West: Royal Oak

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South Brent, Devon Andrew and Carol Doree were thrown in at the deep end when they acquired the Royal Oak in December 2002. Andrew recalls: "It was...

South Brent, Devon

Andrew and Carol Doree were thrown in at the deep end when they acquired the Royal Oak in December 2002. Andrew recalls: "It was a bit manic to say the least. We had a large function booked, but it was a brilliant way to get to know people."

The couple stumbled on the South Brent pub after "looking at virtually everything that was for sale in the West Country" and bought it despite the fact that "it didn't meet our criteria".

Andrew explains: "We were looking for a pub in the country with plenty of car parking space and a large beer garden." And jokes: "We weren't expecting much." Carol says they were attracted to the Royal Oak because of "the feel of the place and, although it was a bit tired, there was plenty of potential".

Before altering anything, the couple spent a few months canvassing the opinion of locals in South Brent, which has a population of around 3,000 and competition from three pubs and a Conservative Club. The feedback led to changing some of the beers, introducing a proper food service ­ not just sandwiches that were previously offered ­ and extending the opening hours.

Andrew says: "We introduced food three months after we got here and that brought in a different set of people, especially younger people, families and old folks. We even have a 99-year-old woman who now comes in regularly who had not been inside the pub for 40 years."

To create a more inviting atmosphere, Andrew and Carol refurbished and redecorated the outlet from top to bottom.

New leather seating and a fireplace were installed to transform the lounge area into a comfort zone. The kitchen was fitted out with professional cooking equipment. And a "cold, uninviting skittles alley" was converted into an attractive dining area complete with its own bar, which can also be used for private functions. The Dorees have also started a carvery to capitalise on the food trade, which has grown by 250% over the past year. The gain in food sales has not dented the wet side of the business, with drinks turnover rising by more than 40% in the year to July 2004.

For now, Andrew and Carol intend to consolidate the business for a few years to help repay some of the £100,000 plus spent on refurbishing the Royal Oak. However, in three or four years' time, they plan to further develop the business by adding an upstairs dining room above the skittles alley/dining room area.

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