My Pub: Moody Cow, Upton Bishop, Herefordshire

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Team matters: there is a strong focus on training in-house and promotion from within too
Team matters: there is a strong focus on training in-house and promotion from within too

Related tags Pub Beer Public house Restaurant

Turning around the fortunes of a failed pub is often more difficult than starting from scratch but that is exactly what licensee Chris Burgess did at the Moody Cow.

Facts ‘n’ stats

Name:​ Moody Cow

Address:​ Crow Hill, Upton Bishop, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, HR9 7TT

Licensee:​ Chris Burgess

Wet:dry spilt:​ 25:75

Year opened:​ 2009

The pub

The Moody Cow is located in the pretty village of Upton Bishop, just two miles from the historic market town of Ross-on-Wye in the beautiful Wye Valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which lies in south-east Herefordshire. I would describe it as a local, country pub that serves great, locally sourced food.

We have three dining rooms on offer to guests, all with their own atmosphere and charm so that we can accommodate all guests depending on the occasion. We keep our own hens as well as grow vegetables in our pub allotment. Inside the pub, we have a log-burning fire that provides a warm and cosy atmosphere during the winter months.

The building was once a farmhouse and, therefore, boasts a number of natural stone and timber features, however, the exterior was very neglected and the kerb appeal was pretty much non-existent so it required a lot of work.

Firstly, we sorted out the kitchens, roofs, drains and electrical installation, which was completed in four weeks and we opened the refurbished pub on 1 June 2011.

My partner Dawn, our chef Tom and I saved the Moody Cow from being closed. It had suffered four business failures in the previous three years and had developed a very poor reputation. We wanted to make the pub a success and reinstate it as the local hub for the community. Though it is harder to rescue a failing business than launch a new one, we knew that we could turn the pub around, so we put all our efforts into achieving this.

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The publican

The pub is run by myself, and my partner, Dawn. My hospitality background started as a 12-year-old working at weekends and after school in a local four-star hotel. I worked in every department while in school and higher education.

In the early 1980s, I worked for a contract catering company based in London and was responsible for a team of area managers and a portfolio of contracts that included blue chip City Directors’ dining rooms, leisure centres, a first division football club and the headquarters of Berkshire County Council.

In 1993, I joined Whitbread as a catering development manager and went on to lead a team of business development managers in the food-led sector of the non-branded pubs and bars business.

In 2009, I set up my own hospitality training centre business with Dawn, who also has a background in branded restaurants, had her own business in Tenerife and was the personal assistant to the global marketing director of automotive and aerospace company GKN.

This then led to me running my own hospitality training centre, which is when we had heard that the Moody Cow was about to be closed and boarded up.

At the time, around 20 pubs were closing every week in the UK, I seem to remember we were enjoying a glass of wine or two after a busy day and we made a decision to save the Moody Cow.

We had a very simple plan; that was to create the kind of pub we would like to go to ourselves, at the heart of the local community and with a proposition that would attract guests from up to one hour’s drive away.

I continued to run the training centre with my partner, often holding sessions within the pub in order to train other publicans in how to be successful in the industry. This also provided us with the opportunity to gain credibility for the pub within the local community and show the value of the team’s experience.

Following the Moody Cow’s neglect in past years, improving its reputation was a key focus for us. In order to kick start this, we knew it was important to get the locals back on side – not only from a business perspective, but also from a personal perspective, as I believe in the importance of truly knowing your customers and the benefit this can have to the overall feel of pubs.

In order to achieve this, we invited every household in the village to a relaunch party. We expected about 40 people to attend, but over 170 turned up, which was a great result. Tom and I prepared more than 800 canapés that showcased our home-cooked food.

We implemented our marketing plan in the early months ensuring, first and foremost, that our product was right.

To do this, we engaged the services of a well-connected marketing specialist, who helped us in creating an awareness campaign with advertising on local radio, a series of open evenings for local businesses and accommodation providers and we also became active in local trading organisations, the chamber of commerce and tourism associations.

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The trade

Over the years, we have developed a real loyal customer base. It is very important to the team that we get to know the customers, so we end up knowing almost all of the local village by name.

Due to our location, we also tend to be a meeting spot for people when travelling too. We recently had two families travelling from London and the north-east, who decided to choose our pub as a great place to meet for lunch.

We love welcoming people from across the UK as well as the locals from the nearby villages.

The team

Our team consists of around seven fulltime staff and six part-time staff. When I started running the pub, I knew I wanted to instil a positive culture and, as such, we often have staff members who begin working with us at 16, go to university, and then come back during the holidays.

Our motto is ‘hire the smile, train the skill’. Our team is full of energetic people, who we then train to become amazing chefs, waiters, front of house, etc.

Our focus is to have a relaxing, country pub atmosphere front of house and a slick, finessed operation in the kitchen. As our food is handmade from scratch every day and our menu changes daily, this is key. Our head chef Tom does an incredible job, having joined us as a young chef when we started here. My job used to be within the kitchen, sometimes as well as the bar in the early days, but is now focused around the front-of-house operation.

It is vital that we never let a single one of our guests down. If we make a mistake, we will be transparent and do everything in our power to put it right, there and then. Once a new team member is fully trained, they are empowered to make decisions, which I call ‘tight loose’ because there are rigid parameters that are tight, margin performance for example, but we give total freedom to order ingredients and create dishes that require imagination and creativity, this is quite loose.

In order to provide the best customer experience, all our staff are trained to ask guests what they are looking for from the menu, whether it be a light meal, fish, meat, etc. I am a big advocate of hiring within, so when our kitchen assistant wanted to train to be a chef, we put the time, money and effort into this in order to make it possible.

We set aside Tuesday as the day for preparation, training or developing a new dish. Initially, this was a bit of a risk because Tuesday was a busy day, but as our sales increased, we were better prepared for the week ahead and training could happen in a more meaningful way without the pressure of service. It also allows me to keep on top of maintenance.

The training pays off, our team retention is industry-leading and we have a policy of developing every member of the team through annual appraisals.

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The drink

We serve a range of drinks including cask ales, cocktails and a selection of hot drinks that would match any coffee shop. As guests have become more knowledgeable on food and drink, we have adapted our offer accordingly and are always willing to welcome requests. The Moody Cow is known for its local produce so locally sourced beers are always a favourite for our customers.

The food

What’s on the menu?

The menu changes on a daily basis so the pub can take advantage of fresh and local ingredients. Here are some example dishes, you may find on the menu:

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  • Venison faggots
  • Camembert croquettes
  • Crab and sweet potato fishcakes
  • Lamb rump
  • Belly of pork
  • Pan-fried cod
  • Cheesecake
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • Semifreddo

Our menu is the beating heart of the Moody Cow. It can vary every week because we only offer the best, locally grown produce. Every dish, whether it is seabass or steak, is cooked with care and passion. We offer a selection of dishes from nachos to a full Moody Cow Mix Grill. I know the kitchen and front of house very well and the importance of ensuring they’re connected properly has been key to the success of the Moody Cow. We focus on preparing fine dishes that our guests don’t have the time or knowledge to prepare themselves at home.

Superb food may be the main reason guests come, but it is the family atmosphere that I believe also keeps people coming back for more. Tom has worked wonders with our menu and knows exactly how to keep a busy kitchen under control. We care about all our dishes so ask all our guests what they’re looking for. It’s important for us to know what our guests need from their meal.

Our team is vital to our success. Tom was a promising young chef when he joined us and he has built up a strong reputation for creating innovative dishes that make our guests return again and again, our menu is refreshed every day and two new dishes are created every week.

The events

We often host events based around key occasions throughout the year, such as Valentine’s Day and Easter. We also offer the pub as a wedding venue with our classic 1972 VW Camper Van, which is available for chauffeur-driven wedding hire. She is also equipped with a fridge, which allows us to offer Prosecco or vintage Champagne on the big day.

Our bar snacks were featured on the BBC1’s The One Show, and we hosted a series of ‘Meet the brewer, grower and merchant’ evenings to showcase the superb products that we were able to serve and ingredients we use in our cooking.

We now have more than 300 Moody Cow Club Card holders who are entitled to ‘treats’ that are refreshed every month to thank them for their loyalty.

The future

We are always looking to improve our offer. Whether this be training new and more staff, or evolving our drinks offer. Every year, we strive to make improvements to the dining rooms, the courtyard garden, and, last year, we constructed a gazebo, complete with a wood-burning stove for chilly evenings.

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