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.

Tim Tomlinson, MBII - Merchants 1688, The Stonewell Tap and The White Cross 

Running three venues and acting as Chair of Pub Watch in Lancaster,  BII LOYA finalist from 2017, Tim Tomlinson has been rushed off his feet for the last 18 months and says that instead of a holiday, nirvana, for him, is just a really boring few weeks of pre-Covid life.

Opening his first venue in 2004 with The White Cross, Tim quickly grew his portfolio with The Merchants 1688 in 2007. Both being tied lease agreements (The White Cross with Stonegate and The Merchants currently with Greene King), Tomlinson divulges his success in growing these businesses: “From when I bought it in 2004, [The White Cross] was doing maybe £50,000 per year, we’ve got that up to £1.4 Million now.”
 
 “A lot of that was down to us offering a really good Real Ale selection, doing good food and offering great service too… but the Real Ale was a cornerstone to that.” Nowadays, The White Cross offers 12 craft beers and 12 real ales, delivering an experience similar to offerings in big cities like nearby Manchester, which Tim puts down to going through the process of reviewing his agreement with Stonegate. 
 

 The Stonewell Tap (renamed from The Stonewell Tavern, it’s 1980s incarnation), caught Tim’s eye in 2017. He took on the venue as a freehold, for its potential to house a craft beer and real ale selection to match no other. Tim says, “The market in Real Ale offered strong growth from the early noughties to the mid-teens, but from about 2016 onwards it flattened out and I noticed it started to decline slightly. Craft beer has since been in the ascendancy, so I spotted that as a market trend and something I could differentiate myself on.” For those who prefer not to commute back after an evening of indulgence, The Stonewell also boasts an Airbnb apartment, run by Tim’s wife Lucy. 
 
 “Lucy isn’t a publican, but The Stonewell Tap is our joint business. She’s a full time social worker. But the trade has come back on the Airbnb, so that’s a nice bit of income for us when things have been difficult.”
Speaking over the phone one morning in August, Tim is keen to share the issues on the lips of everyone in our industry at the moment. 
 
 “I got a call yesterday from our food and drink supplier and all of their team have been isolating, so I’ve got to drive over to their depot and pick everything up to make things work.” With the “pingdemic” causing many businesses to close, stop serving food, or operate under stressful circumstances, Tim says that what’s particularly difficult is the loss of that charitable and forgiving feeling felt during the lockdowns.  “I read a review that said something like ‘they can get over using Covid as an excuse now, it’s over, everything’s normal now’. Hang on a second, you really don’t get this do you? We aren’t operating normally.” He continues, “Getting to a point where you’ve not got the capacity to deal with customers who want to buy food and drink from you is so difficult, after doing everything possible to grow your business for 15 years.”
 
Boosting the morale and mental health of his team, Tim says, starts with himself. “It’s important to notice if I am feeling stressed, to not try to be in denial, but to go ‘Yes, this is pretty crap actually’ and recognise that it’s okay to feel weird. “We are 20 to 30% down in sales this week but there’s no point in getting yourself more stressed about it because stress isn’t going to change that. But it does feel like 6 months’ worth of stress is all coming at once. I find talking to other people and being open about it really helps.”
 

Having a WhatsApp group with local business owners has been a great forum, not only to share best practice, but personal experiences too. A topic up for discussion is the notion of returning to bar service or balancing staff needed for table ordering. “If you’ve got three people behind the bar and 100 customers getting served, those customers will come over, take their drinks, some might bring their glasses back, come backwards and forwards to order more. But if you’ve got the same staff levels to serve 100 seated it takes a lot more time.
 
“There’s a cost implication, staff costs might rise by 30-50%, but you don’t want to alienate customers by changing price points.”
 
Tim’s tips for other licensees working towards a period of recovery is to find the right balance between exemplary service and not overreaching yourself. “On quiet days, you can always do more trade, but on busy days it’s important to recognise that you can’t overstretch. Typically, we try and upsell 10%, but if we overstepped ourselves and the service wasn’t there, we’d be worse off in 6 months’ time without our regular customers.”
 
At the moment, spend per head is up by 20-30% more each visit, with GPs on popular food items being 70% because of the continued VAT rate cut, but Tim is balancing this with the fact that staffing levels are low and pay increasing.  “We’ve essentially missed two years’ worth of training. Where you might have recruited a young kitchen porter two years ago, they could be a commis or chef de partie now, but that hasn’t happened.” With a lot to balance, bringing things back  to business essentials is how Tim is going to spend the next few months, so we’ll leave you with his sage words for recovery:
 
“It’s an old thing in business that winning a new customer costs ten times as much as keeping an old one, and it’s true. If someone comes to you every Wednesday and they have a great experience that’s good, but if they have a bad experience and never come back, it costs you a lot of money in the long term.
 
“It sounds a bland statement, but it’s key to our bottom line, you’ve just got to make sure the new ones also keep coming back and convert into regulars too.”
 
Tim tells you his BII top tips:

 

  •  “The online and email communications that we get from you are always helpful, it’s great to learn and confirm the latest changes. There have been so many bits of advice and information, but the BII have been really solid and reliable, and independent.” – Learn more here
  •  “Ringing in and speaking to the Landlord & Pub Co helpline really helped me with the MRO process that helped me to work to a new agreement that meant I could start stocking the real ale and craft beer that would suit my customers” – Call Your BII Team today on 01276 684449

Cheryl and Paul Brew, MBII - The Spanker Inn 

Star Pubs & Bars tenants, Cheryl and Paul Brew joined their newly refurbished pub, The Spanker Inn, just after the first lockdown hit. Already well established within the hearts of customers, BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Cheryl to talk about the values that create lasting community connections in Belper, Derbyshire. 

“We opened properly on 4th July 2020, which means we missed the £35,000 support from the Government by a week. What we did receive, like the Christmas support grant, kept our heads just above water.” Having both been in the pub game for 25 years, Cheryl’s knowledge of the local area and what her customers best respond to is evidence of living most of her adult life in Derbyshire.  “It was very exciting to have Star invest in The Spanker, because it’s a very community minded village and it was great for them to see the pub company invest in their pub, in their community. It makes you very proud of what we are and where we are.”
 

 It’s clear to see that Cheryl and Paul have made an effort to connect with those around them, having recently hosted a pub quiz in aid of Andy Lathem (a local customer raising awareness of prostate cancer following his own diagnosis). “Andy set his mind of raising awareness more than money, but he was a big cricketer in his day and so did 60 in 60 (he turned 60 this year) and walked 60 boundaries round all the cricket grounds.” Raising over £800 for the charity involved hosting 12 teams for the quiz night, as well as selling raffle tickets with prizes. At the end of the night, Cheryl says, a team member came up and said, “I love what you two have done for the community.” She continues, “To hear that from somebody really warms your heart, it makes persevering through the tough times worth it, to have that feeling of love or warmth come back to you from the community.”
 
 It’s no wonder Cheryl and Paul were recipients of our Heart of the Community Award in 2020; with every event, idea and way of working, Cheryl is conscious of how it helps the people living around them. “We have a vintage day coming up, because our friend David noticed the potential in our car park. Someone we know collects vintage tractors and cars, so that was the starting point and we wanted to keep on the tradition of the old steam fair that was run each year in Belper.”
 
 On offer are market stalls selling vintage clothes and woollen creations from a lady that joins the pub’s Knit and Natter group every Thursday.  Based around the era of make-do-and-mend, a time where people would make a cardigan themselves, or repair an older one, Cheryl says that this year’s event is a softly softly approach to test the local appetite. “We’re charging stall holders £10 which we’ll donate to charity, we don’t do it for financial gain but if you’ve got an extra 50 people here, they’re going to buy cups of teas, pints, lunches, you kind of make it back that way.
 
 “We’ll be offering afternoon teas, scones, and we’re running a vintage menu in the kitchen too, corn beef hash, there’s talk of spam fritters to really get into the spirit.”
 

 As well as injecting a camaraderie and fun into the village, Cheryl and Paul also work to make things a bit easier for visitors. “There’s no shop in the village so we set one up, we’ve called it The Essential Shop. We have a great connection with the local caravan park too, they often recommend us as a lunch or dinner spot, so we thought, ‘What would we forget to pack on holiday?’. We’ve tried to think of everything!” Not stopping at holidaymakers though, Cheryl says people often stop by for a pint and pick up some tea bags on the way home too. But it’s not just ale and tea on the menu at The Spanker (which operates to a split of 30-35% food and 65-70% wet), Cheryl has thought of some savvy ways to add to profit margins while ensuring everyone is catered for. 
 
 “When we first opened, there was no food in the pub at all, we offered a very small selection and slowly built it up from discussions with our Area Manager.
 
 “Our charcuterie and cheese boards are a new, upmarket, addition because we noticed that groups often came in and ordered a few picky starters to share. We sell the boards for £14.95 so that’s a GP of 65%.”
 
 Catering for older and younger generations resulted in The Spanker’s “smaller plates” menu which sees smaller portions of the more filling main courses. “We wanted to cater for older children who perhaps want to feel a bit more grown up, or an older person who fancies a hot meal for their lunch.” Adding more options to the menu without having to carry a wider range of stock, the larger plates are priced at between £9.95 (for a larger plate of ham, egg and chips) to £10.25 (for scampi) and £5.95 for the smaller plates. Leaving customers with more room for pudding was a happy coincidence, and Cheryl is often to be found in the kitchen rustling up dessert while Paul’s interests lie in all things bar and cellar (having recently been awarded his Cask Marque plaque!)
 
 With hopes to turn a period of recovery into thriving business, Cheryl says that she’s turning her sights onto the people still too nervous to set out from self-isolation. “We need to let the ground settle for a bit, but we want to support the older people in feeling confident again. We’re setting up the luncheon club again that offers two courses for under a tenner, and planning a re-entry Afternoon Tea, a chance for people to bring their friends once a month and know that we’re still offering Covid mitigations to keep them safe.” 
 
 It’s no wonder the local community are overjoyed at the attention The Spanker is receiving, this pub turned shop, turned cafe, is lucky to have Cheryl and Paul at the helm – they’re looking after their customers in every way they can. And as one Derbyshire newspaper noted “they’re doing a smashing job.”
 
 Cheryl’s top tips for community-minded recovery:
  •  “Because we’re the only pub in the village, it has been about getting involved in the community, developing contacts in the community to work with the community. People are so grateful that their pub is open again, I think this could be the resurgence of the Great British pub it’s just finding the right way to do it for your locals.
  • “You’ve really got to offer people the best service you can give them, because so many pubs are shut and aren’t going to reopen. We need people to use them, but in encouraging that you need to give them the best quality, make it a good experience, so that they come back and use you rather than lose you.
  • “If you’re in a position like we’re in where you are the only pub in the village, you have to get involved with things, you can’t just open your doors and expect people to come in.”
 

Sophia Idjer, MBII - The Bohemian Cocktail Bar 

Currently leased through Greene King by Sophia Idjer and her business partner Blake (Mark Blake), The Bohemian Cocktail Bar is a music hub that takes inclusivity seriously. BII’s Eleanor Kirby joined Sophia on a video call to talk about working to welcome all and making their commercial kitchen do some hard graft.

Opening her first venue in August 2020, mid-pandemic, seems not to have phased Sophia Idjer who has a background in hospitality technology. Joining BII Trusted Partners, Kbox, as their European Sales Managing Director (a post Idjer has now left to focus on developing The Bohemian), Sophia says “it felt like I came home.”
 
 Speaking over Google Meets in early August, The Bohemian Cocktail bar has newly reopened free from all restrictions (after only being open for three months prior to the winter lockdown) and Sophia can only but sing pub company Greene King’s praises. “We’ve been heavily restricted. I’ve had an awful lot of support from Greene King. Our Business Development Manager is Asa Charlton, and although I think we’ve got quite a different venue to one he’s used to, he has been so supportive. All Greene King have done is try and learn and be supportive.”
 
 With no other financial support available in terms of local authority grants or Bounceback loans, Sophia is thankful for the brewery’s support on rent relief.  “Greene King have also been really helpful when we were first setting up our commercial kitchen, they helped me bring in equipment, replace older equipment, and they’ve shared some of the costs too.” Describing The Bohemian Cocktail bar as being a music venue with a focus on old school R&B, old school Garage, Reggae and Bashment music, Sophia says, “we’ve got a very different offering to anyone else in Moseley which has a very bohemian feel.
 

“The beauty of bringing in customers to our venue from all sides of Birmingham, and even London, is that other local businesses – the chip shop, the convenience store, local eateries and the taxis, get a completely new set of customers too.” Setting up the kitchen, with the help of her knowledge of Kbox brands meant that the venue could enter into the food delivery space during lockdowns and find a use for their kitchen space while the venue is closed (The Bohemian Cocktail Bar concentrates its opening hours on a Friday-Sunday schedule centred around music promoters). 
“Kbox is an absolute no brainer for a hospitality venue that has a kitchen that isn’t at full capacity. We traditionally think of bums on seats: we think of people coming in and purchasing our core business, but there’s revenue that sits within a three mile radius to your location.
 
 The most popular brands that The Bohemian Cocktail Bar uses are The Absurd Bird and The Absurd Vird (the vegan option), which Sophia says also work really well alongside sit down brunch offerings on Sundays. Currently, it makes up around 30-40% of their revenue. Quickly adapting to changing restrictions, Sophia recognised that she needed to build a package of events to boost trading on a Sunday and cater to the customers who perhaps didn’t want to finish the weekend quite so soon.  
 
 “We’re very lucky that Bohemian has a loyal set of party goers as a late night venue. Fridays and Saturdays just weren’t enough for us while we were working at a third of our capacity, so we started the Sunday Sessions which were events where you could go with a little bit of a hangover, but still dress up and party.
 
“Sundays actually became our strongest days because we were working with our promoters, DJ Dayday (recently featured on BBC 1Extra), DJ Mexy, Supper Club Sundays (our main support throughout lockdown), and our two resident DJs: DJ Gzee on a Friday night and DJ Surgery on a Saturday Night.“
 
 Working with promoters and DJs, Sophia has found, really helps bring in followers of the DJs themselves, but also means they have an affinity with the venue and want to push it to a new set of customers too (with many boasting upwards of 30,000 followers on social media and music platforms). Greene King have really helped pivot the venue in this way, as Sophia notes that the trends in drinks aren’t your usual draught beer or ale. Shots are their most popular order at the bar, yielding 73% at a time, but the venue also hosts a mixologist called Saller Yero who creates new cocktails to suit each event (often using favourite rum brands, Hennessey and Wray & Nephew). 
 

 “We have a really good agreement with Greene King, we were tied until about a week ago, but even before then, if we wanted something they didn’t stock, we were free to shop around.”
Inclusivity is important to Sophia, and recent feedback from customers shed a light on just how dear that is to the people who enjoy themselves at The Bohemian. 
 
 “We recently had some guys come in from a famous grime collective from London– a famous garage/grime group. They came up to me at the end of the night, held my hands and said ‘Thank you for your customer service, people like us don’t go anywhere and get treated the way you guys have treated us. People don’t want us in their venue because of how we look’.”
 
 With the majority of their customers hailing from Asian, Black or Mixed Race backgrounds, Sophia is keen to note that inclusivity runs beyond greetings and standard customer service as she and her team of 15 staff work hard to include every gender, race, sexual orientation and ability.
 
 “We have disabled and special needs customers, and so it was really important to make this a fun space for them too. Disabled toilets are usually quite clinical, so we’ve made ours swish to match the venue, adding nice flooring, mirrors, plants, toiletries.” With all staff, including security staff, being female (aside from Blake and Saller), the venue is also very focused on female safety. 
 
 “We’ve recently launched ‘Ask for Angela’ and we’ve been known to pay for taxis home. I’ve tied handbags and heels to peoples’ wrists, ordered Ubers for them, taken the taxi driver’s phone number for updates. We’re really careful with our customers.” A thriving venue that consistently operates to capacity, Sophia’s ideas for the future span creating a London-style rooftop bar and setting up a festival that sees The Bohemian Cocktail Bar collaborate with Moseley Private Park. 
 

Sophia’s top tips for recovery

  •  Customer service – “One thing I’ve learned recently is that everyone is at a different stage in their pandemic journey. Some are comfortable, some are uncomfortable, some are uncomfortable but want to be out. It’s all about understanding the new range of needs for each individual.”
  •  Collaboration – “Work with great entertainers locally, and support them in what they’re doing – even if it isn’t something they’re doing in your venue, support them inside and out your venue. Push their work and they’ll push their work with you.”
  •  Thinking outside the box – “Having Kbox in our venue was a great way to assess how to boost revenue. Think outside the box and make the effort to understand what’s happening in your local area!”
  •  Share best practice – “Approach people in our industry, pick their brains, ask them the questions on your mind – ‘How do you deal with this? Is this normal?’ – It’s my first venue, I wasn’t shy about contacting people for their advice.”

 Learn more about the “Ask for Angela” campaign, focusing on customer safety, here: https://www.met.police.uk/AskforAngela 

Simon Barton, FBII

50 years in the industry and Simon Barton is still going. BII’s Jess Topping spoke to Simon about his progression in the industry from a Saturday job, all the way to owning 4 pubs with his son and business partner, Dan along with his new wife Suzie.

Starting off in the trade just before his 16th birthday working part-time in The Navigation Inn at Wootton Wawen, Simon began with simple jobs such as bottling up and pot washing, he progressed until he began working in the bar the age of 18. This is where his love for pubs really started to grow. Tenant Eric Wells mentored Simon, showing him the ropes and training him through all the different departments, drawing him into the trade. 

After working in the Navigation Inn, Simon joined Trophy Taverns, (the forerunner for what is now Beef Eater) where he continued to train in the industry, working as a relief manager initially before becoming the youngest manager in the business! 

In those days dinner jackets were worn and Managers were referred to by their last name by staff. Being close to the big cities included Birmingham meant they had to perform searches on customers upon entry due to the troubles. Being in this role is where Simon felt most comfortable. “My favourite role is the management, front of house. I can be talked into whites every now and then but not often.”

Simon worked many different roles for different companies gaining experience and progressing, including spending a period of time with Bass Charrington, where he was area manager. At the same time Toby Grills and Toby Carvery were launching, where he helped with a lot of the initial set ups, planning the layouts and training staff for the grand openings.

He also did a spell with Bernie Inns, the franchise that bought dining out to the masses, best known for their steak houses. Simon worked in the Leefe Robinson, in North London which could hold 180 covers, turning over 4 sittings an evening on the weekends. “Most Saturday nights guests were waiting in the bar for 1-2 hours to be seated. In one year under my management, we got the best year gross with £1million through the till. Bearing in mind this was 30ish years ago when you could pay £4 for a steak.” 

Berni Inns were very sure on how their business was going to work, “At one point they had the seats in the diner made so that after an hour to an hour and a half they would become uncomfortable so people would want to leave and they could get more sittings in that evening.” Simon remembers.

In 2000, Simon and his then wife decided they wanted to take their love for hospitality abroad, sailing to Goa. They used the boat to host tourists, providing the hospitality for day trips, with some overnight stays as well. They also worked closely with the local diving instructor by installing a compressor on their boat to support with the gas canisters. “It worked well, hosting the guests and feeding them whilst the dive school did the entertainment.” Simon spoke very highly of the people from Goa “They were very hospitable and friendly.” Sadly, Simon’s wife passed away, so he decided to return to the UK.

After returning from Goa, Simon went into the soft services business, working with companies like Sodexo providing catering and cleaning for large businesses such as British Aerospace in Farnborough. Although it was great to be working with new people and for a good company, Simon still had itchy feet and wanted to continue his travels.

He then ventured to Ghana, where he built a guest house and stayed for around 3 years, hosting locals and tourists in the house, providing food and hospitality for them. He also invested in a bar and night club whilst out there. 

Adding another notch to his career belt, Simon started working for himself, providing business advice for those people who had purchased hospitality venues like large hotels during the financial crash. Travelling all over the world including South Africa, Brazil, most of Europe and many other places, Simon worked closely with the investors, meeting some very interesting people along the way.

This then bought him back to the UK about 6 and a half years ago when he met up with his son from his first marriage, Daniel. Daniel was also based in hospitality, working this way up through big companies. When they spoke about the industry, they both knew they were fed up with working for other people and that both wanted to work for themselves.

From this, they set out looking for pubs that they could make their own and grow. After about a year of searching they came across The Royal Oak at New Ash Green. “It grabbed our attention straight away, it was run down, the garden was huge but unused and full of derelict sheds but the space was perfect.” They negotiated with Shepherd Neame, and acquired the pub in October 2016, celebrating 5 years next month. New Ash Greene is also where Simon met his current wife Suzie, who was a customer at The Royal Oak and now helps Simon run the business. 

About 18 months later they came across The White Horse at Sunbridge, owned by Star Pubs and Bars. They were attracted by its potential and absence of a similar individual gastropub in the immediate area. Once the agreement had gone through they did a huge renovation of £150,000 with the help from Star, including redecorating outside, including new signage, and the installation of lighting and seating for 100 drinkers and diners.

Wanting to continue to grow their business with more pubs, the pair were approached by Shepherd Neame about running The Chequers, situated on the edge of the St Claire’s Estate, which had 7 years left on the lease.  After redecorating and giving it their signature style, with a facelift provided by Shepherd Neame, Simon is now very pleased with how the pub is running, “It’s a lovely place with an acre of garden and carpark.”

Pub 4 in the collection is one of Greene King’s called The Laughing Fish. Originally known as the Station Hotel, the pub is situated in Isfield near a small railway that is no longer used. The previous tenants of 20 years, Andy and Linda, were leaving due to retirement. The father and son duo were lucky enough to work on the renovations with Andy and Linda, using their knowledge to help make the pub even better. 

Currently owning four pubs Simon gave hints that they have been looking at number five, a Greene King on the south coast…but that’s all the clues he was giving. There were talks that the pair’s plans were to have 10 pubs under their hat and when asked, Simon commented “When we started, 10 was our goal. I reckon I’ll be in the business for the next 5 years or so, so actually to go to 10 isn’t out of our reach and I would still like to achieve this.”

The pair have been very lucky working together, as they share very similar views. They both believed in one thing when starting up in the industry which was “we should never lose the feeling of a British pub.” Simon explained how even though he has travelled the world and been to many bars and pubs, “You can’t beat anything like the British pub and how it works.”

They both share roles but Dan is the real foody, taking control of the menus, researching new food items and being very hands on, maintaining control. Simon’s role at the moment is all about going out there to find new properties, training staff and designing the interiors of the pubs. He moves around the pubs, almost like a BDM role, which he has had many years’ experience in.

Alongside the pubs, they run Liquor Box and Pantry LTD. This is their own external catering company which they provide food for several different events in and around the villages and towns near to each pub including hog and hogget roasts. In pre-Covid times they were running 2 or 3 a month and would like to build back up to this.

Jess asked Simon how their main Pub Co Shepherd Neame had been throughout the pandemic and what support they had given. “They were absolutely amazing.” Removing all rent charges during the pandemic, they really supported the pair with anything they needed. 

Throughout Simon’s career, he has had the support of the BII, being a member for almost all of the 40 years the BII has been established. The membership is frequently to help them run their four sites, including covering all their Insurance from Trusted Partners PXL, “I have to take this opportunity to thank the entire team at PXL for the fantastic service they have provided over the past 5 years. Not only do they insure all of our properties and contents but have provided cover for our outdoor events covering Hog/Hogget roasts, BBQ and giant Paella.” Simon also said that since being abroad he always checks any HR queries with the BII Helpline as it is different in many countries.

The pubs are now all fully open and running without restrictions, albeit with a hold on events indoors to avoid crowds, but the locals have been supportive, sensible and careful in the different premises. The towns and areas around each pub have all played a part in helping reopen, all now performing at about 80% in comparison to pre-Covid with all showing growth each week.

With a huge history in the industry under his belt and a blooming business which continues to grow alongside his wife Suzie and business partner and son Dan, we wish them all well in their next adventure. 

Rob and Lucy Brewer, MBII - The Pier House Hotel, Charlestown

Located on the picturesque Georgian harbour of Charlestown in Cornwall, Rob and Lucy Brewer’s pubs, the Pier House, Harbourside and Rashleigh Arms are set to provide tourists some much needed escapism this summer. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Rob about setting up retreats and finding their flow again. 

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!

Keith Marsden, CBII - The Prince of Wales, Moseley

Having been out of the business for three years due to illness, Keith Marsden is now back at the Prince of Wales in Birmingham, a pub he originally joined in 2007. BII’s Eleanor Kirby chatted about cultivating excellence, bringing Mexican delights to Moseley and winning LOYA in 2015. 

The tied leasehold with Greene King was the perfect spot for Keith after a corporate career managing an extreme sports centre helped him gravitate towards the more social aspects of its bar and music venue. Save for a short career break due to illness, he hasn’t looked back since. 
 
“I returned to the business in September 2019 after 18 months away, and I’ve worked hard to bring it back to what I believe are the CORE principles – Commitment, Ownership, Responsibility and Excellence.” Talking humbly about the pub’s Tiki Bar and Wine Shed, Keith is worried that the theatre of these points of difference will be lost among Covid restrictions. “The Tiki Bar and Shed are high quality experiences with staff available to explain the notes of each drink, but booking online and sitting at the table has taken away that social interaction. They’re designed to be clinical.”

 

 

Theatre and entertainment that comes with the Tiki and Wine Shed have been put on ice for a while, on the warming plate instead are Marsden’s new foodie ventures. Inspired by his travels to California and its Mexican influence (“CalMex” as it’s known) Leaf Lovers and Taconistas have been developed to power the Prince of Wales into the delivery market. “We originally wanted it to be on Deliveroo as a migration strategy, but now have agreements with Just Eat and Uber Eats too. Leaf Lovers is our vegan street food brand created in December and Taconistas is my magpie idea. I saw some “shiny things” in America and thought I’d bring that creativity back to the UK.”

 

With Keith finding commission rates high across the board on the delivery apps (between 30-40%), he notes the balancing act of raising prices as not being entirely sustainable. “We did our market research and found one operator charging £16 for a burger to be delivered. Sure, when you pick up your phone at 7:30pm on a Friday and you’ve had a wine, you probably don’t care what you pay, but it’s not going to create an affinity with that business.”

As a migration strategy though, Keith says it works well. “It’s all about who owns the customer, and the apps own them at the moment. Strong branding, using the help of our designer and my marketing experience, will make the two feel recognisable standing alone, without the barrier of the apps.” Working to a GP of 50%, spend per head is between £25-28 for both brands, but the goal is to get this over £30, to help rebuild after an 85% reduction in revenue over the past 18 months. 

Leaf Lover’s vegan menu is a personal choice for Keith, as well as following the savvy trend. “We’re not campaigners, but it’s a lifestyle change – to help community health, as well as the planet. But we don’t compromise on taste.” Appealing to vegans, meat-eaters and flexitarians alike, the Leaf Lovers Kitchen is making its way to its own venue, despite utilising a similar range of ingredients (bar the vegan components) as Taconistas. On offer will be mains such as “Tofish and Chips” (marinated tofu in wakame batter), “Chilli non Carne” and “Chick’n” burgers, with classic twists on sides such as “Pomegranate Molasses Slaw” with vegan mayonnaise. 

 

It’s a move that sees the business open up into a wider brand that encourages footfall between pub, café and virtually via online ordering. A BII member since 2009, the CORE principles are also down to Marsden’s Licensee of the Year Award entry and eventual win in 2015. “I’m interested in excellence, and what better recognition for that is there than LOYA?”

Kickstarting entrants into merging all areas of their business from finance to experience, staffing and online presence, Keith hails the journey as being a valuable management tool. “It helped us look at the business in a different light, and was a great process to help us improve our performance as well as reflect on it. We entered twice, the first time we got to the finalists stage, but I think we eventually won because the process forced us to aim higher.

“Running a pub is a tough and competitive business right now, LOYA is a true test but you’re encouraged to interact with your other finalists, their operations, and learn from their excellence.” Keith couldn’t have come back to the business at a busier time, but using his time away from the industry to gather inspiration and regroup was time well spent. Whether you’re a leaf lover, taconista, savour the flavour of wine, or are freaky for Tiki, Keith has woven excellence into everything. 

 


Inspired by Keith and our other Meet the Member interviewees? The BII’s Licensee of the Year Award competition launched on 1st June and there’s still time to get your entries in!

Head over to our Licensee of the Year Award page to fill out our nominations form and read more about the entry requirements. 

Darran and Caroline Lingley, CBII - The Five Bells, Colne Egaine

Run by Caroline and Darran Lingley, the Five Bells proudly overlooks the Colne Valley in Essex. A freehold that pairs exposed beams with colourful and uplifting window displays, BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Darran about putting pubs on prescription. 

At the time of writing, the windows of the Five Bells in Colne Egaine are equipped with a rallying display, “Proud to be a Great British pub: a hub for the community, supporting the local economy… the font of local knowledge, the original social network, promoting positive social interaction & combatting loneliness”. Apt phrases for any welcoming local, but Caroline and Darran have made them their ethos. When Covid first hit, a local retired-Policeman called Spike approached the pub to become a site for community responders to answer calls from locals. 
 
“We set up phone lines and computers that were manned 16 hours a day by 30 people at a time. We dealt with anything from people needing food shops, to those feeling lonely and needing someone to talk to.” Darran continues, “Normally, you’d walk into the pub, ask if someone knew an emergency plumber and someone would help. We just replaced that with a hotline.” With 150 volunteers working flat out for 100 days, the sunshine didn’t stop in the colder months either. Having met a local artist to adorn their windows with chalk pens, covering themes from Remembrance Sunday, International Women’s Day, and even body positivity, they decided to take window displays on tour. 
 
“We met our lovely artist Juliet, who started drawing snowdrops on windows to cheer people up, people would send us messages asking for the snowdrop fairy, which turned into the bluebell fairy in springtime. We did over 120 windows just from local requests.”

Despite the cheer and positivity being spread, fairy dust couldn’t magic away the impact Covid had on the business. “Before the pandemic hit, we had four pubs. One was too small to work economically with restrictions in place as the seating went down to 36 covers with no outside space.” Making redundancies and selling two pubs was a hard decision to make for Darran and Caroline, but it offered them time and space to come back to ideas they’d had in the past. 

“We’re down to the Five Bells and the Lion, and managed to borrow money to do the renovations we’d always wanted to do. We had to look into the crystal ball and thought about how to adapt to the changing industry.

“Investing in new outside spaces, beer huts, heaters, covered areas – they’re all things we would have done eventually, but at a much slower pace.”

This investment in the future has cost around £200,000, but Darran believes the pandemic has made him and Caroline more in tune with the needs of their staff, and in turn, their customers. “Last year was the hardest of our lives, but we needed to stay level-headed to support everyone. We are a lot more personal with the team now. We can adapt to customer needs too, whether it be easing anxiety about restrictions when revisiting, or being extra bubbly through all the masks and sanitisers.”

Embracing technology in the form of their in-house app that has helped the business move from takeaway off-sales, to table ordering through the stages of reopening (at a £6,000 development cost), Darran says, has meant that staff save time on administrative tasks, which could be better spent on making customers feel more comfortable. “There’s a lot of suffering going around, our customers have been stuck at home without their peers; Government should prescribe going to the pub – it’s about feeling part of the herd again. I would love to see our industry being socially prescribed for anxiety, depression and loneliness.”

A response to their own experience of sitting at home, wondering what to do, Caroline and Darran started an online event called “Darraline”, a cookalong livestream that peaked customer curiosity. “People watched it and regularly joined in the conversation, but they wanted to food and drinks too! We now sell 40-50 tickets for the events, charging £50 per head which includes food and wine pairings.”

 

Starting out with dishes like Caroline’s famous meatloaf or herb crusted salmon, Darraline are now famed for their paella takeaways that “put the sunshine back into home life”, selling 130 portions on a Saturday night in just one hour! When asked whether upselling was key to rebuilding their business after a hefty renovation, Darran says, “We upsell our time,” believing in “ethical selling”. 

“Once you get people in your zone and they trust you, you don’t have to sell. We don’t push items, we give them a good reason to support us by anticipating their needs, meaning we’ve also been able to reduce our range because we’re tailoring to our people.”

Covid has meant holding stock isn’t an option, but it also sharpened the couple’s ability to sense what customers need before they ask for it. “People are coming back out for the nostalgia of the pub, and that means comfort food.” Roasts, fish & chips and burgers are part of the menu limited to eight dishes, with interchangeable twists like a choice of burger bun. As well as pushing the creativity of their chefs, these condensed menus mean customers spend less time making their choice, and more time rebuilding happy memories. 

“Darraline” doesn’t stop there, as the duo have created a brand that has migrated from the pub’s Facebook pages and onto its own channel, where Caroline and Darran hope to take it on tour. After 19 years and counting at the Five Bells, the pair have yet to run out of innovative ideas (catch them on Instagram Reels for a true taste of the fun they bring to the business!)

 


Finalists of LOYA in 2008, and then winners in 2011, Caroline & Darran gravitated towards our Licensee of the Year Award as a way to be recognised by our industry. 

“Ultimately you want to be challenged. I saw it as a self-help scheme, it helped me get on track so I could come back stronger and eventually win after being a finalist. LOYA is about the journey to winning, teaching others what you’ve learned along the way, and by doing so, you learn even more.

“Our teachings from LOYA were what we recognised we love about the industry, that it’s constantly changing and challenging us. We’re custodians of this pub, and we have had a responsibility to adapt it throughout Covid.” 

Head over to our Licensee of the Year Award page to fill out our nominations form and read more about the entry requirements. 


Richard Edwards, MBII - The Potters Arms, High Wycombe

With its rich background in comedy nights that have been host to Rob Brydon amongst other big names, The Potters Arms is nestled between High Wycombe and Watford, with all the benefits of a market town community. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to licensee Richard Edwards to talk about key investments and keeping customers enthused. 

Once tenants of Brakspear in 2012, Richard raised funds to purchase The Potters Arms in 2018. Influenced by their backgrounds in restaurants and with experience in the wine cellar at Harvey Nicholls in Manchester, the pub usually operates at a split of 40% food, 45% drink and 15% rooms, with a comedic twist.

“I’d been trying to get Rob Brydon to perform a comedy set at the pub for years, and when the contracts lined up it just so happened that we were raising funds to buy the pub. We had 300 guests, with takeaway boxes of fillet steak for the interval!”

They certainly reached their goal, and so a pair of free-traders were born. Going back a few years from Brydon’s debut, Richard had deliberately put himself at the epicentre of comedic performance by using his precious time off productively in the early days.
“Obviously being in hospitality my days off tended to be Mondays and Tuesdays, I used to take myself off to the Comedy Store in Leicester Square. After the final act I’d stay behind and, being the personality I am, I met up with the comedians afterwards. They became good friends that way”. 
Connections made include Andy Parsons and Zoe Lyons, as well as carving out a reputation for The Potters Arms being the only other venue the Comedy Store will venture to outside the perimeters of Leicester Square. A pretty incredible feat considering tickets were a very reasonable £20 with an interval meal included.
Richard distinctly remembers a young Romesh Ranganathan whom he paid £150 to do a 20 minute set. “There’s no way I’d get him for that now!” It pays to have some of that Comedy Store zeitgeist rub off!
In the throes of the first lockdown, Richard received a BounceBack loan soon after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the one year interest-free finance. 
“We used it to build our terrace bar, we got a draught pull out there, a pizza oven, an ice cream machine… we even do alcoholic slush puppies.”
Popularity speaks for itself as Richard highlights that the number of pizzas sold from August 2019 to March 2020 was 220, rising to 1000 just 6 weeks after the first terrace Potters Pizzas were flung in the air. 
With the scent of freshly made pizzas meeting the noses of local explorers, it’s no wonder they’re one of the best-selling items from the terrace bar. 
“All flavours bring in a GP of about 80-85%, we have a five meat farmhouse pizza, but also do the classics, and our vegan options are popular too.” These are priced between £12.50 and £13.95, to reflect the high quality ingredients and affluent local area.
“Pre-Covid, I always said that the location is a destination place, you’ll only chance upon us if you’re driving to meet someone or you’re lost! 
“Recently, though, it has worked in our favour because of the amount people are going for their daily walks. The Times Magazine featured us in October and published a local walk in Amersham, with us as the place to stop for lunch.”
“I’m in the process of joining Just Eat, we currently have an app which lets customers order online for click and collect, and I installed a Ring video doorbell so if anyone wants to stop by they can still receive our best service.
As well as Just Eat, Richard has further targeted locals through High Wycombe Eats which has a similar business model. 
“My motto is quality and consistency and that fares really well on these apps. I think they’re a really good way to get us out there and target a new group of people. We’ve also started baking our own cakes and getting donuts from a local baker”. 
This cross over with using local suppliers is also a brilliant way to introduce new customers via their new products as suppliers can often bring their own following your way too. 
Currently closed after their Christmas appeal, Richard raves about Save Pub Lives, the voucher programme run by Budweiser that saw him rack up over £2,000 in vouchers that customers could spend in the pub or terrace bar upon reopening. 
“After the first lockdown Save Pub Lives did vouchers for pubs where they would match any purchases up to the value of £1,000. Then, after the November lockdown it was changed slightly to a concept more suitable for Christmas – say someone bought a friend a voucher for £100, this was matched so the friend could go with them.”
Further funding came from the Christmas Support Payment (Wet Led Grant) as Richard was keen to read into eligibility that said it applied to pubs making less than 50% of their sales from food. 
The Potters Arms is the haven where creativity, comedy and number crunching meets. As one local newspaper said, “this traditional pub will tickle your funny bone”, we very much hope there is comedy in store on the horizon. 

Nicola Storey, FBII - The Mustard Pot, Capel Allerton

Situated in Chapel Allerton near Leeds, The Mustard Pot has morphed from country house, to pub, wedding venue and now online cocktail brand. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to licensee Nicola Storey to talk setting up shop and winning crowd support. 

A traditional pub in the picturesque village of Chapel Allerton (voted one of the top 10 places to live by The Sunday Times in 2018), it’s no wonder The Mustard Pot has thrived as a venue for social gathering, it holds all the secrets of a country house within its walls. Built in 1750, the building was converted from The Clough House and turned into a pub in 1970.
“I’ve been here for fifteen years as a tenant with Marstons” says Nicola Storey. No stranger to the history of the building, Nicola says she’s met some of the previous inhabitants. “A guy came round one day, he said he was nearly 100 and was born in the house. He told me so many stories!”. 

With her team of 21 staff currently furloughed as The Mustard Pot weathers the third lockdown of the pandemic, Nicola has been proactive in boosting funds. 

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post about the Crowdfunder Storey set up in June 2020 for the pub, she said, “We are in unimaginable debt, and despite us trying everything we can think of to pivot the business, none of the numbers stack up. We are desperate.”

Having raised £15,155 in 243 days, Nicola looks back with a feeling of gladness. “We didn’t get a grant the first time around as we have a Rateable Value of about £135,000, so we were struggling and fed up.

“We wanted to show people the reality, instead of saying ‘everything’s fine because we’re selling cocktails’, I wanted people to feel enthusiastic about helping us before we went bankrupt, before it was too late”. 

Currently on a 90% reduction in their rent payments from Marston’s, Nicola says the money from the Crowdfunder and £11,000 in grant money has made her half as stressed as she was the first lockdown. 

“Applying for grants in Leeds has been so streamlined, we lined up all our information on rates, business accounts and sent it off, the money came in just a few weeks later”.

Alongside home-schooling, Nicola is delivering pre-mixed cocktails locally through the online counterpart to The Mustard Pot. The Mustard Shop’s specialties are the Pornstar Martini, which sells five times more than anything else, closely seconded by the aptly names “Quarantini”.

With a GP of 71%, these cocktails are high earners and, although Nicola says she only has plans to run them seasonally at the moment (for the big dates like Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and Easter), average spend per head has increased from £15 (in usual trading) to £19.

“It involves a bit of a balance between what we think will sell, what we can make with little wastage (to our time as well as product). We did an Eggnog cocktail for Christmas which took too long to make, so I learnt this tip quickly! 

“We sold our stock of drinks so quickly in the first lockdown, we knew we had to turn this into more of a venture and drinks would help us keep costs lower than if we did takeaways.” 

Set up in less than two hours, the shop is run through Shopify (for around £25 per month with added commission per order), Nic hails it as being incredible for insights.

“I was looking at it this morning and I could see there were 10 people browsing, which converted to 6 orders. I’ve also linked it to social media, so, say I put something on Instagram, I can see who followed the link in my bio, how many people went through to purchase, and who used tools like Apply Pay.”

A quick Google search meant that Nicola found packaging suitable enough to start taking orders, squeezy plastic bags with spouts on, but is now fine tuning the process to include reusable mason jars. Being more sustainable, Nic thinks she could introduce a scheme that offers discounts if customers return their jars upon reordering.

Finding The Mustard Pot online and on social media was a real treat for the eyes, with the Shopify being no exception. 

“I’ve got no clue what I’m doing and don’t really know how it all works, but I’ve realised that everyone is sat at home on their phones at the moment, scrolling, and if we can post something that looks great then people might buy something off us”. 
Nicola has nailed her routine for taking new pictures for the shop, her motto being “to add in your personal touches”. White backgrounds are a must for taking photos of new cocktails, but on social media, you can also spot some historical photos of The Clough House that shed light on the pub’s domestic past. 

“Customers loved the fact they weren’t just more business posts and it was just a bit more of an insight into the building and its past life”. 

A recent webinar hosted by Avocado Social mentioned personal and unedited touches like this as a key aim for licensees on social media, listing topics such as laidback Instagram Lives, cook-a-longs or behind-the-scenes videos to keep customers engaged as you make plans to reopen. 

Storey highlights the benefits of information sharing between likeminded business people too. “Someone set up a Whatsapp group for bar and restaurant owners across the North of England, it’s full of people sharing their experiences with things like grants.
“Licensees in places like Manchester and Liverpool would feed back and tell us how they were doing in another tier. It was really useful to pre-empt restrictions and feel supported by other business owners”.

Support has also reared its head in the form of BII Membership where Nicola (FBII!) has made great use of our Trusted Partners directory, Staff Contract Builder and also made it to the final stages of our Licensee of the Year Award in 2017 too. 

We’re certain The Mustard Pot and its sister shop will continue to be well positioned as we look towards the warmer and kinder summer months. 
Back to Top