Becky's diary: week one

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Becky Salisbury of Publican Award-winning Salisbury Pubs has discovered that no matter how long you've been in this business, acquiring, refitting...

Becky Salisbury of Publican Award-winning Salisbury Pubs has discovered that no matter how long you've been in this business, acquiring, refitting and re-opening pubs is never easy. Over the next few weeks we'll be following progress of her latest pub.

Week 1: Five weeks to opening​Cigarettes: 40-plus

After years of running pubs late into the evening I could never be described as a "morning person". But here I am at 6.30am, wide awake, my mind churning over our new project - the Old Queen's Head in the pretty village of Penn, near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

It's our fourth outlet and, having spent the best part of two years looking for it, there's a lot at stake. In theory we have five weeks to get it up to scratch before we re-open, but experience tells me this is impossibly tight - hence the feeling of slight panic.

The only comforting thing I can think of as I lie here in the dark is that 20 miles away a team of builders are mustering outside the pub, preparing to bash it to bits.

But the refit is just one element. The whole operation has to be spot on. If the pub fails to match expectations from day one, we shall lose all the interest we have built up among the locals. We've still got to hire the kitchen and front-of-house teams and there's a mountain of paperwork to get through.

When we took on our first pub, the Alford Arms, seven years ago, it was a hell of a lot easier sorting out things like utilities and banks. Now, with legislation such as the Data Protection Act, it takes four times as long just to switch the power supply over. We're on first name terms with our bankers, too, but setting up a new account for the Old Queen's Head requires us to prove who we are over and over again. It's maddening.

We meet a hot candidate for the head chef's job. It's real secret squirrel stuff - he doesn't want to spook his present employer so we meet cloak-and-dagger style in a local boozer. We arrange a date for a trial shift later in the week and are stunned when he fails to turn up! What is it with some people?

But at least we have got our general manager sorted out. Michael Bailey is joining us from the Admiral Codrington in Chelsea and we are really happy to have him on board. Not only has he got bags of experience, but he's also a local boy from nearby Chesham. Backing him up as deputy will be one of our stars from the Alford, Tina Brown.

Too many meetings mean we end up trying to cram a discussion about the interior of the Queen's Head into an hour - less than ideal. Already the decorators are asking about colour schemes and we haven't even finalised the lighting plan yet!

The whole thing is semi-organised chaos, but we don't have an architect on this one because there's nothing structural required, and my husband David has decided he is going to design the back-bar as we go along. This causes much merriment with our builders when they realise he has been given the wrong measurements, but they cope manfully with the necessary adjustments.

The kitchen has been stripped out and we quickly realise we need to get a deep-cleaning company in because it's filthy.

Plus, I've just realised that the kitchen quote should have included two custom-built stainless steel sinks for the back-bar - but they're not listed. Cue more panic phone calls.

One of the great things about refitting pubs is hooking up again with old suppliers and mates. But every phone call includes a 30-minute catch-up and it really eats into the time. It doesn't help that we are trying to combine refitting a pub with our financial year-end, stocktaking and a monthly cheque run for the rest of the business.

Although there have been no major disasters it's only the first week and something is bound to happen soon - I just know it.

  • Becky's Diary continues next week.

Related topics Property law

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£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

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