The original pub dates back to 1740. We’ve redeveloped part of the old coach house but there’s another part that we’re about to do work on in January. We’ve just had the licence extended to the whole plot.
It’s always been a bar, but an old man’s bar. It was spit and sawdust. Ten year’s ago it was taken over by a lady who made it into a tapas bar. That worked for about four years and then it dried up. She left and then it was just manager after manager after manager, and it really got run into the ground.
Morpeth had nothing. My friends and I used to go to Newcastle rather than come to Morpeth. There were very few bars here and they were all very manly places.
I’ve been here a year and a half now. When we took it over, the Black & Grey was doing £500 a week. That’s changed now. We invested just over £30,000 of our own money.
The licensee and company
There are three directors at The Ducky Marble pub Company – Redpath’s company through which the Black & Grey is leased from Admiral Taverns. Ducky comes from American slang: meaning good, and Marble comes from us being solid as a company.
I’m from Glasgow originally. I came down here 32 years ago and went into the pub trade. I was in the trade for about 13 years then I had my family.
I did the accounts for another business for about 14 years and that drove me absolutely mental. I was chomping at the bit to get back into my trade. That’s where this came into fruition.
I’ve always had a passion for pubs. I’ve done all sorts of stuff and managed to save quite a lot of pubs from being closed down or losing their licences by cleaning up pubs with drug and gun problems, but it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. I have had my days where police have come in. I don’t know if my heart would take it now!
I always used to get that difficult pub but between me and the brewery, it worked well.
The pubs I went in were really nasty, dirty and needed fixing, I just introduced women, children and families, which makes it uncomfortable for a lot of criminally-minded people – the majority of them have mothers and families so they tend to think it’s not really appropriate – that’s what I found anyway.
Facts ’n’ stats
Name: the Black & Grey
Address: 80 Newgate Street, Morpeth, Northumberland,
Wet:dry split: 70:30
Annual turnover: £575,000
Honours: Gold – Northumbria in Bloom, pubs and hotels category
Staff: 14 – three chefs, 11 team members (three full time)
The majority of our eaters are aged 30-plus, it’s a mature clientele. We wanted to give people somewhere to go that was a bit different where they weren’t fussed about spending a little bit more to get quality products.
To be fair, I’ve got a very healthy clientele. They know what they want, they know what they like. We’re here to cater for folk who want peace. They want to come out and they know there’ll be no trouble here. We’re all like-minded people.
Our main aim was to get ladies to come here because if the ladies are here, the guys will be here. We employ a lot of male bar staff and that attracts the girls. It’s really strange because it’s worked out over the years as a completely different concept. It used to be that you’d get a pretty girl behind the bar and the men would come in and drink – but women won’t follow men, will they? So we flipped it on its head.
We’ve got very experienced staff, one is my sister, who managed weddings for years and years, and had the same time as me being a pub manager. She’s got fab people skills and very high standards... probably sometimes too high!
We’ve got three chefs and 11 team members, three of which are full time. We’re big on training, we’ve got a CPL training course through Admiral, which is an online facility. There’s 24 courses on there and the certificates are transferable, it encourages people to go online in their own time.
We’ve done really well with staff, but I think that goes with being a popular pub – people want to work here. I’m very proud of what my employees do, they’re amazing.
The prohibition theme is a route we were going down with the ‘tipsy tea’ and the décor – back then they would have a little café or a club where people would be drinking tea, but have gin, or cocktails in teapots and get away with it.
We’ve got a fizzy bubbly tea – Prosecco; an afternoon tea of normal tea and coffee, and a tipsy tea, which is the cocktail of your choice in a teapot. That’s what we’re really known for, our cocktails. The fizzy bubbly and the tipsy prove really popular. We only use fresh ingredients in our cocktails. We don’t put cordial or anything like that in. We use fresh fruit, juice, the whole lot.
Pornstar Martinis and Espresso Martinis sell the best. We do a lot of Prosecco and wine as well.
We’re looking at being very ‘steaky’ and ‘meatified’, which is ironic because I’m a vegetarian. When we open the back end after the new development, that’s what we’re going to focus on.
But we will always have vegetarian and gluten-free options, you’ve got to do that nowadays, there’s no choice. You have to appeal to everybody don’t you?
I’d recommend steaks for meaty people, also our fish and chips are amazing. We do sea bass, which is beautiful as well. We’ve got a bar snacks menu our Cheddar bon bons fly off the shelves as well as home-made pork crackling.
We change the menu on a quarterly basis with the seasons. We like to keep the menu quite small but there’s still a good variety on there.
From our point of view, we wanted to be different and stand out. We’ve tried to bring the town centre to Morpeth so folk didn’t have to go all the way to Newcastle.
We’re big on music. We have live music on three nights a week now. We use a company called AMV in Newcastle so we get all the acts that are in the big places down there.
We pay over the top for them but it’s worth it – on a Friday or a Saturday you can’t even move in here.
We also have French classes, Spanish classes, baby showers and christenings. We’ve even had a wedding.
We’ve been blown away with the success of the pub. It’s worth us reinvesting. We’re going to be relaunching with a new development next door. We’ve been here a year and a half so we’d like to up the game again.
We’ve got permission to extend and knock though into the rest of the building, to add a bar and create a large facility for separate functions.
We’re also going to get high tables and chairs under an extended canopy outdoors with heated lamps to give people more of a sheltered area. More bums on seats as opposed to people standing.
Work starts in January so we can re-open in March. We’re very excited.
What we would also like to do next year – as I’ve got a little plot of land – is to source our own fruit and vegetables for the pub. We’ve had a couple of troughs and greenhouses put in and we’ve started with our seedlings.
What makes it special?
I have a love of up-cycling. We’ve done little projects here and there. Everything’s up-cycled or second hand. In the ladies’ toilets, we’ve got a fireplace that we put up in with a mirror in it. That was a piece of junk really, and we’ve got a piano that was decoupaged using 1960s magazines.
We are unique style-wise and it echoes through with the service. We’re a very small, tight-knit team, we’ve had very few people come and go, and we’ve got our students who come back at Christmas and in the summer. It’s like a lovely little family. And with that, they don’t want to let each other down. I firmly believe in my team and in my pub.
- To find out more about pubs for sale, lease and tenancy visit our property site. http://property.morningadvertiser.co.uk/