My Pub: The Polgooth Inn, Cornwall

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Worth a gander: Crossing the (goose) pond to the Polgooth Inn
Worth a gander: Crossing the (goose) pond to the Polgooth Inn
Winners of the British Institute of Innkeeping Licensee of the Year award 2018, husband and wife team Alex and Tanya Williams reveal how they have developed their prize-winning pub formula

Facts ’n’ stats

  • Name: ​The Polgooth Inn (it means ‘goose pond’ in Cornish)
  • Address: ​Ricketts Lane, Polgooth, Saint Mewan, Saint Austell, PL26 7DA
  • Licensees: ​Tanya and Alex Williams
  • Tenure: ​Tenancy 
  • Staff:​ 35 team members 
  • Annual turnover:​ £1.6m
  • Wet:dry split:​ 27:63
  • Website:www.polgoothinn.co.uk

The pub

Alex Williams (AW):​ The pub is from the 16th century, its name ‘Polgooth’ means ‘goose pond’ in Cornish. The building has been a farmhouse and a count house (manager’s office) for local miners – Polgooth was the largest tin mine in the world at one point. 

Tanya Williams (TW):​ We’re basically in a village on the outskirts of a town. It’s a very countrified village – you think nothing of
seeing about a dozen horses pass by. It’s very olde worlde.

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The publicans

TW:​ I’m from Cornwall and Alex is from Hampshire. We met at university in Torquay, where we both did our degrees in hotel and catering management. We then worked in a pub for Moorlands brewery with the sole intention to save to go travelling – we were gone for more than two years. 

AW: ​We both worked in the trade while we were in New Zealand and Australia.

TW:​ Travelling helped us work and be together – we were quite confident when we did have a business that we’d be able to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without killing each other. It was only when we came back to this country and got jobs in various hotels, that we realised the happiest we were was when we worked in pubs. 

So we started asking breweries if they would give us a go and St Austell Brewery answered our call. We started with them in their managed estate in the year 2000. This is our first tenancy.

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The trade

TW:​ When we took over the business in 2010 it was very traditionally run. It had been run by the same family for 25 years and it was very good, but they were closing in the afternoons and were very strict about keeping children in one room. They had seven acres of land here and none of it was utilised at all – it was all overgrown and full of brambles. 

When we started, we knew how to make the business work – as in the practicalities of opening all day, offering the level of service that people weren’t getting before, and being open to all walks of life. Once that was established we were able to follow what we wanted to do like encouraging the gardening and the keeping of animals – we’ve had ducks, chickens and cows in the field – and introducing insight into where our food comes from. It’s a very different business to what it was.

We’ve got our core locals and, although we’re not directly on the sea or near massive campsites, we get the overspill from tourism because people do like the little country pub feel. 

The thing with Cornwall, in the seasonal times, is that people tend to get a little bit lazy because there are a lot of people down here, and you know, for a few months of the year, you’re going to be busy – a lot of businesses don’t try to entice people in, whereas we do. We do live music in our garden from June all the way through to September – we are trying to engage with people even though it’s busy.

The team

TW: ​It’s quite a big team in the kitchen – we’ve got eight full-time chefs – but, up front, there are more staff because of the service we offer. It’s a large premises – we’ve got about 120 seats and the same outside – so to offer full table-waiting service to the level that we want to requires a lot of staff.

We also employed a kitchen manager/senior kitchen head chef who connects everything – he keeps up the relationships with our suppliers. He works closely with them and makes sure that they feel important but that we get the best out of them as well. He will fight tooth and nail for the best prices and products.

We get our chefs to go to the fish markets, to the butchers, to the fruit and veg people, especially in the winter months, and have a look and talk about the cuts of meat they want, for example. We’re really fortunate that we’ve got a very qualified kitchen team that understands the importance of what it does. Because we do everything from scratch in the kitchen, it’s important they know about the cuts and how they’re produced and that they’ve got an element of trust in the suppliers that we use.

AW: Our gardener, Sam Corfield, lives in the village. He was a regular in the pub and spoke to us about looking after our kitchen garden. He worked at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, is a fully trained horticulturalist and has taken our garden to another level, really. We’re currently looking to take on an apprentice to work alongside him.

A lot of people see him on his Instagram account (@sammy_veg_beard) – we’ve had quite a few visitors as a result of that so it definitely helps.

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The food

On the menu

  • Slow-roasted pig cheeks resting on beetroot and sage mash, finished with a treacle glaze – £7.95
  • Seasoned white crab, bound with chive mayonnaise served with rustic chips, artisan bread and signature coleslaw – £18.50
  • 8oz Cornish rump steak served with chips, home-made beer battered onion rings, field mushroom, tomato and salad – £16
  • Polgooth Inn Superfood Salad: mixed grains, pomegranate seeds, red cabbage, celery, roquito peppers and roasted squash, finished with a pomegranate molasses dressing finished off with your choice of topping including chipotle dressed chicken breast (£15.50) and coriander and chilli salmon (£15.95)
  • A light cheesecake infused with gin, finished with a citrus jelly and a twist of lime – £6.50
  • A selection of local cheeses served with biscuits, grapes, apple, celery and spiced tomato chutney – £11.50

TW:​ Being a pub we have our core traditional pub favourites – ham, egg and chips, fish and chips, a phenomenal burger. When we change the menu, as we do twice a year, we have a menu we call ‘Polgooth’s Pride’ – a selection of seasonal main meals. This summer we’re doing superfood salads, for example. The seasonality means we’re able to be dynamic and means, in our opinion, that the chefs can come alive a little bit.

AW: ​Cornwall’s got a great scene for fish but we’ve always shouted about being a bit more country as we’re not a pub that’s by the coast. 

TW: ​We have to have our own unique selling point, and when there is a pub by the sea, that is their USP – a fantastic location with a fantastic view. Our thoughts were, just because we’re not by the sea doesn’t mean we don’t have a fantastic view so we looked at the bigger picture and thought ‘we’ve got all this land, let’s do something with it and really shout about what we produce, how we produce it, and how it affects our menus’. 

It’d be unrealistic to say with the money that we turn over that the garden sustains the kitchen on its own, but it does do our specials and we sell things on the bar like our own chutneys and jams and all those things that bring back the traditional country-pub feel.

The drink

AW:​ We’ve got a really good wine list and our gins have really taken off in the past few years – we offer about 16 gins, plus a gin of the week. 

We’re part of St Austell brewery so we are tied to their ales, but they’re fantastic. We’re also part of Small Batch brews from St Austell so we’re lucky enough to have a barrel sent to us each week with a different brew which could be a porter, an IPA, etc. For a tenancy, we’ve got quite a diverse range.

Our coffee is from a Cornish roaster in Penryn called Olfactory. It’s a small bespoke roaster.

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The events

TW:​ We try to choose someone different for the live music we host every Sunday. Sometimes it might be quite folky, it might be a lady with a fiddle, and then the next week it might be a couple of guys with acoustic guitars going down an Ed Sheeran route. The hard task is to get a different vibe and a different feel each Sunday so it’s not samey because we get the same locals that come in for the music.

AW: ​A lot of the bands we get in are local but we’ve had people from up and down the country. A few years ago we had Paul Heaton from The Housemartins play here. We tend to find that people know the local bands.

Most of the bands will bring their own crowd as well. Usually at least 10 people will come with the band. It works really well.

The future

AW: ​We had a kitchen extension in 2012 and we’re looking at possibly making the kitchen a bit bigger and more workable... maybe grow the offering, possibly with a pizza oven. We’ve always tried to be ahead, but it’s important to not concentrate too much on our competitors. We concentrate on ourselves. We tend to take trips out with management, head up to London, to take ideas from pubs that aren’t in our local area – things that we think may work. 

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