Famed for its stunning views, well documented by BBC’s Poldark, Rob and Lucy Brewer’s fleet of venues sit in the World Heritage Site near to where Rob grew up in St Austell. Having won the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award with the Rashleigh Arms in 2015, they soon added the Pier House and adjoining Harbourside to their portfolio. With St Austell unveiling newly rennovated larger scale hotels, the Pier House is set to expand their retreat offering, while the Harbourside remains a more relaxed community space this summer.
“Towards the end of 2017 we were running four pubs and St Austell decided to invest heavily in refurbishing the Pier House. It made sense to concentrate on that rather than spread ourselves too thin.”
Just 35 yards from the Rashleigh, Lucy now works at the Pier House part time, with Rob acting as manager. “We took what was a niche hotel, somewhat quirky and impractical, and completely redeveloped it to make the route flow better and expand the business.
“The idea was to rejoin parts of the hotel that had previously broken off into segments. What’s now the reception area used to be a prop bar with a queue of people waiting to get served. There was an outdated a la carte menu separated by the resident’s lounge, so we opened everything right up.” Making the space lighter and more open plan meant that all hotel rooms could be accessed through the landing space, with one essential bar looking onto the terrace-with-a-view through double doors.
“It made the customer journey easier, they could move from inside to outdoors with ease, rather than walking around the building through a side door,” a move that serving staff reacted positively to as well.
The menu didn’t escape refurbishment either. “We used to run three menus from one kitchen, a Harbourside menu, bistro for families and the outdated a la carte. It meant the chef was submerged by all the prep and different dishes going out, so we binned it and now have one for the Pier and one for the Harbourside.”
With business growing from the renovation, Rob is honest about the impact Covid has had on the business. Tier 2 saw a drop in sales of 80% and Rob estimates a turnover has been lost of around £1 million. But, both Rob and St Austell are feeling positive about the Pier’s power to “climb the mountain out of Covid” with nimble feet. Making the most of Brits wanting to find some escapism closer to home, the Pier House has become a retreat venue within the pub company’s managed estate. In a move set to future proof the hotel so it is a less seasonal operation, Rob says it will encourage visitors to see it as a getaway that can offer a great experience 12 months of the year.
“With a more extensive wine list and menu, the Pier House operates to an average spend per head of £18, with a 45:45:10 split on food, drink and accommodation, but this has shown a rise on 2019 for the few months we were allowed to open last year.” Having grown up in St Austell, Rob is aware of the ambient power of the sea, with wife Lucy attending weekly “Swim and Tonic” meetings with fellow BII Member and LOYA winner Tanya Williams (of the Polgooth Inn).
“A lot of the brewery managed sites have the best location in Cornwall, we’re working to enhance that. We’ve added more choice to the wine list, fine-tuned the menu and are in the process of changing all glassware, crockery and staff uniforms. It’s been a massive development for the whole company really!”
Putting a positive spin on things, Rob says that closing due to Covid was an opportunity that “you just don’t always get to do these things.” More than a “getaway” concept to increase footfall in November and February, the retreats will see a move away from the one way systems and timed sittings influenced by Covid restrictions, into a service that will encourage customers to linger.
“Our guests have always wanted an experience, and it’s more important now because people have saved the money, and banked a lot of time spent with little diversion, to come out.” That eagerness shows in their emails, as Rob said he worked through upwards of 800 as soon as the date for reopening was unveiled. Accommodating all for dining and staycations, Rob has been working closely with the private landowner of Charlestown Harbour to rent outdoor space and increase covers by 30 tables, extending capacity from 80 to 110.
Well placed in the inner harbour where visitors can buy fish and chips, visit the rum bar, coffee shop, or delight in a summer BBQ, Rob is glad to have the Pier represented in St Austell’s food and drink hub. With guests encouraged to linger, the Pier House’s clientele are sure to be lapping up every ounce of experience long after the last waves of Charlestown’s tourists have returned home.
Having won LOYA in 2015 with the Rashleigh Arms, Rob and Lucy Brewer went on to take on the Pier House a year later. With the award opening up for applicants in 2021, Rob notes that now is a better time as any to get involved!
“As a process, LOYA gets you to look at your business with a fine tooth comb, you’ll look at the points you want to sell to the judges, but it will also give you a chance to look at some weaker spots and think about how to make them better.
“It is the toughest award out there, but it’s recognition from the heart of our industry. You find a whole network of people to connect with, and the support from the BII means it’s worth doing for that alone.”
Entrants this year will receive information packs detailing feedback from judges at every stage of the competition, meaning it’s a real opportunity to assess your business for the better.
Learn more about our Licensee of the Year Award here!