How a grounding in the US has led to success and awards in the UK on-trade

By Mark Thornhill

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Thorn in the USA: Mark Thornhill, licensee of the King’s Head in Hursley, Hampshire, won the Best Managed Pub of the Year category at the 2018 John Smith's Great British Pub Awards
Thorn in the USA: Mark Thornhill, licensee of the King’s Head in Hursley, Hampshire, won the Best Managed Pub of the Year category at the 2018 John Smith's Great British Pub Awards
Mark Thornhill, licensee of the King’s Head in Hursley, Hampshire and winner of the Best Managed Pub of the Year category at the 2018 John Smith's Great British Pub Awards discussed how a stateside stint helped him do business in Blighty.

My path to hospitality is by no means unique; London police officer to landlord, but it was the route I took that gave me the best grounding possible. I was studying for my degree while policing London. I was watching daytime TV while trying to study when I saw a small tea room in the Disney town of Celebration – Florida – on Escape to the Sun.

I already had good connections with the US, I was a liaison officer for the US embassy so started looking into how my family and I could make the huge step from my secure job to be the self-employed owner of my own little restaurant in America?

After jumping through a long line of hoops, selling two family houses (thanks to my remarkable parents) we were on our way. The Disney corporation was the first meeting. It was terrifying – nothing like Magic Kingdom. I was confronted with stern-faced directors and financial officers making sure that their next tenants were on-point. But we passed and were given the keys and so my hospitality career had officially begun.

We spent a total of six years in Florida, we had five restaurants, three franchised restaurants, a barber shop (even though I have no hair) and a private label tea brand. I was introduced to a gentleman called Phil Gregoria who worked for Disney’s parks and its institute. A real mentor to me, I owe him so much. One-to-one teachings, walks through the theme parks pointing out the details, details, details. It was all about creating ‘the magic’. Magic doesn’t just happen, it takes work. It has to be your desire to create a magical experience for the guests.

I learnt so many positives in the US, the value of a smile, time taken to talk with the team whether over breakfast, cuppa or a pint.

I learned a lot in business and how to refine all skills from wines to table service, It’s about changing perceptions, keeping the mood upbeat and positive. I still use and have modified ‘Disney’s seven service guidelines’ in every component of my day at work now back in Blighty, having moved to the pub sector. I’m not a ‘board and chalk’ type of teacher – more subliminal learning while working side by side rather than from the office.

I genuinely love what I do; I’m with Penny – my fantastic wife of 31 years – and we have developed the best team (slight bias) possible. And the proof I needed that my foundations, learnt in America, worked? They were the major contributor in driving the team to achieve Best Managed Pub in the Great British Pub Awards 2018.

It was the pinnacle and affirmation I needed in my career.

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