Skip to main content
Top of the Page

The BII thrives on the diversity of its 9,000 plus members, and through case studies and interviews we're able to find out more about some of the individuals that make up our network in the licensed trade.

Click on any of the links below to read about the personal experience and benefits individuals have found since becoming members of the BII.

David Burgoyne, FBII - The Shakespeare Inn, Lake District

David and Lynne Burgoyne first came to the attention of the BII team when Lisa from our membership team, visited while on Summer staycation. “We were blown away by the attention to detail at The Shakespeare Inn”, she said, prompting Eleanor Kirby to discover more.

Describing The Shakespeare Inn to the team, the BII’s Lisa Rayment was awestruck by how David and his wife Lynne created a safe and calming atmosphere. Situated in Kendal, the gateway to the  picturesque Lake District, and offering five guest bedrooms, David (a one-time bridal and evening wear advisor) and Lynne (a Legal Secretary) first came across the pub in 2015 and, having taken it over, have gone on to build up an eclectic mix of regular trade and visitors.

“Our social media reviews really help us bring first-time visitors in, our current TripAdvisor score is about 4.5 and Facebook is 4.9,” said David. 

Reducing capacity from 60 to 30 heads per sitting – devoting upstairs to dining, with drinks  ownstairs – as part of their social distancing strategy, David and Lynne saw an opportunity to go further in order to set themselves apart from the competition, as they prepared for reopening in July 2020.

“We added screens, did a risk assessment and introduced measures that saw customers greeted at the door. It all created a really good ‘flow’ around the pub and that’s why customers kept coming back.”

Using red rope and a red carpet to guide visitors from the entrance, along the one-way system, added a bit of glamour to the proceedings, which included checking guests’ temperatures at the door. “We have managed to have a little fun with this, as it’s another opportunity for customer interaction and to put people at their ease. Sometimes I mix in a ‘hands up’ to lighten up the situation,” David laughs.

All these changes have also meant that, when the rule of six came in, there wasn’t a need to chop and change anything. “We just had to create more tables of six,” he explains.

Pre-lockdown, the sales split at The Shakespeare was 70% wet and 30% dry, but with the introduction of new dishes to the menu and events, food sales have grown by 20%, by comparison to autumn 2019.

“We’re now operating at 50/50 wet and dry, but it has involved an awful lot of hard work. We have made people feel safe and comfortable, reduced our menu, and added a more distinctive vegetarian and vegan offer.

“At the moment, we’ve dived deep into what we call ‘Two’s Company’, which is a selection of starters, more nibbly things. Customers can choose any three starters from a choice of 18 and then have a main. It has resulted in people staying for longer and spending more, because they feel comfortable and like the informality of adding another plate to the table.”

Themed evenings are also a great success, with events like “Fish and Fizz”, “Sunday Lunch Club” and “Wine O’Clock”, it’s no wonder they have managed to maintain the trading levels seen during  August’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. “Food sales have increased so much that there has been little or no waste, which is a lovely position to be in,” says David.

Creating a bit of theatre around the menu too has created a ‘celebratory feel’, which is appreciated by customers, especially as their re-emerged after the lockdowns.

“If customers come in at 5.30pm and we don’t have a second sitting on that table, we encourage them to stay and order another round of drinks, which sees the average spend per head rise to £25-30, whereas before it would have been around £15.”
With such creative, yet streamlined, menus, David and Lynne are keen to protect The Shakespeare’s reputation for fresh food, even with the threat of price hikes coming into place this month (January). “I firmly believe fresh is best but I recognise too that we have to adapt the business if changes make that necessary,” he says.

“We spend the most with local suppliers, who we have a good relationship with, and often get them to price match deals we’ve found elsewhere. Having loyalty reciprocated allows us to protect our business.” David and Lynne also work proactively with the team, to encourage the sharing of new ideas.

He explains: “We arrange a staff meeting when the tips jar is full, which gets everyone together, and we do a Q&A session to encourage their ideas. They get their tips at the end of it and it sees everyone being actively involved in the business.”
With much uncertainty around the build-up to Christmas and the opportunity to host groups of 20-30 people having “gone out of the window”, the couple feel secure in the knowledge that the increased food trade has provided stability.

“We used to have a members club called ‘Friends of the Shakey’, which discounted the price with each drink ordered. But we’ve had to suspend it for now. Customers have been very understanding and, if anything, because we’ve ramped up the food, people don’t come in for the discounted pint, but would rather eat and invest in us.” 

With customer testimonials from key workers describing the pub as ‘one of the venues they feel safest visiting’, David concludes: “It’s very rewarding and tells us the measures we’ve implemented are what people are want and are expecting to see from the industry.”

Lucy Bonner, MBII - The Brewery Tap, Barleycroft End

There is no stopping mother and daughter duo Ebe (Elizabeth) and Lucy Bonner. Having revitalized their local pub, they set about creating a grocery and takeaway offer for their community over lockdown. BII’s Eleanor Kirby finds out more about their successful new income streams. 

Ebe (Elizabeth) and Lucy Bonner first started working together in 2018 having bought their local pub, The Brewery Tap in the Hertfordshire village of Barleycroft End, where generations of their family had roots. Fast forward two years, and it’s clear that this unstoppable duo have not only transformed a tired old boozer, but have delivered fantastic services to both their local community and to customers from further afield.

It was October when their offer to buy the pub was accepted and their first goal was to open for Christmas. “Not with a chef, but at least for Christmas drinks,” says Lucy, who is pub Manager, while Ebe looks after everything else, in particular the garden, her labour of love.
“We ended up exchanging and completing on the same day in December and then turned everything around in 11 days to open on the 14th,” remembers Lucy.

“It was just like DIY SOS for those first 11 days. At one point there were five people working within the space of five metres! The paint was still wet when we opened – there’s a door and some skirting that paid the price. It’s a funny reminder. “It was the following March before they took on a Chef, and today they have Matt managing the kitchen.

A local in the village, Matt used to work at Jamie Oliver’s parents’ pub, The Cricketers in Clavering, Essex, and he has been instrumental in developing The Brewery Tap’s food offer, including the Mother’s Day Sunday Roast takeaways, introduced as soon as the Coronavirus restrictions hit.

Matt also introduced a two-pronged approach to the food offer last summer, by creating a tapas menu for prep in the kitchen, while a wood-fired oven cooked and served pizzas in the garden. Having the outdoor pizza offer eased the pressure on the kitchen and delivered a very healthy gross profit of 90% too.

“We called it the ‘Brewery Grazing Garden Menu’, as itwas made up of lots of small dishes. Lucy continues: “People have really enjoyed the garden, and we have now installed a canopy and two dining domes, where we can install heaters to maximise their use over the winter.” A community store has extended the business offer even further and is delivering an additional income stream. With help and support from the not-for-profit advisory group Pub is the Hub, along with membership of the BII, Lucy and Ebe have managing to develop a roaring trade in the sale of essential groceries, as well as offering dishes from their deli menu that stocks soups, quiches, sausage rolls and their famous Scotch eggs.

“Before we opened the shop during lockdown, I’d say our trade was probably 50/50 wet/dry split, due to our ‘die hard’ drinking group that we call ‘the old boys’. Now the shop has opened it has changed massively, food sales represent 40-50%, the shop is 30% and drink 20%, and takings from the shop are only going up and up and up.”

While the pair had thought about extending the pub before, lockdown really accelerated their plans, with the service kicking off by supplying 200+ food boxes per week from orders generated on a Google Docs form.

“It was a four-phase process, first as a little shop in the pub, which we got ready in three days, then boxes for collection only in the pub. This migrated to the shed and later into our permanent structure in the courtyard, which we’ve called Furneux Stores. “Pub is the Hub’s Jeremy English, was amazing. He asked us what we needed and how he could help. It meant that we could open up safely and successfully.”

Helping Lucy and Ebe along their journey into a permanent structure, Pub is the Hub provided funding for fridges, freezers and shelving units that allowed the shop to stock a broader range of products, all sourced from suppliers already used by the pub.

The shop has seen a huge uptake by customers, who come in for essential items, as well as popular patisserie and deli items (Scotch eggs are a particular favourite, yielding a GP of 75%), and then go on to visit the pub too. With some more funding from the local parish council, the pair were able to set up a playground in the gardens, which has been a huge benefit to the community, as well as customer base.

“The Parish Council matchfunded the playground. It has always wanted to have one in the village but never had the land or space,” explains Lucy. “Having worked as a nanny before, I was really conscious of creating something for everyone.” Pouring their energy into every element of their business, Ebe and Lucy admit that all the extra hours they’re working have been a form of escapism from all the bad news.

“Mum especially loves coming here, manning the bar and chatting to everyone”. With the shop- turned-deli, playground, pub, café and garden The Brewery Tap is perfectly equipped to supply the village with happiness.

James Barbour, MBII - Box End Park, Bedford

When floodplains stopped farming on the family’s land, James Barbour took over the business and set about creating Box End Park, now a fully-fledged watersports and activity centre, with a 45-cover restaurant, corporate functions and a wedding offer. BII’s Eleanor Kirby reports.

Originally a farm in the 1950s, James Barbour took over the land that is now Box End Park from his father in the 1990s. But as floodplains impeded the possibility of growing produce, James worked with what nature had provided to open a 100-acre, purpose-built watersports and leisure park in 2007.

 Box End Park has continued to evolve over the years and currently comprises the Corner 5 Restaurant and bar area, offering guests a lakeside setting in a stunning building with panoramic windows, along with corporate and conference facilities, and a ‘special occasions’ element, which caters for weddings and functions. Box End Park is licensed for civil ceremonies and partnerships.

Still a family business, the day-today management is handled by James, who is also responsible for the indoor hospitality. Brother-in-law, Russ, heads up watersports, while James’s wife Hannah, runs the accounts. And speaking of accounts, James is pleased to report that takings for autumn 2020 were up against 2019, despite the pandemic.

“Last year we were doing £6,000- 7,000 per week, but this autumn we were taking £9,000. We were completely shut for the first six to eight weeks during lockdown, until May when we found out that we could restart watersports. With open air swimming slots bookable at £5 per session, we were back open and operating with minimal staff and a lifeguard, and getting up to 100 visitors a day! “We’re essentially selling space on a lake with people able to come and go as they please.”

The park and its facilities attracts a broad spectrum of visitors – from the more mature customers to the younger hobbyists, along with parents who bring their children to play on the water. “It creates a melting pot of people, which could be a source of conflict where the restaurant is concerned, as people are there in wetsuits and board shorts, but it all works well.

“People enjoy observing the sports, and it creates a relaxed atmosphere.” (James mentions that the lake’s popularity got a massive boost during the London 2012 Olympics, when the Brownlee brothers, medal winning triathletes, became poster boys for swimming.)

As the warm, early summer of 2020 arrived, it was clear to James that their watersports facilities would once again make a big splash. They welcomed 600-800 people a day at one point. As soon as the trading restrictions allowed, they went for a ‘soft’ reopening of the Corner 5 Restaurant. “We have always printed our menus on A4 paper, which makes it easier to change our menu, depending upon the ‘special’ on offer from our suppliers.

“We keep very low stock levels and tweak our orders daily, if needed. We’ve been finding everything  lot easier with 95% of customers booking, compared to a normal summer where we might have had 20 people booked for lunch but end up doing 60+ covers.”

To make the most of all ingredients, the menu has a returned to a ‘comfort food’ offer and uses ingredients grown on their own land – a nostalgic nod to the Barbour’s farming days.

“Working with our Chef, Shaun, we have started serving homemade pies, which yield a fantastic GP: we have pulled pork with a honey mustard filling, or a minted lamb filling. The pork and lamb uses trimmings from our roasts – a great way to repurpose left-overs. With a short-crust case, puff pastry topping and a rich stock to go inside, they’re substantial and amazingly flavoured.

“Desserts are also a great way to utilise our own produce and cut costs. We have an apple crumble that’s made from apples grown on our trees and blackberries picked from the farm’s hedgerows. This all helps produce a great margin, but it is also lovely to have our own produce on the menu.”

Making the most of home-grown and left-over ingredients, James is able to maximise the profit on the £7 average spend per head for a light lunch. And while customers are enjoying comfort food, James has noticed that many are keen to treat themselves to top-end products.

“From the moment we reopened, we found people were so much more appreciative of us, after three months of home cooking! Spend per head has gone up in the evenings, with guests increasingly interested in our small, but niche, wine selection.

“Customers are treating themselves and going for the more expensive bottles, like Champagne and Châteauneufdu-Pape. We’ve probably sold more ‘high-end’ wines in the past couple of months than we have in the last two years,” says James, adding that driving return visits was also key. “Encouraging people to return not once, but twice or more has been our main focus, so we’re  looking to introduce a loyalty card. For instance, on your second visit, you’ll get a bottle of wine, the third a free dessert. I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of January!”

In the place of corporate bookings, they are offering gift vouchers to companies to give to their staff  compensation for missed Christmas celebrations. But rather than a blanket email to all customers, James prefers to tailor offers for each group (corporate, sporty and restaurant goers).

“Our online booking system is run by a local business, Avenista, which helps us capture email addresses. We have a database of 6,000 contacts, which we import into Mailchimp for our email campaigns. It costs us £40 to £50 for an electronic campaign, but you immediately know who has opened/clicked through.”

There’s plenty at Box End Park to keep James and the team busy and by the time you’re reading this, they will hopefully be back at the Corner 5 Restaurant, refreshed after their break and getting ready for whatever 2021 will bring.

Simon and Samantha Stonehouse, MBII - Black Boy, Oxford

Opening a new pub just a few months before lockdown hasn’t stopped this invincible husband and wife duo, Simon and Samantha Stonehouse MBII, from creating something special for their local community, reports Eleanor Kirby.

Whilst their trading continues to be restricted they need support in terms of grants and compensation for their critical December trading.  Without this and the surety of a VAT reduction and business rates holiday throughout 2021 as they rebuild their While searching for their perfect pub, Simon and Samantha Stonehouse came across The Black Boy in Headington, Oxfordshire. But it was meeting the team at the Leicestershire-based brewer and pub owner, Everards that sealed the deal, as they realised the advantages of being part of an established, family-owned business that oozed warmth and support. 

Having signed a 10-year contract with Everards, they began making plans to refurbish the pub to create an attractive lunchtime spot, as well as a romantic setting for a date or dinner, for a December 2019 opening. “The pub was slowly building trade and then Covid came along,” says Samantha, adding, with all the enthusiatic energy that comes with a new endeavour: “But we didn’t let that batter our sails, we simply adjusted them!

“Everards has been a great partner as well as activating a rent-free holiday, the team was also on the end of the phone, if we needed any questions answered or just for some moral support during the height of the pandemic.” This financial and empathetic support meant that Simon and Sam had energy reserves to think about how to move forward and diversify. “We turned the front of the pub, our snug, into a community shop and worked hard to spread the word that we were open six-days a week selling fresh produce and kitchen essentials.”

“We wanted the shop to be a deli-style operation, promoting and shouting about all of Oxfordshire’s amazing produce,” Simon continues. Establishing themselves as part of the community was a great way to publicise that this well-established pub, which had benefitted from a brand-new look, was now under the control of new tenants. Home deliveries served the locals during lockdown, accompanied by “Casual Coffee” on Fridays, as the Government restrictions began to ease and allowed people to get out and about again.

Free coffee and cake was also given away to thank the community for its support. The success of the community shop led to a takeaway offer, with the pair signing up to Deliveroo as a way to get food to people efficiently, while creating a new customer base too.

“Having to diversify in the way we did meant that we were able to streamline the business and look at new systems and standards, helping us work hard on new income streams,” says Simon, hailing Deliveroo as a fantastic tool to “switch on when it’s quiet”. Simon says that Deliveroo yielded roughly 33% of weekly sales during lockdown, but with more choice available and higher uptake on the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) scheme, it now only makes 2-5% per week in sales. “I believe it was a great tool to drive off-sales and generate new guest awareness for our pub. You do have to look at the cost versus profit carefully as delivery partners can take a hefty bite out of your profit.”

At one point during lockdown Simon and Samantha were welcoming 100 people for takeaway  collection per night – the overwhelming majority of whom are gradually making their way back  through the door for eat-in meals. Sam has also been utilising her wealth of knowledge in marketing and events well, coming up with new ways to engage with locals and customers from further afield. “Because of social distancing, you can’t have a full pub, but you still need to maintain a strong income. Upselling to guests has been important, as well as using social media well. We have seen great guest loyalty accrue simply through our regular posting and tagging the pub in other people’s posts”.

The couple have accrued solid trade experience over the years, with Simon working in pubs and restaurants since he was 18. With a smile, he asks: “Guess where Sam and I met?” It was in 1996 at The Catherine Wheel in Henley on-Thames.

Growing together and having a shared professional life has led to many creative endeavours. Over the past 30 years, Simon has run large multi-million-pound sites to smaller village pubs, while Sam implements sales and marketing strategy through her umbrella business, Fabulous PR.

A community pub, describing itself as being “here for every occasion”, the pair have worked hard to provide customers with plenty of reasons to visit regularly. From supper clubs, yielding £60 per head, the £25 per head Bottomless Brunch, to ‘Casual Coffee’ on Fridays.

Another element of their business empire is Lamb Catering, a business they purchased in 2017 and which services weddings, events and also dinners at The Black Boy.
Born from an unrivalled love of putting on a chef’s jacket and hosting dinner, Simon has a hand in creating new dishes, menu writing and working with new ingredients – which explains the 40/50/10 split on wet, dry and accommodation trading (The Black Boy has five rooms for guests who enjoy the immersive experience).

“The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been great, but what’s next? It was a short-term fix for a long-term problem. A VAT reduction to 5% on drink sales and a look at beer duty would help a broader spectrum of pub businesses”, says Sam.

Simon continues: “We’re grateful we could implement it in the restaurant, but it did bring its own issues, we had a very busy start to each week, rivalling Friday and Saturday trading, but Thursdays were slow.”  Optimising GP margins, The Black Boy boasts a wide range of low and no options.  “There has been a massive growth in new options becoming available, so we stock everything from non-alcoholic beer to mocktails.”

With customer habits continuing to shift as confidence levels change, the enthusiastic partners – in love and in business – are proving they have the ability, the drive and the determination to grasp every new opportunity to secure a strong future.

Peter Troup, MBII - Pelican Taverns, Lymington

Shipshape and ready for business. BII’s Eleanor Kirby speaks to Peter Troup MBII of Pelican Taverns about keeping a good business afloat for the future.

Lymington, a small port town on the south coast that’s so close to the Isle of Wight it could win in a  taring competition, plays host to The Bosun’s Chair (named after an old navy practice of lifting high-ranking officers onto the ship), run by business partners Peter Troup and Jim Gedge.

 After meeting in 2015, the duo set up Pelican Taverns with The Bosun’s (a Wadworth’s lease) and The Grapes (Ei) in their portfolio. The Grapes, a stone’s throw from Southampton’s waterfront and famously connected to the Titantic, is heralded as one of the city’s premier sports bars, being just a 15-minute  walk from Southampton Stadium.

With this very capable duo at the helm – Peter handles the operational side of the businesses, while Jim with a background in finance focuses on the figures – they have been seeking to maximise both businesses, driving revenue, reducing costs and tapping into all local opportunities. (On leaving the army in 1999, Troup spent five years with London’s Young’s Brewery, firstly as an Area Manager for its managed pubs division and finally as a Business Development Manager on the tenanted side.)

Situated on Southampton’s busy Oxford Street, The Grapes benefits from being part of a thriving business community, with a strong and supportive network surrounding it. It also has a place in maritime history, as the pub where three brothers, fire crew for the ill-fated cruise-liner, famously stopped to have a last drink and ended up watching her sail away from Berth 44 without them!

Unlike the erstwhile brothers, whose good fortune was purely down to luck and too much liquor, Peter and Jim understand the benefits of running a tight ship and working with local businesses to  grow their customer base and drive footfall.

“We’ve got an Oxford Street Association made up of quite a proactive group of people running different venues. There’s a coffee shop, brasseries, hotels and a microbar, and we meet up periodically to discuss opportunities,” says Peter.

“We have organised a few music events and farmers’ markets too and we work on promotions that encourage customers to support all the businesses in the area.”

Reopening The Bosun’s as soon as they were able to on July 4 (the date Government allowed pubs to reopen), with The Grapes following a little later, Troup was keen to make sure all guidelines were followed to boost staff and customer confidence.

“It was like opening my first pub all over again, trying to grasp everything as I went along. Staff were a bit reserved initially, but their confidence grew the more they saw how seriously we have been  taking procedures. “I made sure the business had a risk assessment and we have policy documents that all the staff have read and signed. They’ve also completed the ‘Covid Secure’ training with CPL.”

With both Wadworth and Ei pausing rent payments throughout lockdown and with staff on furlough, plus a £25,000 grant for the The Bosun’s (The Grapes was over the £51,000 threshold, so didn’t qualify), Peter is appreciative of the help received from the Government and his pubcos. “Some of our costs were mitigated but 100% of our income was lost, so there was a drain on our funds. But we’ve put strong measures in place to allow us to put some fat back on for winter,” says Peter, adding that effectively they would be facing three winters in a row.

 “At the beginning of August we took the decision to close on Mondays and Tuesdays, which I’ve never done before, but it meant we could give all the staff their days off at the same time.” This, he explains, allowed them to maximise the number of staff on duty when the pub is open. “We have extra staff to help clean the tables as soon as the customers have left and if, for any reason, we can’t do that right away, we have a sign asking customers not to sit at that particular table until it has been sanitised. In truth this is more for show as everyone is met and guided to their table by a host at the door anyway!”

The decision to close on two of the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) days has been a good one, due to  the benefits of being able to align staff working hours. The Grapes is 100% wet-trade. “People only have a certain amount of money to spend and we thought it would affect our bookings on other days. I didn’t want to attract customers who had the discount in mind and might avoid spending money on alcohol on top of that,” he says. They also took the decision not to pass on the VAT reduction, which they saw as another way to preserve funds. “Reducing VAT on accommodation, soft drinks and food creates a lot of extra work for the business because you have to extract information and breakdown billing. I can imagine a lot of pubs have no simple method of doing this.

It would’ve been a lot easier if, for instance, a one percentage discount had been applied, but I understand that the Government have had to be careful about being seen to encourage people to drink alcohol,” says Peter, adding that a well-programmed EPoS system was worth its weight in gold, when it came to simplifying procedures.

“While we’re trading at a third of what we should be doing, being ableto offer accommodation has helped us massively and we’re keeping pretty full at the moment. Accommodation is at a premium in Lymington.” The Bosun’s also has a fantastic garden, while the car park can be more fully utilised with a marquee on it. With coastal areas such as Lymington and Southampton having reaped the benefits of the summer’s heatwave, Pelican is on the right tack when it comes to creating a ship- shape business for the long-term.

Peter Whitehead, FBII - Fur and Feathers, Herriard

The Fur & Feathers in Herriard, between Alton and Basingstoke in Hampshire, has carved out a gourmet name for itself with the help of Peter Whitehead MBII and wife and head chef, Fran. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Peter about creating delight in lockdown and how the entertainment pound is shifting. 

When in 2001 Peter Whitehead MBII lost all his American IT clients as they pulled the plug in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, his ability to think quickly, grasp a new opportunity and start again helped stand him and his Chef wife Fran in good stead to plan for a recovery as Covid-19 hit.

“Back in 2001, all my contracts were with American companies, just as the news of 9/11 hit. I got  phone calls immediately saying ‘we need to halt everything’. The business plan got thrown out of the window and we needed to find a new avenue for earning money. My wife is a professional Chef, I like beer and a chat, so taking on a freehouse seemed like a logical thing to do.”

When earlier this year the risk of full lockdown was starting to look like a reality, it was Fran’s culinary skills that Peter saw as the foundations for their business survival strategy. “We’re an independent pub, so contingency plans are imperative in my mind! I knew our country would be hit hard by the pandemic, so my first priority was ‘what’s perishable and what can we get rid of?’. We discounted brown beer and didn’t order as much in the weeks leading up to lockdown in March. We identified anything that could be made into non-perishable products too.” This saw the creation of the now famous Fur & Feathers’ preserves: chutneys, jams and chilli dipping sauce, all ready for the moment a customer asks “Oh, where can I buy this sauce?”. 

Financially, Peter and Fran have been in a good position, having £30,000-worth of savings, originally set aside for an expensive sewage renovation needed at the pub. But even with this cushion, mitigating loss and preserving cash was their primary goal, explains Peter. So, translating the Fur & Feathers’ luxury dining experience into a viable takeaway service required a lot of research.

“Fran came up with a list of ingredients and dishes she wanted to create, then we would sit down to look at all the components and packaging needed. We wanted to buy multi-purpose packaging that would keep the presentation inspiring.

“It was really important to avoid that ‘homogenous slush’ look, so we ended up sending out our takeaway meals in kit form. You’d have meat and dry veg in one container, juicy vegetables in another and then sauce in the final container.”
The kits were available for customers to take home four times a week and led to a social media sensation that saw diners recreate a Fur & Feathers’ style dining experience at home.

“One chap was an amazing support to us. His family ate with us three times a week, diet permitting. They would get out a table cloth and lay up the table at home beautifully, serve their wine and plate up the food. Their meals looked stunning and it encouraged other people to do something similar. It helped new customers create a proper dining experience at home.”

During lockdown, customers especially appreciated the opportunity to bring a little theatre to an  evening meal. Peter says: “A lady came in, bless her cotton socks, saying ‘I’m so excited, this is the first time I’ve come out and I’ve put a dress on, makeup and everything!”
Amidst the stress of redirecting their business efforts, Peter and Fran relearned how to make things fun, silly and exciting again. They took their portable fryer with them when catering for al fresco  birthday parties, making fresh doughnuts outside. “It was a showstopper, it was so great to see a group of 30-year-olds turn into little kids,” says Peter.

While the menu has been slimmed down, Peter explains that the pub’s “quirky fresh offering” has shifted towards comfort food. “One of our bigger sellers at the moment is ribs. People are going for the dishes they wouldn’t make at home, with our top seller at the moment being fish and chips. It has a high GP and we’re doing it our way – no scrimping on good quality haddock with lots of seasoning.”

He continued: “We’ve always been slightly protected against recessions, being at the top end of hospitality in pubs. And my past experiences of downturns have taught me that trading styles change, but also people stop gambling with their entertainment pound – they want to go out and get something they know is going to be good.

“We’ve got a regular crowd that like to drink and chat, from people who own large international businesses, through to the one man band and even a publican! There’s a broad spectrum of experiences and views, and we use each other as sounding boards, especially when trying to gauge where the situation is going to go next.”

At a time when being a freehouse could have felt lonely, connecting with other businesses to share information has ultimately provided a feeling of community and friendship for Peter, Fran and their customers.

Adam Holland, MBII - The Puffing Billy, Exton

In the picturesque outskirts of Exeter, The Puffing Billy (first listed in 1878) has finally found a strong identity with St Austell tenants Adam Holland MBII and partner Charlotte Bowden. Speaking just before news of the pandemic came to fruition, BII’s Eleanor Kirby sat down to talk to Adam about being savvy with outdoor spaces and evolving with the community.

Walking into The Puffing Billy it is clear there’s a theme running here. “We had so many people asking ‘why is it called The Puffing Billy?’, we realised we had to bring forward a strong identity. Supposedly, the myth from a customer is that her Great Grandfather Billy used to be the landlord and he was fond of smoking a pipe”. We are glad then, that Adam and Charlotte stuck to the heritage of the Victorian steam train that hangs from the sign above the entrance.

So well thought out, authenticity spans from a decal on the wall that reads “Caution this engine is hot” beside the cast iron wood burner, to black and white photographs hanging in hallways depicting commuters from the 1950s. Adam even sourced Great Western Railway toilet roll holders.

Being tied to St Austell, Holland demonstrates what’s on tap with finesse. “As a brewery they are second to none. Their selection, range and expertise when it comes to brewing is fantastic.” 

In tandem, Holland and Bowden also run the Blue Ball Inn. Being closer to the rugby grounds in Sandygate, Adam was quick to notice it offered a different sort of dynamic. “The Billy is a restaurant with a pub, with food accounting for 70% of our intake, and Blue is a pub with a restaurant. We’ve been known to bring in £10-12k gross on match day, and while we have Guinness there, here we have St Austell’s black mountain Mena Dhu, which people absolutely love”.

As we sit to chat, the background soundtrack takes us from “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, to “Come on Eileen”, to “Say a Little Prayer”. Music strikes a chord both on and off duty with Adam and General Manager, Theo, who reminisce about seeing Stormzy and Tame Impala at Glastonbury as they clean and lay tables.

“We have a children’s playpark opposite which is an absolute gem to use for village fetes and about 3-4 acres at the Blue Ball. One of the locals came to me and asked if we could turn our outdoor space into a mini festival for about 200 people, we’re going to use that as a tester”.

Adam’s knowledge of the local area is rich, it’s clear to see that he and Charlotte pin pointed The Puffing Billy for its varied mix of community connections. “We’ve got the Exe Estuary Trail nearby, so cyclists often pass through, Haldon Forest is great for mountain-biking, and there’s a local lido as well as the Estuary. That’s something you notice in Devon, everyone’s so relaxed”.

Trying to carry some of the West Country calmness with him, Adam says has deleted most apps on his phone leaving just text messages and phonecalls. He can’t escape the suite of software he praises for helping running the back office with a little more ease.

“We use 5 different types, from accountancy software, touch screens, labour controls and table bookings. It really helps me drill down on my KPIs, we did 45,000 covers last year, I know my average spend is £28 per person and that 50% of our bookings are tables of 2”.

With both parents in the industry, it’s no surprise Charlotte and Adam’s daughter Isla (7) has offered up ideas on how she can run the two venues. “At one of the village fetes, we set her up with a little sweet stall, just to show her how to make profits. Unfortunately I think she ate them all!”

“I started washing dishes when I was 14 and completely got the bug when I was 16. After training with Brend Hotels, whose standards are very high, I got an opportunity to work at the Langham. I’ve worked for an airline, in clubs, and been working in pubs since I was 30, so fourteen years.”

Preferring pubs for their informal dining and the opportunity to impart your passion for it with customers, Holland was preparing to welcome a new Head Chef at the time of our interview. “I did my NVQ Level 3 just for fun, so I am a trained chef. I love that you aren’t going to be judged if you want to experiment with fusions in pub”.

“People come to pubs for food they don’t cook at home, you’ll always have a burger, steak and pies on the menu, but it’s important to experiment and have a specials menu that utilises the best produce. A good chef will be on the phone to suppliers first thing, negotiating prices and working out how best to utilise what’s on offer”.

Returning to the area from London, it’s clear to see why Adam is so enthused when it comes to menus. “The West Country has some of the best produce in the UK, we have mussels that are from down the road here, we have fish from Cornwall, some of the best dairy herds, beers, cheeses, everything is on your doorstep”.

Listening to our interview again “Night Fever” by the Bee Gees plays as we say our goodbyes, and with all this talk of bountiful produce, we’re longing now more than ever to walk under the swinging sign of The Puffing Billy again.

Clair Stubbs, MBII - Start Bay Inn, Torcross

Having taken over the helm of the Start Bay Inn from her father in 2006, Clair Stubbs is now juggling home schooling with attending to furlough schemes and business rates rebates. BII’s Eleanor Kirby chatted to Clair about how lockdown has made her feel more positive about her usual routine.

“The Start Bay Inn has been in the family for 43 years, so I was born into it really”, Clair speaks with fondness about her childhood and how it blended into her professional life. “We liked it when we were younger because we were on the beach, we had a lot of freedom because mum and dad were working all the time. Dad was very much always there”.

Loaning me an hour of the home school timetable, Clair has her student, son Charlie, next to her who chips in every now and then: “He still is!” Stubbs father, she says, is always scuba diving and fishing for the business from their DH92 boat which is always visible from the windows of the 14th Century pub.

“I didn’t know if I was going to carry it on, but it’s hard not to when it’s such a lovely pub”, which would explain why he is still dipping his toe (or flipper) into the business, keeping it well stocked with the catch of the day - everything from Monkfish, to John Dory.

After employing a business developer to help Clair and her siblings, Gail and Stu, achieve a harmonious balance between the trio. “Splitting the business into three has made me a lot happier, we’ve divided it into manageable chunks and it has meant I’m not spreading myself too thin by concentrating on everything!”

Now, like so many in lockdown across the globe, they are having to adapt to a new way of working. “We can’t get together, so we’re having to do it all over the phone. I had to explain what was on my screen trying to fill out the online form for the furlough scheme - I thought I’d have to spend ten days on the phone!”

Thinking back to Boris’ apocalyptic announcement that pubs should close, Clair says, “we had a sinking feeling, but a glimmer of hope as financial support was being announced. In the weeks before I could sense that closure was on the horizon, it was the Government telling us ‘you’ve got a window of opportunity to get rid of as much stock as possible’.

“We just wanted our staff to be safe, we wanted our customers to be safe, and we wanted safety for ourselves too”.

Clair, Gail and Stu took the local community into consideration, with a village full of elderly residents and a carpark that was filling up due to the popularity of their takeaways, announcing full closure in the run up to the Easter Bank Holiday was the only sensible option.

“We thought ‘this could potentially be horrendous’. We realised we were attracting people to the area and we didn’t want to put our neighbours in danger. We lobbied our local council to close the beach car park too”.

Hope Another glimmer of hope came in the form of Harris Lamb, BII’s Business Rates Helpline Partners, who Clair had approached in May 2018. The Inn’s rates had been skewed due to a fire in a nearby restaurant (making trade at the Start Bay pick up, momentarily, but forever reflected in their rates) and a road closure.

“We had been cut off from our clientele through the main road, so I thought it was a good time to see if we could do something about our Rateable Value. James [Ward] is really amazing, he got in contact with our local councillor to see if they were going to be of any assistance. We started sending over documentation, figures mainly, it was all quite an easy process”.

Like so many of us, losing track amidst the daily 5 o’clock briefings, Clair and her family felt like “rabbits in headlights, wondering which direction to turn”. News of their Business Rates rebate could not have been more welcome.

“In the end we reduced our RV from £105k to £52k for the period the road was closed – totally amazing! Then James also reduced our RV across the board from April 2017 from £105k to £80k. You just can’t imagine how that made us feel! It gives us that breathing space”.

News of rent holidays until later in the year, from their brewery, Heavitree, was another welcome relief as Clair was able to prioritise paying off suppliers to date.

“It almost feels like you’re trying not to sink all the time, so when the little bits of support keep coming it feels like it’s just in time. I wrote a letter to the CEO at Heavitree, before news of the rent holiday, I was worried about paying the rent or paying the staff, it couldn’t be both”.

Not knowing whether she would need staff on standby to reopen in Summer or not, Clair’s connection to her team is apparent. “We have a Whatsapp group, it doesn’t have a funny name or anything. It started off quite jovial and I found it important to stay connected because there are some members of staff who might feel isolated”.

As a thoughtful perk of the job, Clair and Gail found a cottage to rent in the village. “Historically we have had staff living with us and we suddenly realised ‘this is getting a bit silly now’”. The sisters managed to furnish the cottage with staff paying a peppercorn rent to help with bills and food. At just £50 per week, the Start Bay team are working hard to preserve something set up to impact staff positively.

Seaside living waves in no end of positives, and with a patio next to the beach there is ample space for customers to return to the Start Bay Inn when it’s safe to do so. “We’re missing having fish and chips aren’t we Charlie? The perks associated!”

“I miss the camaraderie with the staff, and I miss the routine too. I’m realising now it wasn’t such a bad deal, especially after mealtimes when the squabbling starts, I could just sneak out and whisper ‘see ya!’ and nip to work”. Charlie makes a noise in protest of the squabbling.

“I actually quite like the feeling of coming off the treadmill, it’s nice to step off, have some special time with my children that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and feel that pining for work again.”

With the next few weeks set to offer up more changes yet, Clair feels steady knowing she’s in the right place, even if home is a little too far from the lapping of the sea near work. 

Michael Hales, MBII - Butlers Arms, Pleasington

Licensee of the Year semi-finalist 2019.

LOYA 2019 Semi-Finalist, Michael Hales MBII is not a licensee who lets the grass grow under his feet. His went into his first tenancy, the Butlers Arms at Pleasington in 2016 and since then has added the Top Lock at Chorley and, most recently, The Railway in Bolton to the list in 2018, all with Star Pubs & Bars. Molly Davis found out more about each pub, and the team behind Imagine Inns.

The Butlers Arms at Pleasington is a unique venue, with a terrace overlooking a Bowling Green that is home to no less than 6 local teams. Running a community pub, sport and charity are both close to Michael’s heart and most recently he has been recognised by Pub Aid as being a huge contributor on both fronts.

Blokes United, is a local social inclusion support scheme, based around weekly football sessions, offering help to men suffering with mental health problems. After finding out about the work they did, Michael has been an avid supporter ever since, paying for pitch hire & kit as well as food and hot drinks after every session.

“It’s important to me that as a local business we support the community and projects like this where we can. Pubs are places where people connect, and sports teams provide the same support and friendship, so it makes sense that this is somewhere we can give something back.”

This ethos carries through to the Railway in Bolton, where the local cricket team has benefitted from a £1200 kit boost, thanks to Michael and Imagine Inns. These are directly funded from pub profits, but his venues also fundraise for larger equipment and projects with events from time-to-time.

In order to donate money however, you have to make it in the first place, so we wanted to find out more about how his business has gone from strength to strength in such a short amount of time.

For starters, all three pubs clearly look the part, with a strong theme throughout each one. Unique ideas and finishing touches give all the venues clear appeal to certain customer demographics. Michael gets inspiration from all over the place, but particularly from his travels. The recent addition of “cook-your-own” fire pits in the middle of the table at the Butlers Arms have been a hit with parties and guests looking for something different – an idea inspired by a trip to Melbourne, Australia.

Other ideas and initiatives have been the introduction of Carbon free dining – adding £1 optional extra on the bill which goes towards planting trees in developing countries.

Michael attributes his success to having a strong team around him, particularly since expanding the business. He has a GM in every site and 4 key staff at Head Office to help him oversee the whole operation. Matt – his right hand man, makes Michael’s ideas happen and looks after the Marketing for the business. Debs is in charge of Sales and Events whilst Tina and Sue take care of the Accounts.

“We all do a bit of everything though – this morning we were looking at the P&Ls for last month. Live accounting has changed the way we do business. We can spot trends, problems or even good things and react a lot quicker. I recently decided as a thank you to our locals in the Railway, to put £500 behind the bar on a Friday evening. We put some posts out on social media, inviting our regulars down for a drink on the house and the response was phenomenal. It was the best marketing ROI we’ve ever had – but also, everyone felt appreciated as customers, making it a great night.”

Marketing and the forward planning that goes with it is another key element in helping their business flourish. In August, they are planning for January and February – events, offers, menus and how to communicate all of this to their customers. Michael is clear on one thing though.

“Don’t get caught up in looking at what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself – that’s the only person you should be in competition with.”

That was particularly true when Michael opened the Railway, which was a boarded up community pub on the verge of becoming another block of flats when Imagine Inns took it on. Since then, it has been transformed into a sleek, fun local pub, offering a great dining experience and unique ambiance with its specially commissioned artwork pieces taking centre stage.

All three pubs have hosted, weddings, funerals, parties, family fun days and gin festivals in recent months and whilst Michael’s social life largely revolves around the pubs, he takes the time to get away from the business when he can, travelling around the world to get more inspiration.

We can’t wait to see the next chapter in Imagine Inns story…we’re sure it won’t be long!

What would you tell your younger self?

To be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about what I have done in the past. I tried my hardest at school and didn’t do great to be honest, but it’s important to try, fail and pick yourself up again. My only advice would be that I should have done it all sooner!

Best advice you could give?

Always say yes, or think positively about an opportunity. When you’re weighing it up, think about how you could make it happen. If it’s not right after you’ve done your research, fine, but never go into something thinking it won’t work…

Top Fact

Was a Chef in the Catskills in NY.
Back to Top