My Pub

My Pub: The Rashleigh Arms, Charlestown, Cornwall

By Sara Hussein

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: St austell, Cornwall

After winning Licensee of the Year at the 2016 British Institute of Innkeeping Awards, Rob and Lucy Brewer discuss the secret to their success and how far they’ve come since they first entered the site 10 years ago

The pub

Rob: The pub is more than 150 years old and was originally a China clay dry; in the lower part of the building the coal was cut and the clay was laid over the top to dry. The pub originated as the Charlestown Hotel and was renamed after Charles Rashleigh, whom the harbour is named after. The brewery – St Austell’s Brewery – has owned it for 16 years and, before that, it was a freehouse and independently owned.

The location

Lucy: Charlestown has a world heritage status, so everything is listed and has really kept its charm. A lot of filming goes on here because the port is actually a private harbour and is used as a backdrop in many films and TV series. We’ve had the Poldark ​cast here recently, as well as Tom Hardy and Tim Burton in the past.

Rob: St Austell and Charlestown are quite centrally located in Cornwall, so you can get here from London on a train in about three hours and 40 minutes. With the Eden Project and [The Lost Gardens of] Heligan nearby, you can get anywhere in the county within about 45 minutes. Recently, the Eden Sessions have been great for business and the hotel rooms. When someone like Tom Jones has been playing, or Lionel Richie, all the rooms are full of people going to the concerts.

Rashley Arms

The licensee

Lucy: We’ve been here 10 years, but my previous job was hairdressing, so this is actually my first pub. Our first weekend was over Easter – it was a real baptism of fire! It was a big massive learning curve for me but, 10 years in, I think I’ve got a hand of it now.

Rob: I actually went to catering college in Cornwall and took a hotel and catering management course. We met 22 years ago when I was working as a chef and Lucy was a waitress. We moved to London together like many people do here to build their careers.

Rob and Lucy Brewer

The accommodation

Rob: The biggest change for Rashleigh has been the accommodation and how the rooms have grown over the years. When the brewery bought the pub 16 years ago, there were actually only four guest bedrooms, now there’s 18 and it’s spread over two sites. Last year, accommodation accounted for 10% of the revenue, it now accounts for 25%, so that’s certainly the biggest change to the business. Everything that comes in off those 18 rooms – the food and drink – feeds the business even more.

Key Facts

Address: Charlestown Road, Charlestown, PL25 3NJ

Tenure: Managed pub owned by St Austell brewery

Turnover: £1.65m net

Wet:dry:accommodation split: 40:40:20

The staff

Lucy: We manage a team of 50 people and allocated them in various little groups, from the kitchen to the front-of-house team. We train them quickly and most of the training is done online, which makes life so much easier. As the staff arrive they are given front-of-house passports. Everything they need to do is set out in the booklet and, as they progress through their training, one of the line managers signs it off. The training is really filtered and done in stages, especially with the young ones who come in at 16, they need a lot of support because it’s their first job.

Rob: We run a pay band. Depending on the introduction rate, it starts at minimum wage but you can move on quite quickly depending on your age. If you complete your training, it automatically qualifies you for a 50p an hour pay rise, which takes you 50p above base rate. The youngest team members are 16 years old and they work in the kitchen as KPs (kitchen porters). We’ve had a lot of our KPs progress up, they can move quite quickly through the ranks and develop their career.

Dining Area

The offer

Rob: We are supplied solidly by St Austell Brewery, which owns the pub, but we do have flexibility to have guest beers as well. We do local ales like Betty Stogs, which is a regular guest ale. We change the beer once a week from a small batch brewery. There is always a Cornish alternative to the big brand, so you can drink Carlsberg, which is your national or you can drink Korev, which is your Cornish beer. We sell local cider and also Mena Dhu, which is the local stout and benchmarked as a similar product to Guinness, but is obviously Cornish.

Lucy: Our core ales will always be Tribute, which we sell huge amounts of, Proper Job and HSD. We have Revolver, which is Cornish rum, and Tarquin’s – our best-selling gin and it’s Cornish! The Cornish gin we sell is amazing and people want that local product. 

Best-selling Drinks

Best-selling drinks:

Proper Job: £3.55

Tribute: £3.50

HSD: £3.75

Betty Stogs: £3.70

Current small batch brews: Italian Job (£3.60) and Pastor Windjammer (£4)

Rob: All our supplies are Cornish based from the food all the way to things like electricians and plumbers and anyone who works within our business is local. We usually use only Cornish suppliers, even for the frozen things, so it all stays within the county.

Rashleigh Arms Front Bar

The menu

Rob: The menu is very seasonal, from March until September the current menu is very fish focused then, come September, we’ll change that again back to a winter-led menu. You can actually see the bay where our mussels are grown, you’re talking about 500 yards from here.

Lucy: Sometimes we won’t have mussels for six or eight weeks on the menu, because they are not good quality. Rather than getting mussels from Scotland, which we could do, we’d rather not have them on the menu because they are not Cornish. I don’t think people mind that, it makes them realise it’s local.

Classic Cod and Chips

The entertainment

Rob: There’s something going on most nights. Once a month, on Mondays, we do a residents’ association night where anyone who lives in Charlestown can come in and get 20% off their food, so it’s a community-focused event. Every Tuesday, we run a poker league. We’ve been doing that for a good seven or eight years and we’ve got a pool of about 100 players involved. Wednesdays and Thursdays tends to be sports-focused and every fortnight, on a Friday, we run live music. Every Saturday in the summer we’ve got live music in the garden, so we’ve got a band or acoustic booked throughout August. Once a month, on a Sunday, is jazz night, which appeals to the older demographic. It’s really popular and it’s been going for about 10 years. There’s generally some musical entertainment going on every night of the week as well as the food and drinks.

The customers

Lucy: The young mums usually come in for coffee mornings and, on Friday and Saturday nights, we have the younger crowd who come in for drinks before they go out for the night. Now we’ve got the young families who are coming down on holidays, so you tend to see less local people. They don’t tend to come out as much because everywhere is so busy then, come September it will still be busy but with a much older, clientele.

Rashleigh Arms Bar

The BII Awards

Rob: When they called our name out [when we won the award], it was a bit of a shock. The process from start to finish has been quite intense and is far more rigorous than any other competition we’ve been involved in the past 10 years. It’s been our commitment to try and develop people here into having a career within this industry. Cornwall’s lovely and picturesque, but it’s still quite a poor county. The economy is driven by food, drink, tourism and catering in general. You certainly can earn quite a bit of money out of it when you get to the end process, but it’s about getting people that job and career. It should be the reason for young people to stay and boost the economy.

BII Award

Future plans

Rob: In the past two years, the growth in the business has been massive and we are pushing for the golden target of £2m a year net of VAT, that’s the overall target that we want to achieve and we’re getting closer and closer to it. The BII Awards have opened doors for us and, in terms of career aspirations, it’s already started. We’re now overseeing another site so that will give us three sites and this is something we’ve had aspirations for. [Another dream] is to open the doors for a brewery, because they can’t say no now! 

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