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The BII thrives on the diversity of its 10,000 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.

Rich Jones, MBII - The Lord Nelson

After eight years in The Lord Nelson (The Nellie, to those in the know), Richard Jones MBII signed a new 10-year lease with Fuller's and has embarked on a new journey with his new team, a recently refurbished and an altogether brighter view of the future. The BII's Hana Rhodes reports:

Richard Jones MBII (Rich) has worked his way up from cutting his teeth as a barman with Young’s to running his much beloved Brentford local, The Lord Nelson, in SW London.

With the security of a 10-year lease, Rich and his wife Elise have been busy redesigning and refitting the pub. “We really like the longer-term agreement. My wife is a designer and it means we can put our own stamp on it. We wouldn’t have committed this spend on a shorter lease, but now we have the security, we feel we can do the things we want to here to build for the future.”

The Lord Nelson’s first refit, when the couple originally took over, was the launch pad for Elise’s successful design business, with this most recent and more comprehensive refurbishment really giving them the freedom to transform the place.

Refurbed garden
When Covid-19 closed the doors of pubs and all that came with it, Rich found himself in a really fortunate position. Fuller’s had renewed their lease and put an immediate halt on the rent, and with the Government’s furlough scheme, he knew that the staff would be looked after. This gave him the freedom to explore all the financial options and to invest in the fabric of the pub building and the garden.

“With shorter leases and tenancies, people don’t want to spend the big money, understandably. The pub has been added to over the years but much of it has been bodged together really… but having had the time to do the garden over lockdown and the interior this year has meant we have been able to do the whole thing properly.”

Removing an old play area, levelling the ground and making a feature of a large eucalyptus tree by wrapping it in lights and a custom-made bench seat, the garden makeover has transformed it into a comfortable and inviting dining and drinking space. A custom-made tepee style tent also season proofed the space, creating an area that was warm and dry all year round – crucial to increasing covers post-pandemic.

Social media marketing
Rich attributes the success of reopening to his teasing the new garden makeover on the pub’s social media platforms.

“I think I’m relatively good with social media, but sometimes it does feel like you’re shouting into a bit of a black hole. You don’t always get the engagement, but I realised that when we reopened, people came just to see the garden after reading about it on social media. They might not have been commenting or liking the post, but they had seen it and word spread. “That has given me more confidence, because I had started to wonder if I should be spending my time doing something else!”

Tech, service and staffing 
With staff retention and recruitment being a high priority for most pubs, Rich’s approach to his team has helped enormously and has put the business in a good position.

“I really care about my staff and I think, and hope, they’d say the same about us. We get a lot of uni students who leave to go home, but they always stay in touch and whenever they come back, they always say that it has been their favourite place to work,” says Rich, adding: “I’ve had some bad experiences and I’ve seen staff treated harshly. In some pubs, it’s all about hitting the figures to achieve x salary.

But you end up doing 70 hours a week.

“I’ve never wanted to do that to my staff. We try to work as a unit – we make the decisions together before I have final say.”

With outdoor and table service bookings being the order of the day, when The Lord Nelson reopened after the Omicron lockdown in April 2021, Rich said he had never had a better selection of staff to choose from.

“We ended up taking on about 14 great quality people and we now have a really good team. We were lucky there. A lot of things have fallen in our favour really!”

Energy
He has also been fortunate with his energy bills, having managed to fix the contract just before the price increases hit. “We were so lucky there, but we have also installed LED light bulbs, a new linked lighting system, where it’s easy to turn everything off at once, new fridges and energy-efficient equipment and so on.

“The kitchen hasn’t been included in this refurb, but we did get a lot of new equipment when we reopened after the first lockdown, so the whole pub has a new lease of life.”

With the kitchen equipment being updated in 2020 and the garden re-landscaped, a host of new opportunities have opened up for Rich and the team. From making the most of the increased number of table covers, to the all-weather outdoor space.

“We were always quite good on food, but the biggest change has to do with customer type – we’re probably 40-50% women now, whereas before the pub was quite male dominated. Our sales mix has changed too. We now serve a lot more cocktails, wine and food, but that’s not to say that women don’t drink beer, of course. It’s as much to do with our creating a really pleasant place to go.”

Rich adds that the move away from beer has been beneficial. “Being tied, beer is where we get our lowest margins. Any time we can change our sales mix to include other products is great for us.”

For Rich, everything has been about exploiting the opportunities and maximising the revamp.

“With the refurb, we’ve spent extra in order to build for the future, for instance, by replacing all the electrics and the bar. We pulled out the old back bar, which was really impractical, and it’s all new now with an actual cocktail station and an ice well.”

Plans are now in place to take advantage of the predicted rum boom, with Rich introducing a house cocktail, Nelson’s Blood, which he explains is a nod to the pub’s namesake and the legendary story of Nelson’s body being preserved at sea in a barrel of rum.

As is so often the case, the passion and energy from Rich and the team is leading the Nellie towards a brighter future, as well as creating a thriving place for locals and visitors alike to eat, drink and socialise. The investment in people and the fabric of the building will ensure The Lord Nelson is a fantastic community venue for years to come.

The Lord Nelson

Emma Shepherd, MBII - The Blue Ball Inn

Emma Shepherd MBII is successfully driving forward her wet-led pub business, The Blue Ball Inn in Worrall, near Sheffield. The BII’s Peter Baskett MBII discovers she has some simple but highly effective ideals to keep the pub at the heart of the community – and save money on bills too.

The desire to return to her community was what inspired Emma Shepherd MBII to take over the Blue Ball Inn in Worrall. Having lived in the village since her daughter was born 23 years ago, Emma, along with her husband Carl (who was also born in Worrall), decided it was time to bring their focus and lives back to village life.

“I got made redundant in April 2019 and this pub was looking for a new landlord/landlady. I’d always fancied doing it!

“I’d worked in pubs and hotels when I was much younger and when I was a student, and I just really liked the idea of being back in the heart of the community. My previous job had taken me all over the country and I was rarely at home,” explains Emma, who sealed the deal to take over the Blue Ball just two months later on June 11, 2019.

Working jointly with Admiral Taverns, the pub was fully refurbished and turned into a venue designed to give a warm welcome to every sort of person. “We’ve invested a lot to make it the kind of community pub that serves everybody,” says Emma.

Making the Blue Ball a welcoming place for all has been the driving force behind a lot of the decisions.

For instance, the primarily wet-led business operates at an 80/20 wet/dry split and purposely avoids serving a lot of food, as they don’t believe it is what their customers are looking for.

“We thought that there were enough gastropubs and restaurants in the local area, so we made a conscious decision not to offer food,” says Emma, adding: “We do reserve spaces for special occasions, but we try to avoid bookings, so that when the locals come in, they’ve always got their spot.

Community collaboration
Being an inclusive space for everyone, and putting people first is what keeps customers coming back to the Blue Ball. This includes working together with, rather than competing against other local pubs to ensure everyone is supported and thriving.

“There are a few pubs locally around the four villages and we have a chat group. We share best practice and we ask each other for help. We’re quite aware that working together is better than working against each other.”

At the Blue Ball, community comes first and Emma describes how she works alongside local businesses for their mutual benefit. “Because we’re a small village, we have a lovely post office, a hairdresser and we have two pubs. That’s it. The nearest supermarket is in the next village, but it’s quite a walk away.”

To help make fresh produce more accessible to villagers, Emma lets a local supplier set up a fresh fruit and vegetable stand in the pub car park on some mornings. “He just rocks up at 7am, while we’re sleeping, and the villagers come and get their good quality, fresh food and veg.”

To diversify from the usual pub offering, the Blue Ball has started doing breakfast mornings, which Emma says have been a huge hit. “We’re only a little pub but we did 100 sausages and five dozen eggs last Saturday.”

By hosting the fresh produce stalls and breakfast mornings at her pub, Emma consistently drives traffic to her venue during quiet times. The Blue Ball’s breakfast mornings are in collaboration with a local business, the Little Sausage Shop, where they have created the perfect Blue Ball sausage especially for the pub. “We wanted something that was a little bit coarser in texture and that could be cooked quickly.

“People who didn’t know about the Little Sausage Shop now know about it, and he helps promote our business as well, by telling everybody about us on a Saturday morning – it’s a mutual benefit,” says Emma.

Beyond working with local businesses, Emma and the Blue Ball do what they can to support community efforts.

“I just feel it’s important as a village pub that we are at the heart of the community and we do as much as we can to support it.”

Energy saving
Customers aren’t the only ones who are looking to save money, with the rising cost of utilities. Licensees are under ever increasing pressure to reduce costs at every opportunity.

For Emma, this meant introducing ‘atmospheric’ lighting in the evenings by switching things off.

To find out how best to reduce the energy expenditure of the pub, Emma approached a local electrician for advice. “We wanted to know what we could do better. His advice was to reduce the amount of time anything with a motor is on – devices that heat up when they’re on.

“Keeping those off will ultimately save you money. It might not be a lot for one piece of equipment, but if you do it with a few bits of equipment, then it all adds up.”

While her cellar technician advised against turning the cellar cooler off, to avoid harming the beer quality, they did suggest that the ice banks could get switched off overnight, because the ice would remain frozen until the morning.

“We even have our bottle fridges on timers, so they switch off overnight.

We also switch off our counter fridges, which store our pork pies and sausage rolls for sale. We wrap up the food and put it in the kitchen fridge overnight.”

Emma reveals that so far, these simple but effective measures have saved the Blue Ball £300 on their electricity bill in the first month.

Marketing 
When it comes to marketing their pub, the Blue Ball Inn relies on Facebook and word of-mouth for promotion, opting not to use a website. Asking Emma about this decision, she said that she wanted to be able to engage her customers in a two-way conversation, which wouldn’t be possible through a traditional website.

By sticking to social media as the primary way of communicating with their customers, the Blue Ball can maintain the community feel that the pub is well loved for.

“I think because we’re a community pub and we’re all about engagement, people can engage better on social media, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram,” says Emma. “If they’re looking at things on Facebook or Instagram, it’s an opportunity for people to ask questions or become engaged.”

The Blue Ball Inn is a fantastic example of what it means to truly be at the heart of a community, putting people above all else and working together with the industry to make a positive difference. 

The Blue Ball Inn, Worrall

Gail and Steve Carroll, MBII - TheCarbeile Inn

Gail and Steve, an ex-Navy aircraft handler of 22 years, have returned to what their son Sean calls their spiritual home. The BII's Hana Rhodes reports:

Having run pubs in Somerset and Wiltshire before moving to be nearer to the family, returning to their old pub wasn’t quite what the Carroll’s expected – but it has supplied them with a new challenge, which they are enthusiastically tackling. “We’ve always had an affinity with it.”

 

The Carbeile Inn first became home to Steve and Gail in 1997, when they took it on as their second pub with the St Austell Brewery. Gail explains:
“Steve was still in the Royal Navy when we took it on. It was a massive challenge for us, as we’d only had a small village pub before that, but we took the plunge and ended up staying here for 13 years.”

 

Over those 13 years, they successfully worked through the challenges of the time, including the aftermath of the 2008 recession and the smoking ban, both of which were difficult for the hospitality industry.
A refurbishment in the late 90s took them from strength-to-strength over the next decade. Then, in 2012, Gail, Steve and their two children moved to Taunton to manage an Enterprise Inn’s venue, to be nearer to Steve’s family.
“We ended up doing a little bit of a circuit around the South West: we had two or three pubs in Somerset and then we finished off with a pub in Wiltshire,” explains Gail.

Returning to The Carbeile Inn 
Returning to Torpoint and taking on The Carbeile hadn’t been part of any plan, in fact, Gail says, they had been ready to hang up their publican’s hats.
“We were returning to Plymouth to be closer to family, as we’d had a new granddaughter… when we heard that The Carbeile was coming up again! Of course, it piqued our interest to come and have a little look.”
Meeting with St Austell BDM Chris Faulkner, they got talking about refurbishing the pub and giving it a new lease of life. “There’s only a few pubs here, which are mainly drinking pubs, so there’s no real family dynamic within the town.”
But as Covid hit, they ended up only being back at The Carbeile Inn a week before reopening – alongside everyone else on July 4, 2020. As there was no time for a refurb before reopening, it was decided they wait a year to see how the post-pandemic recovery went.
“We really were very lucky with the support from the brewery and also a lot of local people were very happy to see that we were back. We had a good start as far as getting the business of its knees – and we were able to let our personalities shine.”

Refurb over lockdown
With help from the Government schemes, such as Eat Out To Help Out, and by working with their young team to improve morale and provide training, leading from the front, Steve and Gail began to bring The Carbeile back to life.
“Chris saw that we could take this business further, so St Austell’s put us forward for a refurbishment. As we went into another lockdown, just before New Year’s Eve, we had it all in place, so this time, lockdown did us a favour. We managed to finish the refurb over the lockdown period and when we reopened, on May 17, 2021, we had a fully refurbished pub,” says Gail proudly.

 

The work at the pub also allowed them to create more usable space.
“We moved the bar to open the space into more of a lounge – we created about 35-40 additional covers and it has given us a restaurant area.
“Our son Sean wanted to create a cocktail area on the bar, so he helped hone the plans. It ended up being a very clean, open looking modern bar.”
It’s testament to their management style that The Carbeile has flourished post-pandemic – with the couple happy to roll up their sleeves and get involved.
“If the pots need doing because the kitchen is short staffed, then Steve puts on the Marigolds. If there’s a spillage or the toilets need doing, these aren’t things we pass on to others to do. The staff respect us for it and we are able to help them see the potential in the pub – they just needed somebody to lead them in the right direction.”
Staff morale has never been higher and now Steve and Gail are seeing an increase in staff retention too, thanks to their investment in their staff, including employing kitchen staff on apprenticeship schemes.
Passing Out Parades
Another huge part of the identity of the pub has come from Steve’s Naval background. He explains how their proximity to a Naval training base and the Covid restrictions resulted in a serendipitous Passing Out opportunity. 
“We’re only about ¾ of a mile from HMS Rally, which is a new recruit training site. Throughout the Covid restrictions, the base wouldn’t allow any outsiders inside to watch the Passing Out Parades.
“When someone came in for a drink, instead of sitting in their car to watch on their phone their son’s passing out parade, Sean – our IT guru – mentioned he could show it on our screen. It was probably the best thing we have ever done, because now, every week, we show it on the screen and people come in to watch it and have a coffee. We also record it for those who can’t come in person. Then at 4pm, the new recruits pop in for a drink and we show it again. So many people come to see their kids’ Passing Out and now they pop in for a pint too!”

 

Gail and Steve’s story of returning to Torpoint is one of homecoming, family and renewed vision for the future. It is clear that it’s the ability to grow and adapt which aids their success, and their vision for an updated and relevant Carbeile Inn is just what the town needs, with a sprinkling of personality and authenticity on top. 

The Carbeile Inn

Emma & Terry Cole, MBII - The Royal Oak

Charity begins at home, which for Emma and Terry Cole MBII is their pub, The Royal Oak in Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton.

Having taken over the pub from Emma’s parents, Susan and Keith, five years ago, Terry left his role in distribution to join the day-to-day running of The Royal Oak. Established as a family business for 15 years, Emma and Terry (winners of the BII Heart of the Community Award, Marston’s Pub of the Year, and Licensee of the Year Award 2021 Semi-Finalists) have kept the community spirit alive with their welcoming atmosphere and unwavering support for numerous local charities. “Our main charities are the Midland Freewheelers and Little Rascals, but a lot of customers will ask us, ‘can we raise money for this?’. We always try to accommodate everyone and have raised 10s of thousands of pounds,“ says Terry.
 
Arranging charity days at least once a month, the Coles regularly join forces as a family to think up new and clever ways to bring people into the pub. Their latest fundraiser saw Emma running what’s known as the Wolves10k on March 27th and Terry will be taking part in a 22-mile trek along the beaches of Normandy on June 6, D-Day. Speaking to BII News in February, Terry explained: “After Emma’s run in March, we are planning a music afternoon to get people to congregate at the pub afterwards. We’re aiming to raise £1,000, which would keep the Freewheelers’ fleet running for at least a month or two.”

 

No pressure on Emma, then, who only eight months ago couldn’t have run for more than one minute. But it was a conversation with a customer that gave her the inspiration and motivation to run for the charity. “I’m completely addicted to running now. I’ve put up my JustGiving page and the donations have been rolling in.” Helped, no doubt, by the local Express & Star newspaper running an article about their charity challenges. Christmas saw Emma and Terry organising shoeboxes to be filled with presents for the local homeless community, including gloves, hats, scarves, toothbrushes, sweets, chocolate and coffee. Terry says: “Everyone got the same items and Emma and I spent many a Monday on our quiet days in the pub, filling the boxes, wrapping them and getting them ready to go. We sent out 120 parcels with the help of locals, donating through our collection box.”

There’s a real community feel about this traditional, wet-led pub, where events, like those for charity, successfully bring everyone together, with regulars checking in to see how Emma’s race training is going, but also to see how they can get involved. In lockdown, Terry had an idea to walk from The Royal Oak in Carlisle, to The Royal Oak in Truro. This journey of 425 miles came to a fitting end in the car park of The Royal Oak, Wolverhampton, keeping to the lockdown travel rules at the time. “It was everyone’s chance to get some exercise in and socialise while remaining socially distanced. We raised £1,500 – the pub wasn’t even open, yet people would still pop by to donate some money.”

While fundraising for charity is at the heart of what makes Terry and Emma tick, they still need to ensure that the bills are paid and pints keep being pulled. By keeping set-up costs low, the couple find success with their events, achieving takings of between £1,000-£1,500 each time. Entering the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award in 2021, and reaching the semi-finals, the couple say the experience benefitted them, not least thanks to the comments of the head judges, trade experts, Sue Allen CBII and Paul Pavli CBII. They advised the couple to take more time for themselves and to get out of the business to sample what the competition was up to, in order to gain a broader customer perspective. “The problem we have is, that we are so tied to the pub; we’re passionate about it and want to be here overseeing everything to make sure we’re doing it right. This means that we sometimes neglect to go out and experience new things,” admits Terry.

Despite their Christmas trading period being affected by the couple catching Covid, they say they remain in a financially stable position, thanks in part to grants from their local council – most recently the Omicron Hospitality & Leisure Grant. They also benefit from the pub’s proximity to the Molineux stadium, which brings in 300 to 500 people on match days. Increasing the footprint of the pub has also helped to build turnover. A marquee and outdoor bar has helped establish the outside space, providing a bonus for spring and summer.

“It has been a real benefit to us because word has spread about our cover and heaters. No one wants to be standing outside on match days, so everyone’s coming to us and we’re getting busier and busier,” says Terry. Investing money in the bar to ensure it would work outside, long after restrictions were lifted, was key to boosting customer confidence more than anything.

Emma proudly adds: “Our outside bar now matches our inside bar, in terms of the offer. Customers now have the full choice of beers. It started small, with only two hand pours, but we’ve made it bigger and put a roof on it. It has been a long process, but essentially we had to bring the piping up from the cellar.“

Having spoken to their Area Manager, Marston’s gave the project the go-ahead and supported them by helping to make the necessary cellar changes. Training the staff “the Oak Way” has also helped create success, which Terry says has been all down to Emma finding the best people to come and work for them. Emma explains: “The Oak Way is to be happy, to care about your customers and have quick service. It’s about making people feel welcome when they walk through the door.“ With plans for summer music festivals and their version of the Great British Bake Off in the pipeline, the Coles are looking forward to a good summer and are feeling confident for the future.

Terry says: “We serve good beer and keep it to a really high standard. That’s what our customers want. They like our consistency. We serve an award-winning mild, The Banks’s Mild, and that’s going well – it’s not a fashionable drink, but we’re doing three 72s per week. It always does well.“ Another bestseller is Marstons’ Sunbeam, which Terry describes as “an absolutely amazing drink”.

He says: “You can see people’s faces change when they taste beer this good. They’re happy to pay our prices because we keep a clean, well-maintained cellar and serve great tasting and well-presented beers.” Terry and Emma have community at the heart of everything they do, whether that’s boosting local charities through fundraising, getting stuck in with creating care packages for the local homeless community or welcoming new and established customers. “The Oak Way” is clearly a sturdy and well-built road to success for this pair.

 

Darren & Charlotte Nash, MBII - The Red Lion

Having moved into the business on the day the country was first thrust into lockdown, Darren and Charlotte Nash, MBII quickly set about transforming The Red Lion, a St Austell tenancy in Cricklade, Wiltshire – a historic coaching inn, the pub boasts five letting rooms, regular beer festivals and even has its own on-site brewery, The Hop Kettle. 

Darren has spent his whole life in-and-around pubs, with many happy memories of learning the trade from his licensee grandparents. So, when he and Charlotte got together (11 years ago), the couple decided to have a go at running their own. “We did four years in a little pub in Alton in Staffordshire, where we’re both from, and then we did a little ‘messing around’ in outside catering and wedding functions.”

Always having their sights set on a venue in Cornwall, the couple got in touch with Chris Faulkner MBII, Business Development Manager (BDM) at St Austell Brewery. He had a pub in mind for them, The Red Lion in Cricklade, which was further north than they had hoped for, as it’s nearer to Swindon than their desired Cirencester, but they decided to give it a go. “We had this ideal scenario in our heads, which was to move down there and open up as soon as we’d moved our stuff in. But as soon as we had completed the handover, the news on the TV announced we were going into full lockdown.“

Turning this major blow into something positive, the husband and wife team used this period to refurbish the venue (including its letting rooms). “After making the flat our own, we set to work on the pub. Like a typical 16th century venue, it was in need of a bit of TLC. We installed new carpets throughout, new flooring and decorations, installed pizza ovens in the kitchen and then I built an outside bar in anticipation of reopening. We did 90% of the work ourselves, apart from the floor and some help with the bar,” says Darren.

With a beer garden that boasts 200 covers outside, Darren also created an all-weather outside structure and is now building an ice cream stall to attract passers by. “The ice cream parlour is my next mini project. It will be a permanent space with a concrete base and sort of shed-like structure. I’m going to install a hatch on the front with a glass fronted freezer, so customers can walk up and choose ice creams through the glass. We’ve made connections with a lovely local ice cream company in Swindon called Rays.”

Having taken over £1,200 on the May bank holiday weekend last year in ice cream sales alone, it’s clear to see why this is the latest project in Darren’s repertoire. “There’s plenty of space and lots of people walking in the area, so it will do well to attract families and young children,” he says proudly. With Charlotte concentrating on front-of-house, Darren plays to his strengths in the kitchen and the cellar. His latest menu successes were his “fakeaways”, which involved a healthy twist on Chinese, Greek, Deep South and Jamaican street food.

“They all sold out, so I did a celebration of my takeaways for New Year’s Eve, amalgamating them and taking the best bits. It was £35 per head for a worldwide tapas evening.“ Although it was time consuming work, Darren worked to a GP of 75%, which was achieved through preparing everything himself, leaving his chefs to carry on doing what they needed to do – using the best value produce to create wholesome street food flavours. When it comes to changing menus, Darren recognises that the business’ strengths lie in its ability to keep changing. 

“I’ve got the attention span of a five year-old, so my menu is always changing,” he explains. “We’ve got a heavy wet trade, a huge beer garden and the best food, but I think fine dining is not where we’re headed in future. It’s successful in the winter, but for the summer, it’s sandwiches in the day and burgers, pizzas and steaks all night. That’s where the money is.” Speaking to Darren and Charlotte in February, still in the midst of ‘pie weather’, as Darren calls it, the menu featured classic comfort foods. “I’ve got a beautiful belly of pork on with dauphinoise, pepper sauce and braised red cabbage. I also do a different pie each week, steak, ale and mushroom, at the minute. This weekend, it’ll be a venison bourguignon pie, which sells for £16.”

Recognising where his best profits are, Darren explains: “I know full well if I’ve got a fillet steak on the menu, the GP is only going to be 52%, but with a pie, I’m potentially going to be using Sunday Roast meat leftovers and I know it’s going to be hitting 80% GP. “It’s the same with the bar, I couldn’t make 60% GP on Champagne, but I can make 72% on a Prosecco.” Although tied tenants with St Austell, Darren is happy with their excellent choice of beer, thanks to their Hop Kettle brewery. “I’m able to buy four products, as part of our agreement, so we’ve got 10 cask lines, 10 keg lines, plus my outside bar. My best sellers are a Pale Ale, a Best Bitter, Element or North Wall. I run two guest ales every week and then normally we have two or three St Austell products and Bath Ales,” he says.

The Hop Kettle is an asset that helps to market the pub. It came about after Tom Gee, founder of Hop Kettle, who originally owned the pub sold it off to concentrate on opening new microbreweries in Swindon and Cirencester. “Customers come here just to sample the Hop Kettle beers, it’s a really unique selling point.” Its popularity led Darren to set-up yearly beer and musical festivals. “This year is going to be bigger and better. I’ll have 40 real ales, 8 or 10 bag-in-box ciders, 10 keg products.”

Tickets cost £10, which buys visitors a wristband, a festival glass, a programme and your first drink free. “The £10 covers my costs plus an extra three quid. We had 800 to 900 people over the weekend. We’ve jiggled the bands around a bit and hopefully they’ll bring their following.“ Darren and Charlotte have a lot to look forward to, come the warmer months. With beer festivals, ice cream offerings and recognising the seasonal tastes of customers, the summer sun will shed light on the hard work they put in all year round to boost the business.

Chris Simon, MBII - The White Hart Hotel

A ‘Local pub with character’, The White Hart Hotel in the Market Town of Modbury (between the Devon coast and Dartmoor National Park) has become a cooking playground for St Austell tenant, Chris Simon, MBII. 

After a career as a chef on super yachts, cooking up luxurious fare for the uber wealthy, Chris wanted to start his own business. “I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be based, but my father lives up the road from The White Hart and when I saw it was vacant, I knew it was a big space and it felt like it would be a good opportunity,” he explains, adding that “it’s a playground for me to cook whatever I want”.
While Chris’ focus is very much on cooking, out of necessity he has been forced to venture out of the kitchen to work on the bedrooms, learning new skills along the way – as a plumber, electrician, tiler and interior decorator. “We cleaned up everything we could. We kept all the old tables, cleaning and polishing them to make the best of what we had,” he says. “We even fitted a brand new kitchen, but just two months in, we were hit by lockdown.”

As they come out the other side of the pandemic, Chris spoke to BII News in February, just as he was preparing to reopen in time for Valentine’s Day, after a quiet December and January. “We decided to limit opening hours and focus on improving the pub, whilst it was quiet. We’re putting new bathrooms into the upstairs bedrooms,” he says. With a heavy focus on the food, it comes as no surprise that The White Hart’s offer is 60% in favour of food, 20% rooms and 20% drinks.
 

And Chris’ Valentine’s Day menu showed that when it comes to the food, nothing is too much, with his ‘I've got my HART set on you’ starters, ‘My HART skips a beat’ main courses and ‘You’re my sweetHART’ desserts. At £40 per person, or £45 for the beef fillet, Chris consistently works to a GP of 70%, with guests usually spending between £50-60 per person – but with bills up to £300 for a special occasion, should guests choose Champagne to go with their lobster. “People who come to us tend to order starter, main, dessert and a bottle of wine but, of course, there are also customers who come in for fish and chips and a coffee. It varies, and we’re glad to be able to cater for a wide variety,” he explains.

As a destination pub, customers are happy to travel from Plymouth Totnes to celebrate an anniversary or birthday at The White Hart. “It feels great because we know we’re worth travelling for. Because we’re in a town that already has two other oldie local’s pubs, there’s no point in treading on their toes. The pub across the road has been doing pie and chips for the last 20 years and people love it. There's no point in me trying to compete.
“By doing the food that we do and offering the level of service we have, we’ve carved out our point-of-difference,” he says. Being careful to ensure the pub fits into its local surroundings, Chris has turned to a French farmhouse style inside. He adds: “There would be no point in us painting it bright, elaborate colours and having strobe lights everywhere. We try to complement the surrounding businesses, while still adding value to the town.”

Becoming a chef wasn’t always on Chris’ radar, in fact, he got his first job in a kitchen peeling potatoes and chopping onions aged 20. He was quickly recognised for his spark, and was given responsibility for looking after the desserts. This ignited a passion in him for patisserie, which was further fed when he went to the Ashburton Cookery School. “When I get a bee in my bonnet about learning how to do something, I just get on and do it as much as I can. In our kitchen, it’s just myself and my apprentice and so we do things like butchering our own meats, which is something I learned from butchers in France,” says Chris. “Doing our own butchery offers us more control with GP: it’s not just about portion sizes, but about how it looks on the plate. It also means we can use the trimmings from steaks to make pies, or cook the fatty trim into sauces. Nothing goes to waste. We basically get a free sauce or pie from doing it all ourselves.”

When creating a new menu, Chris says he looks back at his bestsellers from previous menus, noting down great flavour combinations that might have caused something to sell incredibly well. “We do begin with the classics, like fish and chips, but we make our own chips, tartare sauce and batter. With our burgers, we make the bun, the patty, the pulled pork, chutney, barbecue sauce and the potato hash that goes in the burger.”

Success is about building around the basics. He explains: “Every good pub should offer steak. I often use fillet because it’s low in fat and we can add flavour with butter, thyme, garlic and rosemary. We use the bones from the joints we butcher to make stocks and sauces too.” Chris’ love for good food becomes ever more obvious as he enthusiastically talks about how he structures his menus, starting with the meat, then adding texture with purees and seasonal vegetables. “Now We're heading into spring we’ll use things like the beautiful asparagus that’s available to us, and we'll just keep changing the dish to suit the seasons. If the produce is more abundant, it’ll be cheaper for us too.”

Achieving all this between himself and his apprentice, Chris outlines his approach to training. “My apprentice started off peeling potatoes and vacuum-packing meat and fish, to keep them in good condition, so that he learns to respect the products. Every time we make something new, he's learning and he has come on quite quickly. “I know I can trust him to make the bread rolls, sorbet and to get everything weighed out for me and the more technical dishes.”

When it comes to learning and support for his apprentice, Chris Couldn't be more engaged and excited: “The hospitality industry is used as a stepping stone far too much, so it's important to support staff who are passionate about becoming chefs and staying in our industry. We really want to preserve the hospitality industry in this country by making it better, which is all about finding great people who want to work in it.” These are sentiments the BII shares with Chris, as we work to promote how hospitality can enrich the lives of customers, community members, suppliers and those who share in our collective passion.

 

Chris and Jason Black, MBII -The Pityme Inn

Jason and Chris Black MBII are the winners of the BII Licensee of the Year Award 2021. BII News’ Editor Kate Oppenheim CBII spoke to Chris about their achievement and goals for the year ahead.

What does it mean to you both to be crowned winners of the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award 2021? 
 
Winning has been a massive achievement for us, bearing in mind that we have only been licensees of our own business for three years. Receiving recognition from industry experts, especially during this time when the sector has been so hard hit, made it all the more intense. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions getting through to the finals, with each stage of the competition giving us an opportunity to reflect upon our business and everything that we have achieved. 
 
What are the stand out successes of your business over this last year? 
 
Our ethos is always to keep going. When the pandemic hit, we started to do meals-on-wheels and with a team of volunteers, we delivered up to 200 meals twice a week to the vulnerable, disabled and old people living locally. It was important to us that we kept the supply chain going, as we recognised that our suppliers were really struggling.  We started offering takeaways too, fish and chips on a Friday and roasts on Sunday, as we saw it was important to give our customers a break from the monotony and boredom of cooking at home every day.
 
Everything we achieved during lockdown has helped us build a better business moving forward. For instance, when we first reopened our garden for trade in April 2021, we had the single biggest sales day on record. Doing what we did gave people a reason to want to come back and we made them all very welcome. We also opened our shop, which focuses on selling local produce to our community. It’s a farm-shop style offer, that has a strong environmentally sound ethos, for instance, we sell milk in glass, returnable bottles, that people bring back for refilling. We also stock our frozen ready meals and it has been so successful that it has become a permanent fixture, utilising an area of the pub that wasn’t particularly well used before.
 
With three sites in Cornwall with St Austell – the Pityme Inn, Rock; the Lugger Inn, Polruan; and the Weavers Inn, Bodmin – we also launched our new app, called Cornish Inns. This allows our guests to collect reward points, order click-and-collect takeaways and access exclusive deals, as well as our ‘pay at the table’ facility, and get information on upcoming events. Ultimately it gives them access to everything they need to know about our pubs and encourages repeat visits. We see it as a great way to future proof our business and is another initiative we’d like to share with our fellow BII members. 
 
How are you ensuring your business is sustainable, not only for now, but for the next two to three years? 
 
We have invested a lot in new systems over the last six months, to give us better control over our GPs and stock, and to get all of the elements of the business interlinked. In terms of environmental sustainability, we are looking to grow more of our own produce, like herbs, to avoid having to buy in pre-packed goods in plastic, and we invested in an electric vehicle to deliver our takeaways. Reducing waste and food miles is key, which means we keep our menu seasonal and try to use local suppliers.  

What pearls of wisdom and inspiration would you like to share with our members?
 
It would be to always think about your business in terms of having a long-term strategy. We view our business as a career for us and our team. We try not to take on seasonal staff, but employ a full-time team throughout the year, as we believe seasonal staff are less engaged with the business. We look to promote and develop our people through the business from team member to assistant manager and onto general manager, and we move people around the three pubs too, to give them the broadest experience possible. While we are in a heavily touristy area, we work hard not to alienate our locals during the peak seasons. In winter, we diversify more and hold a Christmas market, along with themed nights, live music, etc, to create a meeting and social space for our locals. It’s not just about the food and drink. These days, it’s very easy for people to drift from one pub to another restaurant, and so on, but we place huge value on developing and growing our brand for the long-term. We keep our brand relevant and engaging all year, making it as easy as possible for people to want to return to us.

 

Our branding has been created to have a broad appeal – it is as applicable to the high end, second home owners, as to the camp site visitors on a tight budget, and it is for the locals too.  We also do a lot on social media. We have also started using a software system called Feed It Back, which provides a dashboard of all social media engagements. It identifies any recurring issues and also makes it easy to gather the positive messages. You are given an overall score at the end of each week too, which provides a good guide to what you’re doing well and what’s going wrong. Facing up to any problems is important, because if things are wrong, you need to own it. If you’re getting four out of five, it’s about working to achieve five out of five. 
 
What do pubs and the wider hospitality sector mean to you? 
 
Both Jason and I have grown up in and around pubs, Jason was a General Manager with Mitchells & Butlers for eight years and I have a degree in business and food, and I worked for a food importer doing product development across Europe, developing ranges for the major supermarkets. We believe that our experiences give us a wider and very balanced view of the industry. We are absolutely committed to what we do. We see hospitality, especially pubs, as vitally important to all our communities, and this has never been more true that over these past couple of years. Creating a viable and community focused business is what we are passionate about, and taking part in this awards process has helped us view the bigger picture and see things with fresher eyes too.
 
We, as a sector, need to make pubs more viable and work to create outlets that are seen as being vital in providing community support and valuable, long-term careers. Hospitality workers should feel proud to go to work every day. As an industry, we need to cultivate and grow the next generation of licensees: we need fresh, new blood to create even better venues for future generations.  Getting out of your business to visit other venues can be an eye opener. We get out every week and encourage our staff to use other venues too – we pay for them to go to and drink/eat elsewhere, and when they come back, we ask them to tell us about it – what they liked or what they would change.  All this means we have a high level of staff retention, with 10 of our team members having relocated from M&B in London to Cornwall.
 
As the winners of LOYA, you will have the ear of the industry, its governing bodies and even the Government. What will be the key messages you’d like to get across? 
 
It’s that hospitality needs to be seen as a career. We all need to make hospitality even more relevant to new candidates and better promote everything this industry has to offer. Also, sustainability – both financial and environmental. Everyone should be growing their business year-on-year, while also looking to be more sustainable: being greener is a selling point.
 
Finally, it wouldn’t be the ‘Oscars’ of the licensed trade without giving you the opportunity to thank those who have had the greatest impact on your success…
 
Fundamentally our teams have got us through the tricky times. We couldn’t have done any of this without them. Also, St Austell has been hugely supportive and the BII has been really helpful, both in terms of advice about growing our business and also career development for our teams.
 
As winners of the Licensee of the Year Award, Jason and Chris Black MBII will receive a year’s free pubs and clubs subscription to Sky Sports, £500 towards a party in their pub to celebrate with their staff and a model of their pub created by artist Bunty May Marshall to commemorate their win.
 
BII's Licensee of the Year Award is a yearly competition for personal licence holders to receive the tools to help assess and develop their business, as well as working towards the accolade of LOYA winner. Click here to learn more.

Paul Clarke, MBII - The Lifeboat Inn

When The Lifeboat Inn in Shirehampton, Bristol, became available in Autumn 2020, Paul Clarke MBII and eight friends got together to take on the lease. BII's Eleanor Golding MBII spoke to Paul about why the group became involved and how important it was for them to join the BII.

Nestled a few miles outside of Bristol town centre, The Lifeboat Inn was at risk of being turned into flats, or shops, before Paul Clarke and eight of his friends approached Admiral Taverns to take on an initial six month lease.
 

"We had lots of chats between ourselves about whether or not it was a good idea. The nine of us are friends and we all vary in age, a couple are in their 60s, one in his 50s and the rest of us are in our 40s, there's even a father and son within the group," explains Paul. 

 

"We've all known each other for more than 30 years because most of us have a bit of a rugby background. That's how we know each other and the pub itself was like an extension to the rugby club. Most of us had even had our first drinks there as teenagers."

Looking back on his 18-year-old self, Paul could never have imagined taking on the pub in his adult life. Working as a full-time aircraft engineer and with other members of the Lifeboat group employed on the docks, in logistics, IT, engineering and window fitting, together they brought the practical and technical skills that are needed to manage the refit, set-up and run a pub.

"None of us were in it in order to quit our day jobs, we came together and invested an amount of money each, without really expecting to get it back. We put our money and resources into it for the good of the community."

In the years since their first pints together, Paul had noticed that the pub had been going downhill. "We thought to ourselves, 'we need to reclaim the pub a little bit'. Initially, as there was no budget to refurbish, we took it on as it was and started investing our own funds. The electrics were in a bad state and a lot of the floor joists holding up the boards were rotten. By the end of it, we were really taking the place apart," says Paul, adding that they received plenty of help from the community, from people running the pub to the many locals who were offering to drop off materials and volunteer their time.

In true community spirit, the team received anything from electrical expertise to beer and cake. All was gratefully received and it was decided that this help should get official recognition. 

"The Lifeboat Legends board is still to go up, but the principle is that if someone helped out, whether they provided paints, plumbing or cake, we would add them to the board. We used Facebook initially, posting when someone offered their support. We'd say a thank you and end with the phrase 'Your position on the Lifeboat Legends board is now secure!'"

The board, which will be like a Captain's board more usually found in sport's clubs, will be mounted on the wall, with the names displayed in no particular order.

"The footprint of our bar was something on our radar from the start. Originally the pub had a bar room and a separate lounge, but we repositioned the bar to make a more efficient use of space," says Paul.

This had had the added benefit of making more of a feature of the bar, which is created from an old lifeboat (installed in the mid=1980s). The feedback has been very positive too, especially as this unusual feature is now visible to passers-by, thereby arousing intrigue and causing people to stop or do a double take. 

In the run up to opening, Admiral Taverns provided the team with someone to provide on-site training. 

"She was helping with the layout of the pub, with things like signage, how to load the shelves and to organise everything from a practical point-of-view, even how the pub should be set up . It has been a steep learning curve. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, in terms of how much was involved. From CCTV and safety assessments, to fire regulations and ensuring our pricing offered us a good margin. We didn't have any experience of that."

Having joined the BII in September 2021, Paul says he and the team, alongside their Manager Kai Hopkins, have utilised the BII Staff Contract Builder and HR Helpline to help support staff.

"We're still very much hands on as well, running repairs, or making sure the tills operate properly and even that the juke box is working Whatever it might be, we're really involved in the day-to-day running of the place."

At the time of our interview, The Lifeboat Inn had been open for just five weeks. Now established into a rhythm and regularly taking on feedback from customers, the team of nine have their sights set on adding live music events (kicking off with newly signed Spencer Flay) and serving fresh pizzas from their shiny pizza oven.

George Ralph, Chris Jakeways, Martin Ackerman, Bob Hane, John Golder, Jonathan Golder, Julian Stevens, Jerry Male and Paul Clarke make up the nine men who took on the Admiral tenancy to save The Lifeboat Inn as a pub for their community. Between them, they run the pub, hold down their full time jobs and are even involved in two bands, called Half a Barrel (folk music) and The Black Crash (indie, rock).

How to Make Your Pub a Community Minded Hub:

  • Pubwatch - connect with like-minded licensees and work alongside your local council and police teams.
  • Create a group of businesses within the local community -  Paul says that working with the local businesses "means we have a partner in our community, between us we attract people in the area, or get people to stay in the area and support local."
  • Invite your local MP - showing your MP the work you do within the community can really bring your venue to the forefront of their minds when they're planning future projects.
  • Create a space for customers and community members to share their thoughts or feedback with you - this could be as part of a feedback box, an outreach program, recording feedback as you chat to customers, or encouraging comments on social media.
 

Manu Bhatt, MBII - The Queen's Head

Building his Little & Large Pub Company, Manu Bhatt MBII has achieved success with The Queen's Head, Dorking, and more recently with The Running Horses, Mickleham. Eleanor Golding MBII reports.

Before venturing into the the licensed trade, Manu Bhatt had never heard of Dorking, but following a recommendation from Iain Rippon, Fuller's Head of Operations (Tenanted), his heart became set on a pub there. 
 

"I absolutely loved the pub; the potential was huge. We took it on in February 2020, but after just three weeks, we were thrust into lockdown. It was unknown territory, but I'm an optimistic person; I always see the bright side, so I thought I would take the time to do something - try things in the pub that I couldn't have done before."
 
 A Fuller's tenancy, The Queen's Head in Dorking was the inaugural site in Manu's Little and Large Pub Company. It has since been joined by The Running Horses in Mickleham (a Brakspear tenancy), which opened in November 2021, with a third pub in Brockley, London, being added to the portfolio soon. 

 

Manu is a great believer in forging strong industry connections, which he sees as being fundamental to growing his business and success. Stunning creations orchestrate immersive worlds that are the bedrock of Manu's pub. These installations and effects are the result of collaborations with local businesses, suppliers and customers, who pitch in to help maintain the garden, and are proven to grab the attention of passers-by and lure people inside.

"My plan last year was to do a Christmas market in the teepees we have at the Queen's Head; we had everything planned and all the suppliers lined up, but with the distancing measures in place last year, it became too tricky.  The teepees have since opened and we also built an outside kitchen over lockdown, so the plan [for 2021] is for Christmas style Winter barbecues and things like that.

"When you go to a Christmas market, what do you notice? It's that smell of the mulled wine, a hog roast, German sausages and that kind of thing."

Manu recognises that when people feel inspired by their experience and find it visually appealing, they're likely to take more photos and shout louder about where they have been.

"The pub is quite deceiving, it's small from the outside but when you go inside, we've designed a pathway like the Backyard Cinema events - a beautiful walkway that leads people to the teepees. We wanted something which is weatherproof, a place we can bring food and drink to, and somewhere that is also magnificent to look at. We used lights and lots of beautiful flower arrangements to create that."

 

It's the attention to detail that is all-important in creating something truly spectacular, and which is "photogenic, clear, fresh, glamorous and different" - the ingredients for success. 

He advises: "Go outside and see what your pub looks like to people walking past. Around Christmas time last year [2020], even when we were closed, I left all the Christmas lights on and it encouraged people to come and take selfies."

With a love for interior design, Manu says he draws inspiration from the places he visits: from boutique hideaways in the Cotswolds, to the luxury of the Pig Hotels found in the New Forest, Bath and by the coast. 

"I always look to the bar as the starting point, when it comes to the interior, as this has got to be your focal point, and then I carry on the journey throughout. There was a carpet running throughout The Running Horse, so I took that up to reveal the beautiful wooden flooring beneath: it brought things to life immediately. Also, there were curtains hanging at the window, which were obscuring the view of a beautiful church opposite, so we got rid of them. Now customers can enjoy the beautiful surroundings."

Giving customers an excuse to return, as well as to pose for a photo opportunity (and in turn create more exposure for the venue on social media platforms) Manu regularly freshens up the decor in the pub, working with the team at the Kingfisher Farmhouse in Abinger Hammer to curate a seasonal floral archway for the entrance, as well as giant wreaths and table settings too. 

Once customers are enticed indoors, the dishes on the menu are a mixture between classic comfort food and items with an exciting twist. 

"Our most popular dishes are duck, a chicken kiev dish and our seafood risotto which has been recently replaced with a fish pie. We work at a GP of 70% on food and drink, and we achieve that consistently. Spend per head is at £40, we want to offer good value, but with the prices of everything going up, especially our electricity which is rising by 50% at least, we will have to make a decision on whether to take a hit on our GP or pass it onto customers."

A pragmatic strategy as financial changes are coming into effect, Little & Large draws from the wealth of Manu's life experience. Having worked around the world from an early age, he started working as an intern in an Australian hotel at the age of 16. Manu was drawn to running pubs because of how quickly he can action his ideas and adapt the business, a definite bonus as circumstances remain challenging for pubs at the moment.

Manu's Tips for Creating Atmosphere with Your Interiors

  • Keep things feeling novel by changing decorations and floral arrangements seasonally. Many companies now specialise in floral doorway arches and also paying attention to seasonal menus can be great for your bottom line and for the environment.
  • Think about your customers' touch points. View your venue from their perspective, step outside, take time to notice what you've got on your walls. Is the lighting cosy? What other venues surround your pub? Is your seating suited to the ambience you're trying to create?
  • Use the skills of local suppliers, such as florists and lifestyle shops, to inject a point of difference into your venue. You could print little cards noting where customers can buy the pieces from, or even create a social media series with them to help subsidise the cost of your decor.
 

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