My Pub

My pub: Old Bridge Inn, Ripponden, West Yorkshire

By Alison Baker

- Last updated on GMT

The Old Bridge Inn: "We think of ourselves as a real-ale pub that serves good food, not a restaurant that serves beer."
The Old Bridge Inn: "We think of ourselves as a real-ale pub that serves good food, not a restaurant that serves beer."

Related tags: Pub, Beer, Sausage

Pork pies, cold meat buffets and no swearing have been the mainstays of possibly Yorkshire’s oldest hostelry, the Old Bridge Inn in Ripponden, since Lindsay Eaton Walker’s family took over in 1963. Her husband Tim tells Alison Baker how traditional values remain at the heart of the third-generation family business

How we got here

Our family entered the licensed trade three generations ago. Lindsay’s grandmother and uncle took over the pub in the 1960s. After finishing school, Lindsay went off to do an art course at college, but it wasn’t long before her uncle offered her a job in his restaurant, Over the Bridge, which he had opened just across the bridge from the pub. Being an extremely good chef himself, it wasn’t long before the restaurant gained a reputation, and working among a team of enthusiastic chefs gave Lindsay the chance to learn about the techniques of cooking that she uses in the pub. A few years later, I met Lindsay when I applied for a job as manager at the pub and, in 2001, we bought the pub from uncle Ian on his retirement. 

How we grew the business

When we bought the pub in 2001, it didn’t offer much in the way of food. However, when Over the Bridge closed, this presented us with an opportunity to enhance the food side of the business. It was important to us that we retained our identity as a traditional pub, rather than becoming a restaurant masquerading as a pub, so we invested in two new kitchens and gradually built up our food offering. Today, customers are welcome here whether they are dining or not. We like to think of ourselves as a real-ale pub that serves good food, not a restaurant that serves beer. Year-on-year growth has been slow and organic, but we haven’t suffered as a result of the recession. It’s one thing to build up a business and then run it successfully for a couple of years but it’s another thing to maintain that success. There is a lot of emotional attachment to the pub; it’s more than just a business to us.

How we stand out from the crowd

Our traditional values and authenticity are what sets us apart from our competitors; nothing is artificial. Our food is all homemade, we have real floral displays outside the pub, we don’t have music and we don’t allow swearing. Offenders are charged a mandatory contribution of £1, which goes to the Calder Valley Search and Rescue team. Three strikes and they’re out.

Future plans

We were lucky enough to be on the route of the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France last year. It was a fantastic day and we hope that the first Tour de Yorkshire, which is taking place from 1 May to 3 May, will be as good for us this year. We’ll be putting on some live music (which is very rare for us!) and offering street food in the car park, to keep the crowds in the village. The route passes right by us, but in the
opposite direction from the Tour de France. Last year, lots of people brought picnics with them, so we are cutting back on the food offering this time.

Our staff and training

We like to take on young, local staff and train them. Our staff turnover is fairly low, with kids starting here at about the age of 15, as pot washers, and staying until they leave university. Even our manager, Netty, has been with us about 14 years, starting with us as a teenager and returning to work here after completing her degree. For us, authenticity is of key importance and that applies to our staff too. Service is efficient but relaxed and staff interact with customers as real people, rather than working to a script. Training is all essentially undertaken in-house and the team is taught that the customer is king.

Bar talk

As an independent freehouse, all of our beers are guest beers. In addition to Timothy Taylor’s Dark Mild, Golden Best, Best Bitter and Landlord, we stock two regularly changing guests from independent brewers including local breweries, Goose Eye and Small World Beers. Keeping to our mantra of authenticity, you won’t find alcopops, smooth beers or vodka distilled in Warrington on the bar. Alongside our fine ales, we stock only genuine imported lagers and drinks from around the world. These we source from specialist importer James Clay in nearby Elland. Lindeboom Pilsener, Flensburger Pils, Erdinger Urveisse, Menabrea, Orchard Pig Reveller cider and Camden Ink stout make up the remainder of our draught portfolio. Our wine list is varied and consists of about 20 wines, 15 of which we sell by the glass.

Smart marketing

Our marketing is very low key. We advertise in a local monthly publication, Go Local​, and use Twitter to promote our guest beers. However, we are not big users of social media. I need to be downstairs in the pub, not upstairs on the computer.

One idea that didn’t work

Years ago we did try serving food on a Sunday night. We persevered with it for a couple of years but it didn’t take off, so we knocked it on the head. Our Sunday food service now finishes at 4pm and we have a good steady trade up until that time.

On the menu

We’re great believers in using only the best ingredients; buying fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, bought locally whenever we can, to create a menu that is different from the norm, without being a full ‘restaurant’ menu. We incorporate ideas from all over the world, but still it’s hard to beat the good old-fashioned dishes such as meat and potato pie. All food, except our pork pies and Jenny Clarkson’s Just Jenny’s ice cream, is made on the premises.

Best-selling dishes

Smoked haddock and spinach pancakes topped with cream and Parmesan £10.25

Steak, mushroom and ale pie with mushy peas and/or pickled red cabbage £10.50

Our cold meats buffet

Our cold meats and salads buffet has been served on weekday lunchtimes at the pub since our family took over in 1963 and is not to be meddled with! If you were setting it up now, you wouldn’t design it that way but it works for us and is as popular now as it’s ever been. On the buffet, there is always a joint of rare roast Hubberton beef, Virginia ham, home-made Scotch eggs, quiche, cheese and onion pie and a selection of salads. We charge £12.95 per head, which includes soup or dessert and a coffee, and sell 200 to 300 buffet covers per week, all year round.

Pork Pie Appreciation Society

The society was set up in 1982 by a group of lads who used to come here on a Saturday afternoon after they’d been to the gym. We didn’t serve food in the pub on a Saturday night, so they asked if they could bring in pork pies. The group discovered there is a wealth of difference in the quality of pork pies on offer and began bringing along different varieties each week, introducing a scoring system to add to the fun. The club now has its own website (www.porkpieclub.com​) and organises an annual charity pork pie makers’ competition, which is hosted here. The competition is now in its 23rd year and attracts more than 50 entrants from across the country, plus hundreds of visitors. On the day we only sell pork pies, but enjoy a big uplift in drink sales.

Facts ’n’ stats

Owners:​ Tim and Lindsay
Eaton Walker

Tenure:​ Freehold

Website:
www.theoldbridgeinn.co.uk

Wet:dry split:​ 70:30

Staff:​ 4 full time and
27 part time

Meals per week:​ 400 to 500

Food GP:​ 80%

Drink GP:​ 60%

Best-selling draught beer:​ Timothy Taylor’s Landlord

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