When Jonathan Thomson and his business partner Richard Phillips took on the Chequers in Whiston, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, almost a decade ago, they had a lot of work to do to turn it into their dream foodie pub.
Nine years on and the pair, with their team of seven chefs, are turning out up to 100 dishes a day in the week and more than 200 on Sundays.
Thomson and Phillips have worked together for more than 30 years in kitchens – mainly hotels – across the country, but decided to run their own country pub with their wives after the Punch lease on the Chequers became available.
“When we first took over, the pub was good, but it wasn’t really a food pub so we brought in a big food offer,” explains Thomson. “Our menu is based around pub classics and we’ve also got other interesting dishes on there that you wouldn’t find on a traditional pub menu.”
The traditional country pub is in a village with another two competing pubs, one of which has recently had a refurbishment. “We thought it was going to be tough when the pub down the road had a refurbishment, but we found it just brought more people to us,” adds Thomson.
“People in Yorkshire won’t pay over the odds for a dish, unless it’s really good quality and that’s where our offer sits; we’re not at the top
or the middle, but somewhere in between. People come to our pub because they know they’re going to get good-quality home-cooked fresh food for a reasonable price.”
Around 95% of the food on the menu at the 80-seater pub is home-cooked, he adds. With the majority of the fresh produce, meat and fish coming from Makro.
Popular dishes include the teriyaki salmon, made from Makro’s fresh salmon, fresh Oriental vegetables and noodles, which is all served in a soup bowl, Thomson explains. The ingredients cost around £1.94 per portion and the dish is sold for £9.75.
One of the classic pub dishes is the lasagne, which is made using Makro’s fresh mince, Chef’s Larder chopped tomatoes and pasta, costs £1.50 per portion and is sold for £7.25.
Thomson says: “We make 60 to 70 portions of the lasagne in a batch, blast freeze it and then put dates on them. We plate them up to order and it’s probably one of our most popular dishes on the menu. People know what they’re going to get when they order the lasagne and some of our customers come in just to have it.”
The most popular dish in the pub, though, has to be the Sunday roasts, adds Thomson. Beef, pork and chicken breast are all bought from Makro for the dishes. It costs around £2.50 to make each roast dish, which are then sold for £7.50.
“Every Sunday we go through four legs of pork, 30 chicken breasts and 18 joints of beef,” he says. “Beef is the most popular dish on the Sunday roast menu and we use the salmon cut of beef that was suggested by the butcher at our local Makro store. We didn’t really know about it until they suggested it.
‘The specifications we need’
“It roasts really well and is cut by Makro’s butchers to the specification we need. We’ve been in the catering industry for a long time and have always been looking for a butcher that makes things easy and we think we’ve got that from Makro.”
Other ingredients on the Sunday roast includes a whole array of fresh Makro vegetables, including parsnips, turnips, potatoes and greens such as broccoli and cabbage.
Thomson and business partner Phillips have also started to make their own chips in-house for the first time, with a little help from Makro, adds Thomson, who also says they use 15 to 16 25kg sacks of Makro potatoes a week, which cost £9.37 each.
Makro is also playing an important role in the future of the Chequers because the new menu is being designed and printed by the local branch – a service Makro offers to its customers.
These key elements of consistent pricing, the butchery service and free menu printing are part of Makro’s commitment to its customers of ‘Make more, Save more’, where the wholesaler is helping publicans increase their profits by adding to their bottom line.
“Moving on, we’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing – making fresh food that the customers are asking for. The consistency of the fresh produce we use from Makro is really helping us to do that.”