The Fox & Hounds is believed to be around 200 years old and was originally a drinking venue for local farmers back in the early 1800s, known then as the Drum & Monkey.
Miles and I ended up at the pub by chance nearly two years ago now. We fell in love with Wadworth, which is a great company to work for, and the pub. I don’t think they knew what hit them when we arrived.
The pub is a destination venue. It is a little out the way but it is opposite a nature reserve, which is absolutely lovely.
The building itself is not massive but it is plenty big enough.
We have 90 covers now but when we came here it was 80. We had a little reshuffle and they shortened the bar for us. And we get full every day. During Christmas, I could have filled this pub again and again. We had 117 in here for New Year’s Eve. I had people sad that they missed out but there was just no room for them. I’m thinking of a marquee next year.
Since being here, Wadworth has spent around £90,000 on the pub, and we have had a new garden, patio and garden furniture.
Last year, we won two awards for being dog friendly – the DogBuddy’s Dog-Friendly Pub Awards 2017 and the DogFriendly Award 2017.
My parents were publicans for 35 years. I worked for them but I never wanted to run a pub. Originally, I worked with horses full time and, on a part-time basis, I worked for my parents, but I have lived in a pub for more than 40 years. It’s in your blood, and that’s it.
We were at our previous pub for three and a half years, and won Portsmouth Pub of the Year three times.
I run the pub with my partner, who is mainly in the kitchen. We’ve worked together in the industry now for six years.
We do things well because we like what we do. I think it’s so important. Life is very short and if you don’t like what you do, you don’t do it as well.
I truly love what I do. I think the team that I employ like doing what they do as well.
We get lots of dog walkers and, of course, their dogs. I have dogs and what we really liked was that the pub was already dog friendly when we arrived.
We’ve made people aware that it is super dog friendly. You can be comfortable and don’t have to be embarrassed to bring your dog in.
I have a lot of families as well, and we were recently finalists in the Great British Pub Awards for Best Family Pub of the Year. It all comes hand in hand... families and dogs.
I have a fantastic team. I have a lady who has been here 22 years, she is 73. She does Monday to Friday and she is awesome.
I do have a really young team, I think they are mostly under 25. They are all incredibly loyal and you can’t run a pub without a great team. They work their butts off. And they are all super dog friendly too. That’s what makes the pub so nice, when the staff come in they don’t have the same day every day. There’s a different dog in everyday, there’s a different family, and I think that gives them variety as well.
We serve mainly fresh food. We are managers for Wadworth, so it’s up to them what we do. They supply us all the fantastic produce.
It’s proper pub food, which I truly believe there is a call for. We live not far from Reading, so if you want to have something a bit more gastro, or something with a different flair, you have it 10 minutes away. Whereas here it is definitely a true country pub experience.
Fish and chips is one of our most popular dishes. We hand-batter the fish ourselves in Wadworth’s batter. We do pie and chips; and ham, egg and chips; which is a huge seller – we cook the ham ourselves. We are also, I am very proud to say, accredited to provide food by the independent charity Coeliac UK, so we have a strong gluten-free menu.
Wadworth has some great bitters. 6X is obviously their most popular and they have just had a rebrand of that. We do Bishop’s Tipple, we do our own IPA, we have Swordfish and then we have a guest bitter on as well. So, we have five real ales. Those are the most popular. We do some great wine and we do everything by the glass, including Prosecco and Champagne.
Once a month we have live music but you have to cater to your guests that are going to come. So, we do things like Elvis, rhythm ’n’ blues, and we have a Michael Bublé tribute – who is fab.
I also do some big events in the garden. We do the annual dog show, which is a fun day that raises money for charity. I get a couple of my customers and my mum to judge it for me.
Last year, even though it poured with rain, and I mean poured, we had 53 dogs enter. For every dog, you get at least four people, so we had loads of people here.
We also raise money for charity through our annual fun day.
We try to do things that work. I am a big believer in ‘don’t try to fix something that’s not broken’. Being here for two years now, I know what my customers like and want.
Last year was just such an enormous year for us. Not just for awards, but in sales as well. We were Wadworth’s managers of the year this year, which was a huge credit, and it makes you feel very valued.
For 2018, we just want to continue to grow while maintaining our high standards. I saw a change when the smoking ban came in and it’s harder to be successful now than when mum and dad were running a pub, there’s lots of pubs that close now. And, because it’s cheap to drink at home, you really can’t rest on your laurels. You have to work hard to make people want to come and spend time with you.
I am also going to enter a few more competitions. They are great for team building and it engages your team with the business. For later on in the year, I have already planned my Christmas, and have 16 covers booked in for Christmas Day. I am extremely lucky that we got things right to get people to book in again.
What makes it special?
It’s the experience that you get; when Miles and I are front of house, it’s very homely and welcoming. As soon as you walk through the door, if there’s someone in here or not, you get that feel of actually, ‘yes, this is a loved pub and it is very cosy’, and you feel comfortable as soon as you enter. That’s when you know a pub is special.
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