It's been less than two years since Martin Hayes converted the Cask, an ailing boozer in a forgotten corner of south-west London, into an inspirational example of modern pub retailing. It now turns over £900,000 a year and sells beer at £8 pint. Martin Hayes tells Phil Mellows how he did it.
How I got here
The Pimlico Tram had been notorious as a very troubled pub that had been in decline for 20 years and finally it shut.
I had some experience, as I used to run a Punch pub, the King William IV in Chelsea, which was a learning experience for me. I learned what not to do again, and I knew what I had to do to make a local pub like this relevant.
So, when the lease came up I approached the landlord, Greene King, with an unusual concept.
It would be all about selling really good beers and it would be different because, to be honest, the pub is in an ugly building. It's not a traditional ale house.
Bob Luke, the Greene King business development manager, has been fantastically supportive. He's believed in the project from the start. Because they brew beer themselves I think they see things from a different perspective to the pub companies.
It was a slow-burner at first, but in the last year, since we started winning awards, trade has been growing day by day. We're getting noticed.
We have 10 handpumps, 14 keg lines and 500 bottled beers. And although we're a Greene King lease there's not a single Greene King beer. It's hard to believe, but they accept it.
I'm taking a purist line. This pub is about genuine craft beer made in small batches by people who care. That's never going to be open for discussion.
I source all the beers direct from the breweries. That cuts out the middle guy and it means I can forge a strong and healthy relationship with my suppliers. I know what they're doing, for example when they have unusual beers coming through. I also import 90% of the keg beers myself. It's not as difficult as you'd think.
We don't have house beers. Our customers never know what's going to be on.
Even the most ardent beer-ticker will see a few he's not seen before. But we make sure we always have a broad spectrum of beer styles.
There are some beers we have really championed in the UK, such as Mikkeller from Denmark. It's the biggest craft brewer in Denmark. It only brews in small batches and releases up to 100 beers a year, so it's something different every time.
Among the cask beers, it's Dark Star's ales people want, so we try to make sure we've got something on from them. In my view, it's the finest craft brewer of ale in the country and its beers always fly out.
It's expensive, but people have a choice. We charge £3.45 for a pint of cask ale across the board, whatever the strength. That's very fair, I think. For keg beers it goes up to nearly £8 a pint — but that's for an amazing, hand-crafted beer and I don't think that's expensive.
You can drink beers here you can't drink anywhere else in the country, and you'll have a good time, too.
We serve food at lunch and dinner time during the week and all day at the weekend, including a Sunday roast. The menu changes about every two weeks and as much as we can we sell locally sourced, fresh food.
Veggie dishes do well and the Barnsley Chop is going fantastic for us at the moment.
We've not got into beer and food matching. People know what they think will go with which dish and we let them experiment. Personally, I don't think you can beat a burger when you're drinking beer!
All I ask of our staff is that they are enthusiastic and willing to learn. We try to inspire a passion in them for beer, and get them to appreciate what goes into making it.
One guy has even started home brewing as a result.
Barstaff are open and enthusiastic to customers, it's not like a members-only club in here. We encourage them to share their passion and give an opinion, to tell people what they like. They are tasting different beers all the time, it's always a topic of conversation among them, so training is a continuous process.
Some of the beers here are very strong. We have beers on tap up to 18% ABV, but we sell them by the half pint measure and it's not the sort of place you come to get drunk and boisterous.
I've only ever taken out one advert — in the London Campaign for Real Ale magazine.
We do a lot of social networking, on Twitter and on Facebook, to tell people what's going on. And the beer bloggers have helped us. But mostly it's word-of-mouth. People spread
We'll be starting 'meet the brewer' events soon, but people can taste any beer they like at the bar.
We always try to improve, always look to take that next step.
Our second pub, the Craft Beer Co, opens in Clerkenwell, north London, at the end of this month. We aim to stock the biggest range of draught beers in the country with 16 on handpump and 21 on keg.
Ensuring people come back
The Cask is still very much a pub where people can relax and have a good time and we attract a diverse crowd, from traditional Campaign for Real Ale types to people who simply care about beer and aren't put off by a building that isn't exactly quaint. It's a real cross-section, but we've been particularly successful in bringing in women.
We get beer tours calling here and we get people who have read about us on the beer blogs. What we do is so unusual that people feel like it's their secret that they've discovered, which adds to its charm.
We try to take people on a journey here. One man came in and asked for two pints of Kronenbourg. We told him we didn't sell pasteurised beer and recommended a Mikkeller Green Gold IPA. He liked it and he's been back every day since, and he goes through the whole range.
Our beers are not cheap, but they have the power to interest people.
Words of advice
"You can't have a good pub without good staff. That's number one. Then, for us, it's good beer.
"As far as beer is concerned the British pub is turning full circle. Look at the revival of cask beer. But that will only work for you if you're able to look after it properly, if you invest the time and if you source the right beers.
"Think outside the box. Going to the pub is becoming a luxury for most people and they want something different."
Facts 'n' stats
Tenure: Greene King leasehold
Annual turnover: £900,000
Wet:dry split: 80:20
Favourite brewers: Dark Star, Mikkeller
Number of staff: 13, including six full time
Opening hours: 12 noon to 11pm except Mondays, 4pm to 11pm
Busiest time: Friday night
Price of a pint: £3.45 to £7.90
On the menu: Chelsea tractor (sausage roll) £2.95; free-range Scotch egg £3.95; grazing platters £5.50 or five for £25; Angus beefburger £9.95; gnocchi with red pesto and toasted pine nuts £10.50