A waterside location never hurts when it comes to developing a successful pub operation, and that's certainly true for the Mulberry on Conwy Marina in North Wales.
The food-led pub is a flagship managed house for Stockport-based family brewer Frederic Robinson. Manager Brett Hutchinson joined three years ago when the business was still developing. "It's a fantastic location overlooking the Marina," he says. "It's great to sit beside the boats, and watch the world go by. We could see that its potential was enormous."
The Mulberry's management team, Brett, Annie Jones and John Jackson, developed a business plan with head chef Christian Whittleworth. "We decided the way to increase business was to take the foodservice offering up a step," says Annie. Local produceEighteen months ago the Mulberry radically upgraded its food offer.
The pub developed a menu that's Mediterranean-influenced, while using plenty of local produce from Welsh lamb and black beef to Conwy mussels. To help deliver the quality the Mulberry required, it installed a Rational 10-grid SelfCooking Center. "The Rational has been absolutely essential in getting us to where we are," says Brett. "We bought it because we thought it would play a key role in upgrading our foodservice - and we were right."
The strategy has worked like a dream, says Christian. "These days we serve up to 300 covers a day. If you want a window seat in the 100-seater upstairs restaurant on a Friday or Saturday in summer, you'll have to book three weeks in advance," he explains.
Brett says: "Our carvery is hugely popular - it's not unusual to have people queuing for an hour to get to it. The quality of the meats is a key factor and we cook them all in the Rational. When it comes to cooking our joints we reckon the SelfCooking Center saves us around £20,000 a year - and it gives us the best results we've ever had."
Those results come from using the Rational's overnight cooking facility. "It cooks the meat slowly and at the perfect temperature, so you get rare beef or medium, whatever you've asked for," explains Christian. "And because it's cooking so slowly, the meat matures and comes out beautifully succulent. It's all done automatically, overnight, and there's no need to check on it."
As for the savings achieved, Brett adds: "We used to have someone come in early in the morning to start cooking the roasts. It's like having an extra member of staff - but without the cost."
The Rational is more versatile than just cooking joints. "It's a great piece of kit, we use it for lunch and dinner. We do a lot of seafood - marlin, swordfish. We bake in it, too - it does a wonderful Genoese sponge," Christian explains.
One test of the success of the Mulberry is the impact of the smoking ban, which came into force in Wales at the start of April. Christian says: "If anything, business has increased. I suppose people who used to be put off by smokers now come in happily. We've also put a small smoking area outside for diehards."