Turnaround of the Turnpike Inn

By Tony Halstead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags West yorkshire West yorkshire pub Public house Inn

Dinning and Roberts: former Wetherspoon managers
Dinning and Roberts: former Wetherspoon managers
Lee Roberts tells Tony Halstead how he and partner Sarah Dinning turned a near-derelict West Yorkshire pub into a £30,000 a week business.

Lee Roberts tells Tony Halstead how he and partner Sarah Dinning — former JD Wetherspoon managers — took on a near-derelict West Yorkshire pub and turned it into thriving destination outlet that's now turning over £30,000 a week.

How we got here

Sarah and I both had successful careers with JD Wetherspoon where we ran Lloyds No 1 bars in various cities for the best part of eight years. We had always envisaged running our own business eventually and in 2007 we decided it was time for a clean break.

It was a big decision for us as we'd both enjoyed happy and successful careers, but after eight years we decided we could not stand still. We learnt a great deal about pub retailing in our time there and even though we were in the middle of a recession we knew there was big potential in operating quality food pubs.

In our small chain of West Yorkshire pubs we believe we have actually thrived through the recession as so many people appear to have traded down from fine restaurant dining and turned to pubs for more value. It's certainly worked for us.

Getting started

We began by leasing two pubs — the Malthouse, Rishworth, and the Sun, Lightcliffe — from Enterprise Inns. We also operate another pub with local property developer Adrian Burr, the Honest Lawyer in Ripponden. When we first saw the Turnpike it would have been easy to declare the place a non-starter, as it was almost derelict, but we felt there was potential in the site due to its great location opposite a lake and with panoramic views.

We formed our own company alongside Burr, the Blue Moon Pub Company, and then set to work restoring the pub. It took six months and £500,000 to get the place how we wanted it and in November 2009 we finally opened for business.

The pub

The Turnpike sits on the main A672, which links the M62 from junction 22 to the village of Rishworth three miles away. It's a bit out of the way, but superbly positioned in terms of scenery, so it was obvious we needed to develop a destination venue and create a retail offer that would not conflict with what we did at the Malthouse, which is only a mile or so up the road. The building is 200 years old in parts and is a well-known landmark even though it had been closed for several years.

What we did

We set out to build up what we describe as a country pub restaurant with letting bedrooms. We have six rooms that have been a great success, with businessmen during the week and families and tourists at the weekends. We created two dining areas either side of the main bar and added on a function room which doubles up as our Sunday carvery area.

The function room is popular as a wedding reception venue and for other events such as christenings and birthday parties. We have already had 11 weddings in 2009.

We went through the whole of the building during the course of the renovation works opting for a contemporary design using English heritage period colours. Our suppliers even developed a special "Turnpike Green" for our exclusive use.

It was a major job getting the place right because literally everything was new, including state-of-the-art kitchens. But at least we were able to design the pub very much to our own specification and create imaginatively designed bedrooms that we could let for a decent overnight tariff.

We also knew, as we were aiming it to be a destination venue, that we needed a big car park, so we developed one at the side of the building. Our front patio with wooden tables and seats has marvellous views across the lake and towards the motorway. We hope it will be something of a unique selling point during the summer.

Our marketing

We promoted and advertised the opening of the Turnpike on local radio and also profiled it in our other pubs. The place had been closed for so long that we really had to tell as many people as possible it was opening up again. The main road outside the pub is a busy one so plenty of locals were aware something was going on when they drove past. It seemed to work because we were busy almost from day one, even though it was mid-November when we finally opened the doors. We took £26,000 in the first week, which was a fantastic start.

Our food and drink

Food is the high spot at the Turnpike. We employ five senior chefs and 10 support chefs running an all-day food operation from 12noon to late at night. We serve an average 1,500 meals each week and have a capacity for 200 dining covers in the dining rooms and function room.

The menu is a mix of classic and more inventive British cuisine. Eight different steak dishes are available using beef from local farms hung for a minimum of 28 days. Apart from that we have more traditional dishes, ranging from lamb shanks to fish & chips. There is a set menu costing £12 for two dishes and £16 for three courses. On Sundays our carvery, consisting of three different roasts, costs £9 per head. There is a separate snack menu served from noon to 6pm Mondays to Fridays. Sunday lunches between noon and 6pm average out at 500 servings.

We have also introduced a special steak deal for two people comprising two 10oz steaks and a bottle of house wine for £20, which has been a great success. We have three cask beers on the bar — two local brews, Black Sheep and Timothy Taylor Landlord, plus Charles Wells Bombardier.

The future

At the Turnpike we have been forced to buy a field at the side of the pub so we can extend the car park, which can barely cope on busy days. We also have plans for two more pubs and hope to have a total of six under our belts by the end of summer, all within a five-minute radius of one another. There are only so many hours in a day so it's important time is not wasted travelling between venues.

The Turnpike and the Malthouse are turning over a combined figure of £55,000 per week along a two-mile stretch of road. That's not bad going in West Yorkshire.

Facts 'n' stats

Address: the Turnpike Inn, Rishworth, West Yorkshire

Ownership: Freehouse — Blue Moon Pub Company

Licensees: Lee Roberts and Sarah Dinning

Staff: 40 to 50 full and part-time

Wages as % of turnover: 33%

Turnover: £30,000 per week

Dry:wet split: 75:25

Dining covers: 200

Meals per week: 1,500

Food GP: 70%

Wet GP: 72%

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