How we got here
I was brought up in Yorkshire, trained at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Bournemouth and went on to work in restaurants in Chester, London and Brisbane, Australia. When I met my wife and business partner Emma in 2004 she was keen to stop working as a microbiologist and return to catering management. After travelling and working abroad, we returned to England in 2008 and ran restaurants together and separately. We were first offered the White Swan when it reopened after two years, but had just come back and felt unprepared. Our daughter Lilly was born in 2012 and by the time she was one year old we were both working 60-plus hours a week in different restaurants, so in January 2014 we jumped at our second chance to take on this rural private lease. This time, we felt we had the vital experience and passion to make it work.
How we grew the business
Trade had slowed at this previously popular pub before it closed temporarily, so changes were needed. We wanted to give it a more traditional country-pub atmosphere, putting our individual stamp on it and generating strong connections with locals and new customers. A splash of olive green, old hunting memorabilia, open fires and revamped snug bar added a welcoming feel. Within 10 months we’re seeing growth and feel excited about the future. Our barter system works well, strongly reflecting our community focus. Swapping produce for pints allows a huge GP on some dishes, especially involving game. During shooting season exchanging beer for 20 pheasants only costs us the amount we’d pay the butcher for two birds. In season, game is abundant and often wasted and people value our ways of using it. They’re proud to see their produce on a well-respected menu and don’t seem to want much in return. We’ve met fantastic, like-minded people through bartering. Two groups eat regularly here after a shoot and Emma and I have been interviewed on Radio York about our barter system. Our monthly turnover has increased by £500 to £700 within our first year, including seasonal and term-time fluctuations.
Our five best ideas
Our barter system involves our community and attracts free advertising via local media.
Refurbishing the tea-rooms to resurrect the tap room: walkers enjoy bringing their dogs, and locals can escape from our busy main bar. Not having to leave dogs in cars encourages many visitors to stay for a meal.
Our recently launched Saturday morning breakfast club runs from 10am-1pm, attracting at least 20 extra covers at an otherwise quiet time. Combining its launch with a veg and cake show, including selling seeds in advance to encourage locals to grow their show vegetables, helped to spark interest, which continues to build.
Hosting weddings in conjunction with the local wedding venue, providing guests with dinner and drinks on the eve, breakfast and drinks on the wedding morning and breakfast or Sunday dinner the next day, generates up to £1,000 extra revenue over a weekend.
Developing dead office space into our function room offers private dining for up to eight. It’s popular for Sunday lunch and with those bringing small children.
How we stand out from the crowd
Our ethos focuses on promoting fresh, seasonal, local food, grown in our kitchen garden if possible. More people are sharing these values and want to know what they’re eating and its source, so we love letting diners know what is home-produced. Foraging is among our passions, including gathering nuts, berries and fruits, and we outsource using our barter system. We cook simple, honest food at its best and people appreciate our friendly, relaxed, efficient approach and comfortable, dining environment. Offering individual services such as a telephone book-ahead system for cyclists or walkers in need of snacks such as granola or fresh scones and pots of tea has helped to establish us more clearly on the tourist map in an area of North Yorkshire that is famous for its scenery and trails.
Best piece of business advice we have received
A good till system should print your daily VAT: squirrel away the correct amount to minimise the quarterly shock.
Our biggest mistakes
After a good month we used to plough extra money back into areas such as the garden and advertising, but have learned to prioritise. Spending on key areas has to be gradual, cushioning your bank balance for unexpected events such as equipment failure. Don’t agree to purchases by phone: consider your needs and protect yourself from scams.
Our fantastic team genuinely want the White Swan to succeed. We treat them with respect, appreciating that each member is key to our effectiveness. We teach all staff about the food we serve, involving them in tasting, prep and foraging to better inform our customers and sell our product. They have one-to-one training on arrival, and participate in cellar-management training and barista training from our machine supplier.
Our most popular ale, White Swan, is blended for us by Lancashire-based Moorhouse’s. Both our ale and wine reps are part of our close-knit local community. We stock as many Yorkshire products as possible and always have a guest ale.
Our feedback form goes out with the bill to highlight what works well and needs improving, and helps to build our newsletter database, sent monthly to avoid bombarding people. Social media reminds customers of key events and is great for quick updates. If fresh game is brought in, for example, publicising our spontaneous evening special generates immediate custom. We advertise in our parish council magazine and leaflet the village. This autumn we entered the Best Newcomer category in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s Top 50 Gastropubs Awards and are considering other awards.
Couldn’t live without
A good till system. Make sure the company instructs you and don’t pay them until they have fulfilled their promises. Errors can prove very costly later.
Aims for next year
Our plans include adding accommodation and a space for teaching foraging, butchery, and baking bread and cakes. Planning has been granted to convert our stables into eight bedrooms plus a shop or teaching space, so we’ll be able to offer packages consisting of classes, accommodation and meals.
Our first wedding reception is booked for May 2015 and we’ll build on this, using our fantastic outdoor space. Themed evenings will include a dominoes night and summer outdoor movie screenings.
Eat it while it’s good! In-season produce is better quality, has travelled fewer miles, is cheaper to buy in and tastes better. When it’s close to the end of its season, use something else. Don’t let your menu get stale: if you want repeat trade, give your customers something to return for by keeping it interesting.
Most profitable dish
Pigs’ cheek hotpot with braised red cabbage, roasted carrot and black pudding (£13)