How we got there
My main day-to-day job is as a farmer. I have been one for 16 years and during the past eight years have been running the farm full time. I soon realised that the farm could not provide enough income for all of us including my brothers, sisters, and parents so I decided to diversify. We are mainly arable farmers with game such as pheasants and partridges on the land. But we have started with sheep and pigs and are thinking of introducing cattle next year.
We bought the pub freehold from City Pub Company and took it over on 30 July 2014. It was in the middle of my busiest time of the year with the farming calendar when three members of kitchen staff handed in their notice.
We had also converted some old buildings in 2012/13 into a wedding venue that is in the same village as the pub. We are now into our third year with the wedding venue, which is going from strength to strength, and we have won a number of awards.
Buying the pub
One thing I did at the wedding venue was ensure everything was in-house except for the catering.
But I always wanted to take over the catering and, when the pub came up for sale, I took a stab in the dark. To take a chef on full time for the wedding venue alone would not have been financially viable, but I thought it would work in with the pub.
Facts ’n’ stats
Owner: Guy Taylor
Pub: The Three Blackbirds, Ditton Green, Woodditton
Beer prices: Peroni - £4.60
Food prices: Mains range from £10 to £22. Sunday roast £12-£14
Wet:dry split: 30:70
Staff: Three full-time kitchen staff, two full-time front of house and 15 part time
The pub was also an attractive option because it has planning permission for nine bedrooms, which came with the purchase. Establishing the business I bought the pub as a going concern and I live in the village. People would say ‘Guy has taken on the pub, let’s go and try it’ so I felt I could not put my name above the door until some changes were made.
The kitchen was shut for three months and, during that time, we did some refurbishing, some recruiting, gave the pub a lick of paint and emptied out five or six skips full of junk. I kept the drinking side open so the locals could come in and chat and see what was going on. We still traded well without the food because there would be about 50 people in on each Friday and Saturday night and there was the Friday night crew who came in after work.
I invested quite heavily in a new kitchen team and thought, instead of opening and getting it wrong, it was best to wait. We reopened the kitchen on 30 October with a brand new offer of modern British pub food. Being a farmer I am quite particular about what is served. Some of the produce, including a lot of game from the farm gets served in the pub so we know where it comes from.
Customers can eat wherever they like, such as the bar area where there are five tables, the 50-cover restaurant or the 14-cover private dining room. There is now a daily specials board and the menu is changed once every six weeks.
The food is as reasonably priced as possible, but it is local and freshly cooked. It is not out of the freezer, in the fire and on the plate — that is not what the pub is about.
The pub has two ales, four lagers, one cider and Guinness on tap. The beers tend to stay the same because the locals don’t like change but I have introduced Peroni, a premium product and it seems to be going very well.
The other lagers are Carlsberg, Kronenbourg and Amstel. The bar is about to have its own branded beer called Three Blackbirds, a dark bitter ale of 3.8% ABV, which will be produced by a local brewery. The plan is to use some malt barley from the farm to make the beer and this will become the permanent ale on the bar. The other tap will be on rotation and will offer local and seasonal ales.
Aspall is the main cider because it is local and the pub also stocks a range of bottled ciders.
Customers and trading
Most of the customers are local or have heard of us via word of mouth and people are coming from further afield. The locals are coming back and the Sunday roasts are a big hit. We have been very busy since we opened the doors.
We do not have any information on the previous operator’s financials but we have found some documents that give us an indication and believe we have already grown the business. Staff and training Seven people have been employed from the local village and a lot has been invested in staff training.
The pub is normally open seven days a week but, for the past few months, it has shut one day a week for training. I like to invest quite highly in staff to ensure they know what is going on. Good service is absolutely key, as is knowledge of the beers and sampling the food, which the chef talks through with them. There has even been a wine tasting evening for staff where the supplier has come in and talked about the products.
The staff are not masters of wine but, when they are asked about it, they will know enough to talk to the customers. In addition, we hold staff training evenings once every six weeks. If there has been an issue that has cropped up then it will be dealt with that during the staff training sessions.
Best business advice
This was from another local landlord who told me not to open the kitchen until we were ready.
The success of the wedding venue has set a high precedence.
The plan is to get the pub up to that standard and keep it growing. In the future, we will look at building the letting rooms alongside the pub, which will bring extra business in. But one of the key things will be managing the growth because I don’t want to grow too quickly.
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are already busy and the next focus will be looking at what can be done to entice more people in at the beginning of the week. Options being looked at include speciality evenings such as a steak evening and a fish evening.
Next we will launch an advertising campaign for the pub and a new website.