Skip to main content
Top of the Page

The BII thrives on the diversity of its 13,000 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.

Vicky and John Judson FBII

BII sustainability champions, Vicky and John Judson FBII know a thing or two about taking a green-fingered approach to growing their business, The George, a 15th century inn at the heart of the beautiful village of Castleton in Derbyshire’s peak district. The BII’s Teodora Pancheva MBII reports


Castleton is a small village with just 300 residents, but attracts tourists and others with its scenic walks and famous caves and caverns. Under the ancient ruins of Peveril Castle, on the quiet Castle Street, is The George, a Wells & Co pub, operated by Vicky and John Judson FBII since 2018. Experienced licensees, having run another pub locally for many years, the couple arrived at The George with a good knowledge of the area, accompanied by their most loyal customers and team members – many of whom have been with them for 17 years. Having refurbished the pub, the couple then looked to expand the business and purchased a neighbouring house with a plot of land attached. While planning restrictions wouldn’t allow them to build on the land, a seed of an idea germinated in September 2022, leading to the cultivation of an ambitious allotment project, which has seen the creation of 29 raised beds growing delicious home-grown produce for the pub’s kitchen. This successful project has become the talk of the town, as Vicky and John grow a wide range of produce, from cauliflower and carrots, to berries and tomatoes. It all gets harvested and is used to create dishes for their special’s menus, either as part of a dish or to feature as a jam, chutney or sauce. “There are only 300 people living here and we are the village local. We have a tourist menu with pie, fish and chips, burgers and so on, but for the specials we use the produce from the garden, and we also use local suppliers. We have gained a fanbase and our loyal customers keep coming back,” says John.


Community Since first developing the garden, they have put up greenhouses, installed a polytunnel and, most recently, established beehives. John and Vicky have also built strong connections with the local community, who have been more than happy to help by offering their own produce and even additional land. As word has spread, more locals have become involved, with the Judsons growing a whole network of people offering a variety of produce. And in return they give back something they’ve made, which could be anything from jams and chutneys to flavoured vodkas. “It’s a village community. Everybody brings along their surplus produce – it’s lovely,” says Vicky. “We have had enough rhubarb to make crumble for four months, but that’s boring. So, we have also used it in some of the specials, serving it with venison for instance. We have also made flavoured gins and used the leftover pulp to create boozy rhubarb and ginger jam.” Vicky loves chatting about the garden and sharing new ideas, so much so that she says customers in the pub can spend whole sessions talking to her about little else. And the interest has spread outside of the four walls of The George. “A lot of locals, or people staying in the campsite, will walk down just to visit the garden and to see what they will be eating that night,” she says. The garden provides other benefits too, from cost cutting to marketing. “We find that when people know a dish contains ingredients from our garden, it sells really quickly because people appreciate the fact that it’s homegrown.” They have also created about 40 lines of flavoured products in jars and bottles to sell. “When people realise we make our own home-made sauces, they’ll end up buying some to take home,” says Vicky


New ideas As an experienced chef, John is always using his food knowledge to find ways to reinvent dishes, so that whatever produce is available, it can be put to good use at The George. “I always tell my staff that when I was younger and working in the kitchen, I wish I had had Google! We either had to watch what others were doing, or find it in a recipe book. Now, we keep an iPad in the kitchen – it’s the best tool out there.” The George’s Head Chef, Billy, has been with the Judsons for an impressive 17 years and John likes to give Billy and the team, including the newest staff members, the freedom to pick and choose what to make with their ingredients. New ideas have seen the team expanding from jams and crumbles into making ice cream and sorbets. John says: “It’s hard to get chefs, but we find that if you keep them engaged and interested, rather than sticking to the same repetitive tasks every day, it’s makes the whole experience a lot better.” Part of the couple’s sustainable approach sees them also thinking of ways to ensure any by-products are not discarded, like the aforementioned pulp from flavoured vodka. “By repurposing everything, we’ve cut down on how much we throw out, meaning we’ve saved about £150 off bin tax a month – it’s a factor people often forget about,” says John.


With September 2023 bringing to a close the end of their first full year with the garden, John and Vicky took the opportunity to learn about what worked and what didn’t. For instance, while 75-80% of the garden worked well, there are areas with more direct sunlight that affects what can be successfully grown there. “It has been a bit of trial and error, but that’s what gardening is – it’s unpredictable.” To get the best from their garden for the upcoming year, they have been working with a friend who can provide drone footage of the area. Using this overview, they can plot out where everything should go, along with taking advantage of all available space, including planting herbs and peas on the garage roof. “The owners of the field next door Vicky loves chatting about the garden and sharing new ideas, so much so that she says customers in the pub can spend whole sessions talking to her about little else. And the interest has spread outside of the four walls of The George. “A lot of locals, or people staying in the campsite, will walk down just to visit the garden and to see what they will be eating that night,” she says. The garden provides other benefits too, from cost cutting to marketing. “We find that when people know a dish contains ingredients from our garden, it sells really quickly because people appreciate the fact that it’s homegrown.” They have also created about 40 lines of flavoured products in jars and bottles to sell. “When people realise we make our own home-made sauces, they’ll end up buying some to take home,” says Vicky. New ideas As an experienced chef, John is always using his food knowledge to find ways to reinvent dishes, so that whatever produce is available, it can be put to good use at The George. “I always tell my staff that when I was have allowed me space for three beehives. I’ve ordered the bees online – which is weird thing to say,” says John. And along with a move into beekeeping and honey production, they are also planning to increase the number of raised beds, get more beehives and install solar panels. Inspired by our BII Ambassadors’ Lee and Keris De Villiers, Licensee of the Year Award 2023 finalists, the couple are currently in talks with local holiday home owners and village residents about setting up a SAVE the DRAIN scheme. This will see The George collecting people’s waste oil for recycling. “Every day is a school day,” says John, concluding that it’s always nice to learn about what other operators are doing and see how they might be able to do something.


If you’re looking to create your own pub garden, John and Vicky share their best advice on starting out: “Start off small – work on stuff you know you’re going to use. We always recommend pea shoots, they’re quick and easy and always on the menu.” “Never expect everything to work – gardening is a process, not everything grows. Learn from mistakes and change for next time.” “You don’t need to buy new – take an empty tub, make holes in it and now you have a planter. You can always find something to repurpose without spending money for new stuff.” “When it starts growing, figure out how to use every part of it – whether that will be in a sauce, gin, jam or as compost for the next project.”


Jack Taylor FBII

Based in Staffordshire, a county renowned for its beers and brewing, Jack Taylor FBII manages several craft beer venues and is a nationwide beer distributor. The devil’s Taphouse & Bottlehouse in Stafford and the hideout in leek provide beer lovers a choice of how and when to enjoy, at home or in the pub. The BII’s Max Burke MBII reports


Jack Taylor FBII never did well at school, in fact he confesses to hating the whole experience, but his first job in a pub provided him with the inspiration he needed, and today he is proof of how the hospitality sector can play a key role in transforming young people’s lives – by putting them on course for a meaningful and successful future. Upon leaving school, Jack got himself a job as a pot wash at a pub in his hometown of Stone, a market town just north of Stafford. It wasn’t long before this hardworking and enthusiastic entrepreneur began climbing the career ladder, with rapid progression that saw him promoted into the role of Operations Director of a local restaurant, aged 18. Just a year later he was entrusted with taking on a new venue, The Bear, for Marston’s at the tender age of 19. Jack explains: “We did a £250,000 refurbishment with Marston’s directly and built The Bear up to a really great live music venue. It was at this point that I joined the BII”. Jack could not speak highly enough of his membership and the benefits he has received. Being trusted with such a business, whilst still a teenager, reaffirmed the potential and confidence that was evident in Jack early on.


When Covid hit, Jack saw an opportunity to supply people at home with everything from beer glasses to beer. And so, when the first lockdown ended, Jack was well on his way with his next venture, The Devil’s Taphouse. Opening on September 11, 2020, he was quick to capitalise on the cheap rent that was available at that time. But the opportunity turned out to be short-lived. “Within six weeks we got closed back down again because of Covid. I like to adapt to situations quickly, and overnight we turned the pub into a beer shop. We also started selling a few essential items, to keep the council happy. If you’re not willing to adapt, then you are going to be left behind,” he says. His success with the craft beer shop meant that as soon as restrictions were lifted, Jack seized the chance to expand his business ventures, opening The Devil’s Bottlehouse just two doors down from the Taphouse. And he has since acquired The Hideout in Leek, plus another bar nearby, which will also sell craft beer and cask after it is refurbished. All his venues are 100% wet. “We want to focus on the people who want to come into a venue and just be able to have a decent pint or drink. We don’t want to take the focus off what we do well.” Despite the lack of any food offering, Jack says the pandemic has provided an additional revenue stream for his businesses, as people’s lifestyle changes means that kegs of craft beer for home consumption are still in demand. The Great British Beer Company sells to over 400 breweries, distillers and cider manufacturers. Standing still is not in Jack’s DNA. As he enters his 11th year in hospitality, the youngest Fellow of the BII is continuously making investment into his businesses – almost £250,000 in the last 12 months alone. But his most valuable asset, he says, is his team of 80 staff. “Find good staff, invest in them and make them feel like everything they’re doing is going to make a difference to the business. As long as you give back to them and treat staff well, that’s the best investment you can make.”


Jack likes to be authentic and takes a genuine approach with his staff. He likes to use social media as a key promotion tool. “We’re not trying to be a big corporate company. We’re trying to be a pub company that likes to do things well. We are realistic and like to be approachable. I think that helps most people in life.” Jack’s success with social media has caught the attention of other brewers, which have got in touch to offer to do tap takeovers at the bars. Choice and variation are key to the bar’s successes, as Jack likes to have two regular beers and the rest on rotation, changing daily in order to keep people coming back to try new flavours and styles. He likes to take advice, chatting to brewers and having a suggestion box for customers to nominate new beers. Looking ahead, Jack is well aware of the challenges, especially the alcohol duty changes. This and the continuously high maintenance costs means Jack is hoping for good news in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, but he’s already making plans to cover all bases, as they prepare for winter. As someone the BII has recently recognised as a Fellow, having been a member since 2019, but in the industry for ten years, Jack has nothing but good words to say about how the BII has supported him throughout his journey. “I was taken aback to receive the Fellowship, especially as I’m one of the youngest. It was really nice to be awarded that for giving so much back to the industry. Everything the BII does is for the people.” On Jack’s office wall is a quote from his old school business teacher, who co-incidentally is now a regular at one of his bars: “Taylor, you’ll never make anything of yourself.” It is rather pleasing to know that Jack’s former teacher is now a customer and has got to see what a successful career and life he has made, not only for himself, but for his team of people – both now and for the foreseeable future.


Penny Doe and Kylie Turkoz Ferguson FBII

The Bell Inn in Castle Hedingham, Essex, has been standing since 1440 and serving the community as an inn since at least 1592. But licensees (and sisters) Penny Doe FBII and Kylie Turkoz-Ferguson are anything but stuck in the past, taking on this historic pub with a very forward thinking ethos, when it comes to operating sustainably. The BII’s Peter Baskett MBII reports


The Bell Inn is a long-established pub, purchased in 1884 by Walter Gray and remaining a Gray & Sons inn ever since. The field behind the pub used to grow hops, centuries ago, and true to its history, The Bell maintains a hop garden out back to this day. Passed down from mother to daughters in 1999, the pub is currently run by sisters Penny and Kylie. They recently achieved the BII Sustainability Champion status for the incredible effort they put into ensuring that The Bell Inn is as environmentally friendly as possible. With minimal alterations to the original structure, the pub maintains its old world charm, even boasting a Georgian Long Room, which in years past would have accommodated meetings and balls in the village. From the old arcade games and pinball machines, to the vintage decor and working fireplace, it is clear that the pub’s longstanding history has been embraced. While the sisters have made a phenomenal effort to lean into the historical elements of the pub and its surroundings, they have made an even greater effort to ensure that some things – such as single use glass bottles – remain in the past.


The sustainable pub journey started in front of a television screen, where the pair were inspired by David Attenborough’s documentaries, which illustrated all too clearly the extent of the damage that humanity is causing to our planet. In Kylie’s own words, Penny likes to get things done, rather than just talking or complaining about something. So, they took to their kitchen to see how they could start, and quickly found that they could eliminate cling film by opting for paper packaging options and tin foil. “That was actually really easy. We still use foil, but we haven’t used cling film since 2017. You have to get creative, but you actually feel quite proud when you discover a new way to do things,” says Kylie. They emphasise the power of taking small actions wherever possible, as this is not only how they started, but how they continue to drive sustainable change in their business. Since some of the bigger actions, like installing solar panels, aren’t always an option, they want people to know that the little steps still make a difference. “You can’t just say ‘well we aren’t going to do anything because whatever we do isn’t going to make a difference’ If everybody said that, then nothing would ever happen,” says Kylie. “Hopefully, by us talking about it with you and with our customers, it might help get the message across to people who are wavering a bit, or not sure if they can be bothered.”


The benefits of sustainable operating go beyond simply feeling good for doing right by the planet, they might actually drive business and save money in the long-run. Consumer trends show that sustainability is holding greater importance on people’s purchasing decisions than ever before. And with increasing numbers of people considering the environmental impact before spending, operators risk missing out on vital business. Plus, Penny and Kylie have saved a significant amount of money over time by making simple moves: no longer purchasing straws, or having paper receipts for card machines. As well as reducing waste, these are items they no longer need to spend money on. “Have that wish list of the things you want to do, and it gradually happens. As the lightbulb goes, put the LED one in – don’t change them for LEDs in one go, that’s just a waste! “Once you start doing it, apart from the fact it feels good, it can save money,” says Kylie. One recent innovation for The Bell has been the arrival of an ecoglass wash, which recycles water. Previously, everything was washed by hand, but due to the sink being too low and causing back pains, a replacement became necessary. This was seen as an opportunity to introduce more environmentally friendly measures. “We’ve never had an electric glass washer in the bar, but this is energy efficient. There is often an initial cost, but then there are savings.”


While The Bell Inn only offers a limited menu, they still try to source ingredients locally, getting most of their meat from a farm shop just 10 miles away. Similarly, they buy vegetables from the local wholesaler, which also reduces packaging, since the fresh veg is bundled into a big box. The Bell serves Two Farmers’ crisps, which are totally plastic-free. Prior to acquiring a commercial composting contract, they took the crisp packets home to compost. “I needed to see if they would actually disappear in my compost at home. They did, which I was pleasantly surprised by. We have now got a commercial composting contract for food waste,” says Kylie. They are also mindful of where they source their drinks from. A new addition to the bar is Toti, an alcohol brand which makes rum and donates money to marine welfare. They also stock Wilde Samphire gin and Tuffon Hall wines, which are sourced locally “Our biggest turnaround has been replacing our house gin (Gordon’s) and our house Smirnoff vodka with Sapling gin and vodka, which are carbon neutral in everything that they do. Although it is more expensive to buy, by putting it in as the house gin and the house vodka, we’re eliminating less sustainable options. “We were happy to swallow that cost and proudly serve something that we are very happy with,” says Kylie. Making customers aware of their efforts has also been important for The Bell, as it attracts like-minded people who want to do better for the environment. It also encourages questions from others who are curious. “By stocking Two Farmers’ crisps in their compostable packets and by putting the Who Gives a Crap toilet paper in our toilets with ‘Who Gives a Crap’ written on it, that’s actually shouting about the things that are important to us,” explains Penny. “It’s saying we do give a crap!” Kylie chimes in. Leaving our readers with some advice, the pair suggest taking a look around your pub and seeing what things, big or small, you can do today to be more sustainable. “You have to do what you can without compromising your offering, but actually you’ll find the changes don’t tend to compromise your offering as much as you’d think.” Just be sure to do your research first, and be conscious not to greenwash, they warn.

Keith Richardson, FBII - Goathland Hotel

Every BII member is unique and we love sharing their journeys through the years with our 10,000 strong network. Max Burke MBII asked Keith Richardson from the Goathland Hotel, better known as the Aidensfield Arms from popular TV drama, Heartbeat about his passion for pubs and how they have successfully run their pub for nearly 40 years. 

How did you come to be at The Goathland Hotel? Are you tenanted with Punch Pubs?
My wife Jean’s family had lived in Goathland previously and we had our Wedding Reception here in 1974.  It started with a New Years Day conversation together in 1985 which then turned into us applying to buy the Lease with Punch.

The pub has been run by your family for the past four decades - how did the pub come to be such a vital part of your family’s lives?
As my wife had previous family living here, we already knew many people and the village lifestyle.  We actually have family that ran this pub back in the early 1900's.  Our children went to the same village school that their grandfather did and moving from Mortlake, it offered a peaceful and attractive way of life.  Running The Jolly Gardeners in Mortlake was great, but we wanted a pub with rooms and the pub and hotel in Goathland offered our young family so much more.

How did your customers react during and after the Coronavirus pandemic?
Our customers were very sympathetic and when coming back many were very cautious.  However, we gained a great many repeat customers to our tourist hot spot when they saw how high we kept our cleaning standards.

During and since Covid there has been an increase in the number of people who are opting to take their holidays in the UK instead of going abroad. Having that accommodation option for customers, how have you taken advantage of this, and did you see an upturn in bookings?
Yes, we have definitely seen a reawakening as to what a UK holiday can offer and also the short escape, not pinning all their energy on 2 weeks.  We have increased our advance minimum stay to 3 nights, a great way to ckeep costs down.

Is social media important to the way you run the business?

Yes, our media take is slightly different and we use it as a village focus.  After all, the more reasons to visit the better, and it encourages people to stay for  longer.

The pub is well known for being used as the Aidensfield Arms in Heartbeat, did this positively affect footfall for the business?
Absolutely, it's brought the North Yorkshire Moors worldwide tourism.  It’s been great to welcome visitors from as far afield as Scandinavia, Canada, OZ & NZ.

The village is infamous for another reason -  Goathland station, located a stone’s throw from the hotel, was used in one of the Harry Potter films. Did this affect the number of visitors to the town and therefore the pub? 
It was a lovely extra to our popular village.  Coaches of 50 Japanese students will suddenly file past the pub to The 'Hogwarts' Station.

What are some of your key considerations now in the current climate?
Our focus currently is being aware of the little things, from each bill and what's necessary or can be negotiated.  We try to ensire each customer leaves wanting to come back again.

How do you balance the menu so it yields the highest GP? What’s your best dish for GP?
Our menus are designed with our customers in mind as such we run a small menu and serve a lot of each dish!  Our best GP has to be Ham, Eggs with chips or Sausage, Eggs with chips.

What is your menu like? Do you think it’s important to cater to different tastes and say have a vegan option?

Absolutely -  we have had a Gluten free menu for over 15 years and now have vegan options always available from 'Meatballs' to Macaroni.

Do you work with a chef to create menus or is this something you like to manage?
No - we are a Husband and Wife team through and through.  My wife is the Cook, along with a management team.

Have you been in touch with other local businesses during this time?
We have always worked closely with the Steam railway and have a great working relationship with our local suppliers.
When times are tough working closely with your local suppliers is invaluable.  We have seen so many challenges, particularly as a rural business.  fromthe cost of living crisis or running out of logs in a snowy winter.  
Heartbeat started filming in 1991,  and we were asked by Keith Richardson the  executive producer at the time if we could be used for a Pilot series of 6 episodes.  Little did we know that it would not finish until 2008 and is still repeated everyday!  Whilst it was an incredible opportunity, it created many challenges and there was no other business the same that we could draw support or expertise from.  To be honest the closest was a Disney training course!

The pub is now up for sale, how and why have you come to this decision?
We love the working in this industry, it is a great life and lifestyle but as I'm about to be 80 and my wife is 75 we would like to travel some more and visit friends and family, so are going to be retiring shortly.

Do you have any tips for the licensee(s) that takes over the pub?
Embrace the village and all that is, from Heartbeat and Harry Potter to the Steam Railway and walking the Moors. Afterall, if you are passionate about it you can sell it to others to enjoy.

Why did you decide to join the BII?
We decided to join the BII as a member a long time ago, they provide great advice that is industry specific at the touch of a button.

Why would you recommend the BII to a fellow industry professional?
We would recommend the BII to anyone in the trade, new or old because nobody walks in knowing everything and if you do, the rules soon change.

Jimmy Adams & Ludo Bathgate MBII - The Lucky Saint

As well as being a great tasting alcohol-free beer, Lucky Saint is now the proud operator of a London pub. The BII’s Head of Communications Molly Davis CBII speaks to the Head of On Trade London, quality & pub Jimmy Adams and licensee Ludo Bathgate MBII to find out more.


The Lucky Saint sits in the perfect London location. Just on the edge of Regent’s Park in Marylebone, it occupies a traditional corner plot, and is one of those gems that makes you feel at home as soon as you walk in the door. Just last year, however, the pub was a dilapidated shell, having stood empty since before the pandemic, in its former guise as the infamous Masons Arms.


The team from alcohol-free beer brand, Lucky Saint, have never shied away from a challenge, and taking on the huge task of bringing this much loved pub back to its former glory was no exception. After months of hard work and a steep learning curve for a business that had never run a pub before, let alone taken on a major building project, The Lucky Saint opened its doors for the first time in March 2023.


The ethos of Lucky Saint as a brand is about so much more than just beer without a hangover, and licensee Ludo Bathgate MBII, and Head of On Trade London, Quality & Pub, Jimmy Adams, have strived to make their pub something extra special. Everyone who is part of the company lives and breathes their values, now from their new permanent offices above the pub itself, following rapid team expansion that necessitated 10 office moves in four years.


From the get-go, the Lucky Saint team were determined to create a pub that became the heart of its community once again, a safe and inclusive place that local people could call their own – a pub for modern times.


Jimmy commented: “When the Masons Arms shut its doors in 2020, it was a community institution, and the closure had a hugely detrimental effect on the residents in the local area. We want to be open as much as possible to give people a space to come, meet, hang out with their families and friends.”


As the project got underway, local residents were curious about the refurb of their beloved pub, and the Marylebone Residents Association met with Jimmy on several occasions. Their support and desire for the pub to be open again, and be successful, was a great boost during the inevitable challenges the transformation of a historic venue brought.


Making the Lucky Saint an accessible and friendly space for residents, local office workers and hospital staff was a priority for all involved, and even in the first few months of trading, it is clear that this approach is bearing fruit. BBC Radio One DJ, Greg James, who was an avid fan of the Masons Arms before its closure, has also been delighted to see the site come back to life again as a local pub close to the BBC studios.


As well as welcoming customers from the local community and businesses, the refurbishment was designed to offer flexible meeting space, enabling not only the Lucky Saint team to work from the pub, but also providing a haven for remote and hybrid workers to hot desk in style.


The business isn’t just about the building, beautiful as it is, with reclaimed windows from the original venue keeping some of the nostalgic London pub charm alive. The best pubs are all about their people. At the helm, licensee and General Manager, Ludo spoke about his approach to getting the best team in place.


“I’ve been in bars since I was 19 – back home (in Australia) I went from a glass collector right through to a supervisor role. Moving over here, I went straight into management with Bar Works.


“Hospitality is seen as much more of a career in Australia, as it is in Europe. Trying to get young people here involved and seeing it as a career option and not just a stop gap job is a real challenge, but it’s important for our sector to break that mould.”


Despite having a lot of university students working part-time whilst getting their degrees, the onboarding process is the same for anyone joining the team, a process that goes much deeper than just how to pull a pint or clear a table. Jimmy and Ludo want anyone working with them to feel part of the Lucky Saint brand as a whole and everyone is given the opportunity to learn about all channels in the business.


Ludo believes the key to engaged staff who will stay and grow with you is real mix of factors, from transparency about how the business runs, to better pay and an easier work week, enabling staff to have a great work/life balance. Employing more people, doing less hours and giving flexibility around shifts, adds another challenge for a brand-new business, but with the support of the local community and the opportunity to be part of an exciting, fast-growing brand, they are off to a flying start.


The diverse range of drinks available for guests obviously features fantastic low and no alcohol brands, including spirits from Pentire and Everleaf, but there is something for everyone, with the ethos centred around quality and inclusivity as a priority. As a relatively new pub, they have the ability to experiment with the range, but sourcing partners based on aligned values and sustainability is of vital importance to the team.


BII Support


Although Ludo has a wealth of experience in the industry, becoming a BII member has given him and the team access to the support and key information that they will need on their journey.


Jimmy also credits the collaboration across every part of the industry as a major part of the future direction for the Lucky Saint. “We have been on such a steep learning curve from the beginning of this project, and so many people have helped us along the way. We are looking forward to using the collective insight of BII members to shape what we do next.”


It is clear that the Lucky Saint is leading the charge in the next generation of pubs, matching the needs of the community, local businesses and its team to perfection. We can’t wait for what’s next for this incredible pub and the wider Lucky Saint brand.


What would you do differently, knowing what you do now?
“Take advice and input from a wide range of sources, but also take the time to figure out what will work for you.”


“Make sure you get the design right before you start any building or refurbishment. We could have saved ourselves time and money doing it right the first time.”

“We should have hired Ludo earlier in the process – he had the practical experience we needed to inform the way we designed key areas, such as the bar.”

Robert Shepherd, FBII - The Thistle Street Bar 

Traditionally Scottish, The Thistle Street Bar, located on the historic Thistle Street in Edinburgh, has become a tourist destination for travellers seeking a drink in an authentic Scottish bar. Licensee Robert Shepherd FBII reveals how every decision he makes fits with the bar’s ethos and contributes to the genuine, premium experience that has made it so popular, Peter Basket reports


Dating back to the late 1700s, when it was a cow shed of all things, the Thistle Street Bar site is steeped in history. So, when first taking the bar on, licensee Robert Shepherd FBII decided to focus on this amazing heritage and make it a celebration of the very best that Scotland has to offer.


“I decided to create a pub that reflected that historic element and delivered the best of Scotland without it being parochial or gimmicky. That was the idea,” he explains. Robert got into the bar trade in the 1980s, when he worked at different venues in a variety of roles, from bar manager of the Edinburgh Sheraton to the area secretary for the UK Bartenders Guild. As he started a family, he decided to leave the trade, only to return some years later when he was approached with the opportunity to take on the Thistle Street Bar.


Re-entering the trade, he noticed a shift in the way that many pubs were being run. “For me, there seemed to be more emphasis on getting drinks out there and less emphasis on the hospitality aspect itself, the kind of traditions that I grew up with, which was all about engaging with customers, trying to hold customers in the bar and to deliver an experience that was more than just to serve a drink.” For Robert, it was important to deliver on the expectations of the people visiting the area. Recognising that the bar was located on an upmarket street in one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations, he ensured that was reflected in the bar’s offer. “We have a wide range of whiskies, as you would imagine, and we try to have as many good quality Scottish local products on the bar, as we can.” The concept of maintaining the traditional Scottish look and feel runs deep through the Thistle Street Bar, with every element from the décor to the music being carefully curated to fit the bill.


Robert gave an insight into the process behind choosing the products he stocks: “What we tend to do is we look at it and see if we can have a product that is Scottish or has a Scottish connection. That’s the first thing. Next thing we ask, is it good enough? Is that a good enough product for us to actually sell?” Giving some examples of this in practice, he mentions their house gins, which are a locally made Edinburgh Gin and an Isle of Harris gin, which is distilled from scratch and contains locally sourced kelp that is gathered by divers daily. Even their house Champagne, Lagarde Écossaise, is named after the 6,000 Scots Guards who fought alongside the French in the 14th century.


Having a local connection is a high priority, but quality remains the crucial factor when deciding what to sell over the bar. Vodka is one such example of this. “There are Scottish vodkas out there, but we would rather not sell one, as we feel that it is not as good as some of the classics. So we’ve chosen Absolut.”


He adds that they don’t sell shots, as it wouldn’t fit with the style of the place, and instead he offers guests a measure of whisky, as the idea is to be able to sit and enjoy a quality drink in good company, rather than get drunk as quickly as possible.
Having a tenancy with Greene King and weekly rent to pay, Robert looks at products other than beer to deliver the best profit. “To increase our margins and make it profitable for us, we major on our whiskies and our gins,” he explains. “For example, our mid-range malt whiskies from Speyside carry a higher margin. We’ll go for around about an 80% margin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re expensive to the customer.”


How does Robert find the unique products to fill his shelves? Apart from attending tastings of new beers, wines and spirits (a difficult, but necessary part of the job, he laughs), he says regular communication with his suppliers is key.
“We keep a dialogue going with them, as we like to find out what’s new. We can usually tell immediately if it’s for us or not, and our suppliers know that they can’t sell us something that doesn’t fit with the bar’s ethos,” says Robert. “I think that’s why the Thistle Street Bar has been successful – it’s because it stuck to the formula.”


Part of the experience is finding a drink that suits the customer’s personal tastes. Bartenders working under Robert will have a talk with the customers, in order to find out what kind of taste/palette they have, and will then recommend a drink to suit them. By always starting with the lower priced ones, Robert finds that customers will tend to be curious and want to try the more expensive options after. Though there’s never any pressure to spend more – it is the experience that takes priority.
In order to provide such an experience, the bar stocks a variety of spirits at all price points. This is where having a good supplier becomes key, as consistency is important – if a product sells well, Robert doesn’t want to hear that he can’t buy it again. “Morton is one of our spirit suppliers, but we’ve also hooked into Royal Mile Whiskies, which is right in the heart of the old town. These guys can source whiskies and products that we would never get elsewhere. Customers are looking for things that they don’t recognise and for whiskies that they won’t be able to buy in the States, for example.” 


It’s not all about the bar, either – the street is filled with top-notch restaurants, including local seafood, and one of the best Thai restaurants in Edinburgh. As such, Robert makes an effort to recommend nearby dining locations to hungry travellers, and offers them an appropriate aperitif – which could be anything from a light lowland whisky to a glass of Prosecco. Customers will often return after their meal to thank Robert for the recommendation, and stay to enjoy another drink or two.


Again, it’s about the overall customer experience – whether that’s inside the bar or elsewhere. Robert reiterates: “if you give them an experience to remember, they’re more likely to return – or at least recommend you to others.”


Live music has also become a staple of the Thistle Street Bar experience. Most days of the week you will be greeted by mellow tunes that have been chosen to resonate with their target demographic (generally people 40 and over). Besides adding to the authentic feel of the place, the live music often attracts passers-by who may be looking to stop for refreshments on their travels.


Having a couple of talented and reliable musicians regularly scheduled in the bar means that the organisation, on Robert’s part, is minimal. Musicians will likely know other local musicians as well, and are usually more than happy to find extra talent for special events or as cover.


While the bar does have televisions, they are reserved for showcasing current promotions, or for big sporting events, such as the Six Nations. “Our bar is built on the ethos that bars are about people interacting. It’s not just about selling alcohol, it’s about creating that whole interactive atmosphere and one of the elements of that is live music.”


If there is something to take away from the success of the Thistle Street Bar, it is this: be authentic, bring the focus back to hospitality and, above all, create an experience to remember.

Back to Top