The £6m refurb of the market brings hundreds through its doors at a weekend, while new venues have been opening in the city, including at the old Corn Exchange, transformed into a music and meeting venue, which opened last week. Efforts to bring Chinese new year to the city made for a bustling weekend after an extremely successful food festival.

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Large beer containers emblazoned with the recognisable Tiny Rebel artistic brand logos outside their brewery base at Wern Industrial Estate, Rogerstone
Tiny Rebel became Wales' largest brewery business with a multi-million pound turnover
Tiny Rebel's brewery base at Wern Industrial Estate, Rogerstone. It's a large building, unmistakably Tiny Rebel with the artsy writing scrawled across its front. There is a seating area at its front and it is gated off
Tiny Rebel's brewery base at Wern Industrial Estate, Rogerstone

Had Tiny Rebel packed up and made their statement this time last year, they probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much stick. Even so, for the council to respond with its own public statement published on its website was an unusual move. It couldn’t have such a big player departing with such a damning indictment without defending itself. For the latest Newport news, sign up to our newsletter here

“The council is disappointed the company has decided to close its High Street venue without contacting the council to discuss its situation,” it wrote on its website hours after Tiny Rebel’s announcement. “The council, along with the Welsh Government, has been supporting the hospitality sector with a business rates reduction scheme and that will continue next year. A range of businesses have benefited from these schemes which can provide up to 100% rate relief. We do not recognise the description given of the city centre and believe High Street to be busier now than it has been for several years.”

At Tiny Rebel’s Rogerstone brewery and taproom at Wern Industrial Estate, which will house one of its now two remaining bars - the other is in Cardiff - Brad tells me he stands by every word of the company’s statement. On top of well-documented issues affecting the pub and brewery industry, he thought they’d been let down by a lack of support for their Newport centre venue which was attracting its fair share of visitors.

The company turns over £17m a year and it wasn’t a venue they were relying on for trade. In fact they were making a not insignificant loss on the bar. Brad said they decided they had to make a ruthless decision in order to protect the success the business has worked hard for, and he felt there were too many hurdles to overcome to get the bar back on track. Five members of staff will take jobs elsewhere in the business and 14 people have lost their jobs. He says Tiny Rebel brought in recruitment and CV specialists to help affected staff find their next job.

Even recognising the backdrop of more than a thousand pubs closing across the UK in the last year, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, that one of Wales’ biggest powerhouses within the industry feels it is best to close a venue is alarming. It comes in the same week another Newport bar - Bar Amber - closed permanently and withdrew its social media page with little notice, and Sam Dabb - owner of community and grassroots music space Le Pub, also a popular bar on Newport High Street - told BBC Radio 5 Live her job had become “impossible”.

“There’s a lack of investment from the top end of the music industry, there’s a lack of investment from government, the cost of living crisis, the electricity bills have risen,” she said. “We’re paying double what we were paying this time three years ago for our electricity and it was already borderline unaffordable. These things are slowly pushing all of us out of business.” Sam was speaking after statistics emerged that in 2023 125 small music venues went out of business or stopped hosting gigs entirely due to cost. Get the best user experience with WalesOnline’s Premium app on Apple or Android

In this piece on Cardiff's hospitality scene, Owen Morgan - who owns the Bar 44 venues and Asador 44 - broke down the figures. If a table of four walks in to one of his venues and spends £100, between £30 and £35 of that goes towards the cost of ingredients and drinks. Another £35-40 goes on wages and £20 towards VAT. Depending on the nature of the business, he says, that could leave you with as little as £5 per £100 to cover rent, insurance, heat, light, power, waste management, pest control contracts, business rates, cleaning products and other disposables, accountants' fees, advertising, repairs and maintenance, contracts for online booking systems, a music licence and security systems.

Brad tells a similar story. “Bills are sky high and wages are going up, which we absolutely support,” he said of the impending increase in the national living wage which is scheduled to go up by 9.8% from April 1. “But it means things have become tighter and our venues need to be growing very quickly to survive.

“Our Cardiff bar and the brewery bar are doing well, but our Newport bar was growing by 8% a year. That sounds okay until you look at the operating costs for the Newport bar, which are growing at 15% every year. The rent was through the roof, rates were the same, and we never got any support. Footfall was too low to turn that tide. It wasn’t going to work.

“It’s becoming harder and harder in this industry and decisions have to be made. We have a small bar division and we didn’t have the capacity to prop up the bar in Newport. If I could have picked up the Newport bar and put it elsewhere I would have.”

A wide shot of shops on a quiet Newport High Street
Newport High Street, where Tiny Rebel will close on March 31
People enjoying a drink outside the pub on Newport High Street
Le Public Space, better known as Le Pub, which is among the most popular venues in Newport

Brad said the council’s statement surprised him and that no-one from the council has approached them directly since their announcement. “Since we announced it last Tuesday we’ve had nothing. No call, no text, no email. If that statement was genuine I’d have thought we would have had someone walk through the door and reach out. We’re two miles away from the civic centre and we’ve had zero communication.

“We had no rates or rent support whatsoever. Alongside that consumer confidence is damaged and is still in a recovery phase across the board. It’s a case of managing your budget and making sound decisions. There was too much working against us.

“We love Newport and as a business we felt we supported the city centre massively over the years. But it’s become unviable for us to be there. The footfall in Newport centre now isn’t really the footfall for us anymore. Not enough people wanted to go in and experience drinking craft beer. Perhaps that’s due to a lack of investment and incentive. This is at a time when the council is continuing to pump money into a failing Friars Walk.”

Newport council is paying £500,000 a year to a private company to cover the rent of empty shops in the city centre’s Friars Walk shopping centre. Newport council said: "It was agreed that the council would pay a subsidy of up to £500,000 a year towards a shortfall in rental income or would receive a profit share of any increased rental income from the scheme. That remains the case."

“When you break Newport down I believe the city centre is letting it down," Brad said. "I’m concerned by that massively. I’m enthused that the market is doing well and some new venues are popping up, but that alone isn’t going to revitalise Newport’s city centre.”

Brad cites alcohol duty as a major cost. In last week’s spring budget UK Government chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a freeze on alcohol duty until 2025, but that duty remains the second-highest in Europe behind Finland according to the British Beer and Pub Association. “70% of a keg now is duty,” Brad explained. “Could we have had more support for that? I think we should have done. Businesses need help to keep prices down and to keep costs low at the bar.”

Welsh rugby fans crammed outside Tiny Rebel at Westgate Street in Cardiff on match day
Cardiff's Tiny Rebel bar is extremely busy, especially during the Six Nations when Wales are at home
Brad is tall with brown hair and a dark beard. He is wearing all black with a black leather jacket. Gazz is smaller with glasses and brown hair and is wearing a Tiny Rebel grey hoodie. They are posing in front of the Tiny Rebel sign at their Rogerstone base
Joint owners of Tiny Rebel Brad Cummings and Gazz (Gareth) Williams

High costs and struggling punters have made for a challenging trend which Brad says the business is trying to adapt to. Even still, their Cardiff bar is often busy. Since Covid they’ve found people will set the odd weekend aside for an experience.

“We’ve got to now be the bar they come to to have that experience,” he said. “That’s not easy, because there’s a lot of competition in Cardiff. Golf bars, darts - you name it, it’s there. So how can we get them to come to us? We’ve got live music in Cardiff now, we host comedy shows, it’s important to have lots going on."

They often host events such as Dirty Pop, popular with LGBT+ community, which sells out. “We’re proud of it,” he said. “It’s a community-led bar with lots of events going on. It’s a bar that’s very in keeping with the area. At our brewery it’s more of a meeting place for a wider demographic. We get lots of parents and children here and some elderly folk in the afternoon. It’s a nice mix.”

The company has poured £4.5m into its brewery and it’s paying them back. The brewery brings in £13m a year, while the three bars equate to around £4.2m of their turnover. “Our two biggest channels are our supermarkets and selling to other pubs around the UK,” Brad explained. “They’re the two we really want to grow in the near future, and we’re looking to do that by launching two new products this year. One is a 4.3% session IPA, and the other is an Irish stout. We know that’s what the consumer wants and we’re hoping we can attract new drinkers through those.

“We started selling our beers in Sainsbury’s in 2019 and that’s grown now to all the major supermarkets. We started off brewing in my dad’s garage 13 years ago and now we’re competing with the likes of Heineken, Camden Town and Brewdog with larger resources than us. But we’re confident we can hold our own.”

Despite calling time on Newport city centre, he said the company has been looking at possible venues in Gloucestershire and Bristol, and would look to expand into England for the right location. “It’s still a massive ambition to open a Tiny Rebel bar outside of Wales."