Jason and Chris Black MBII are the winners of the BII Licensee of the Year Award 2021. BII News’ Editor Kate Oppenheim CBII spoke to Chris about their achievement and goals for the year ahead.
Charity begins at home, which for Emma and Terry Cole MBII is their pub, The Royal Oak in Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton.
No pressure on Emma, then, who only eight months ago couldn’t have run for more than one minute. But it was a conversation with a customer that gave her the inspiration and motivation to run for the charity. “I’m completely addicted to running now. I’ve put up my JustGiving page and the donations have been rolling in.” Helped, no doubt, by the local Express & Star newspaper running an article about their charity challenges. Christmas saw Emma and Terry organising shoeboxes to be filled with presents for the local homeless community, including gloves, hats, scarves, toothbrushes, sweets, chocolate and coffee. Terry says: “Everyone got the same items and Emma and I spent many a Monday on our quiet days in the pub, filling the boxes, wrapping them and getting them ready to go. We sent out 120 parcels with the help of locals, donating through our collection box.”
There’s a real community feel about this traditional, wet-led pub, where events, like those for charity, successfully bring everyone together, with regulars checking in to see how Emma’s race training is going, but also to see how they can get involved. In lockdown, Terry had an idea to walk from The Royal Oak in Carlisle, to The Royal Oak in Truro. This journey of 425 miles came to a fitting end in the car park of The Royal Oak, Wolverhampton, keeping to the lockdown travel rules at the time. “It was everyone’s chance to get some exercise in and socialise while remaining socially distanced. We raised £1,500 – the pub wasn’t even open, yet people would still pop by to donate some money.”
While fundraising for charity is at the heart of what makes Terry and Emma tick, they still need to ensure that the bills are paid and pints keep being pulled. By keeping set-up costs low, the couple find success with their events, achieving takings of between £1,000-£1,500 each time. Entering the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award in 2021, and reaching the semi-finals, the couple say the experience benefitted them, not least thanks to the comments of the head judges, trade experts, Sue Allen CBII and Paul Pavli CBII. They advised the couple to take more time for themselves and to get out of the business to sample what the competition was up to, in order to gain a broader customer perspective. “The problem we have is, that we are so tied to the pub; we’re passionate about it and want to be here overseeing everything to make sure we’re doing it right. This means that we sometimes neglect to go out and experience new things,” admits Terry.
Despite their Christmas trading period being affected by the couple catching Covid, they say they remain in a financially stable position, thanks in part to grants from their local council – most recently the Omicron Hospitality & Leisure Grant. They also benefit from the pub’s proximity to the Molineux stadium, which brings in 300 to 500 people on match days. Increasing the footprint of the pub has also helped to build turnover. A marquee and outdoor bar has helped establish the outside space, providing a bonus for spring and summer.
“It has been a real benefit to us because word has spread about our cover and heaters. No one wants to be standing outside on match days, so everyone’s coming to us and we’re getting busier and busier,” says Terry. Investing money in the bar to ensure it would work outside, long after restrictions were lifted, was key to boosting customer confidence more than anything.
Emma proudly adds: “Our outside bar now matches our inside bar, in terms of the offer. Customers now have the full choice of beers. It started small, with only two hand pours, but we’ve made it bigger and put a roof on it. It has been a long process, but essentially we had to bring the piping up from the cellar.“
Having spoken to their Area Manager, Marston’s gave the project the go-ahead and supported them by helping to make the necessary cellar changes. Training the staff “the Oak Way” has also helped create success, which Terry says has been all down to Emma finding the best people to come and work for them. Emma explains: “The Oak Way is to be happy, to care about your customers and have quick service. It’s about making people feel welcome when they walk through the door.“ With plans for summer music festivals and their version of the Great British Bake Off in the pipeline, the Coles are looking forward to a good summer and are feeling confident for the future.
Terry says: “We serve good beer and keep it to a really high standard. That’s what our customers want. They like our consistency. We serve an award-winning mild, The Banks’s Mild, and that’s going well – it’s not a fashionable drink, but we’re doing three 72s per week. It always does well.“ Another bestseller is Marstons’ Sunbeam, which Terry describes as “an absolutely amazing drink”.
He says: “You can see people’s faces change when they taste beer this good. They’re happy to pay our prices because we keep a clean, well-maintained cellar and serve great tasting and well-presented beers.” Terry and Emma have community at the heart of everything they do, whether that’s boosting local charities through fundraising, getting stuck in with creating care packages for the local homeless community or welcoming new and established customers. “The Oak Way” is clearly a sturdy and well-built road to success for this pair.
Having moved into the business on the day the country was first thrust into lockdown, Darren and Charlotte Nash, MBII quickly set about transforming The Red Lion, a St Austell tenancy in Cricklade, Wiltshire – a historic coaching inn, the pub boasts five letting rooms, regular beer festivals and even has its own on-site brewery, The Hop Kettle.