Facts ’n’ stats
Name: the Anchor
Address: Lewes Road, Ringmer, East Sussex, BN8 5QE
Staff: 5 now but it should be up to 16
Licensee/delivery driver: Matthew Crisp
Co-licensee/chef: Lee Hughes
Head chef: Greg Palmer
Bar manager/secretary/order taker: Lydia Spicer
Bar staff/delivery driver: Kelly Byrne
Wet:dry split (usual): 55:45
Wet:dry split (now): 5:95
Part of the pub was built in the 17th century. It is an old carpenter’s cottage that was bought and made into a pub. It’s expanded over the years with the latest addition probably taking place in the 1970s.
We had just started a whole refurbishment of the garden as the pubs were shut so we are ‘mid building site’ here.
We are free-of-tie and our landlord is the Wellington Pub Company. Wellington has the largest free-of-tie pub estate in the UK. We took the pub on in 2015. It had been empty for about 12 to 18 months – it was just a shell. We put in £125,000 to refurbish the entire place and we opened about 10 months later at the start of 2016.
It’s a very eclectic pub and combines aspects of being a place for the community, village and also one for foodies.
We had other pubs but two and half years ago, our third business partner left so myself and partner Lee focused on the Anchor as directors.
Moons ago, I worked for the pub chain Eldridge Pope and that was bought out by Marston’s. Rather than take on a management role, I took on the Berwick pub [in East Sussex].
I met my partner Lee when he was a chef and we’ve had a few pubs since then – this is our fifth.
I’m from Beckenham, Kent, and moved to Seaford in Sussex where my grandmother lived. Lee is also from Sussex and I’ve been in trade for 19 years now.
The lockdown effect
On the night of the lockdown, we sat down and had some really tough decisions to make. We had just employed three new members of staff but couldn’t furlough them because they hadn’t been with us long enough to qualify for the scheme so we ended up having to say goodbye to them and some more really great staff.
We usually have more workers during holiday periods so we thought this was going to be a real ‘doom’ situation and we realised we had to change the business immediately.
We needed to keep customers engaged and asked ourselves what can we do to make that happen?
Myself, Lee and head chef Greg Palmer went through the menu and we decided to try and do the best possible pub food and we actually started to get excited about it. Before we knew it, we were ordering different sized boxes and drink containers for home deliveries, and launched the new service on Sunday (22 March) after closing on the Friday before (20 March).
It was a success – it was perfect. The Facebook reviews were amazing but it was tough – it was a world away from what we usually do. In fact, we got to the end of the day and wondered how long would we have to do this for? But we got into a nice rhythm using just a core staff of five people.
We’re all in a lockdown within a lockdown. Two of the staff live together in a flat up the road so they don’t need to go anywhere else. Greg had to go back to his family while and Lee and I stay upstairs at the pub. And that’s all the staff we have now.
Anyone who needs any shopping gets it delivered to the pub so no one has to go outside of these areas – aside from when we do deliveries.
We are offering food six evenings a week plus Saturdays and Sundays during the day – we don’t do a Sunday evening service.
We did the Easter weekend and on Easter Sunday we served 196 covers, which were all delivered. We would normally do 120.
Our prices are much lower for deliveries and we make the same revenue on drinks sales because I can’t compete with off-licences.
With our food offer, we keep staff in work, keep cash flow coming in and rent is being paid at 50% – but we are waiting for our landlord to contact us – there’s been no communication at all from them so far (as of 14 April).
The pub currently looks like this: the kitchen runs as normal; we’ve got our snug area in the restaurant which is now an office with printers and lots of wires; and another area looks like it’s been refurbished because we’ve taken this time to paint the bartops – we’ve got to do it. It’s not ideal but Lee is very good with painting so that’s all being cleared and decorated.
Our working day starts at 9am with me, Lee and, sometimes another member of staff, cleaning the place from top to bottom – the kitchen is always the main focus for this. Lee will also do resurfacing and painting.
Then at 3.30pm it’s a shower and change of clothing. Lydia [Spicer] starts taking the food orders from 4pm while Greg and Lee are in the kitchen. Then, me and Kelly [Byrne] start taking the deliveries out from 6pm.
We do offer takeaways but try to discourage it. However, some people insist so we have an area outside that is coned off with a table next to it. We take to food to the table, go back inside and then customer can pick their food up and leave.
All payments are taken on the phone or online – we’re not even offering contactless now.
The menu is pretty clever because, although there are lots of dishes available, the raw materials are the same for quite a few of them.
For example, all the chicken dishes, bar the chicken pie, are just one menu item really – it’s all about the finishing of each dish that changes what it is.
Many of the dishes were dictated by what our top sellers were over the past six months.
From box to plate: a burger meal for one
What are you most worried about?
Even though this is going well, we are still extremely worried. There is a very small amount of profit but the whole exercise is simply providing wages because none of the furlough payments have come through.
We don’t run a lot of weeks in advance in terms of cash flow. When we shut, the turnover went down 90% in that very first week and our suppliers hadn’t been paid for the previous week either.
However, I don’t know what more the Government can do to be honest.
We managed to get our grant payment and I feel slightly guilty because there are other pubs around here, where I know the landlords, and they haven’t got theirs. I was very vocal to the council and my MP. If your MP is on your side, they can pay out via a BACs payment very quickly. Nobody else has received any grants here though.
Be bolshie, stand up for yourself and harass, harass, harass. Keep going for it.
This isn’t just a business. These staff members are also my friends and my house is upstairs – it’s a scary time. We are reliant on dealing with the rent arrears that will come on 1 June and wonder if the Government will do anymore.
Some statistics I read recently claimed single-site operators rarely qualify for an overdraft, let alone a loan. You still have to give projections and who can give an honest projection? We were rejected by our bank, and we didn’t even finish the application. We were told that 18 pubs had already been turned down during that week so we didn’t even bother.
But other licensees must try to talk to their MP. It’s tough and it scares me. What would have been nice is if our landlord had even given a statement, rather than silence.
How to carry on
We will keep doing the eight food services per week and continue to push and make it as good as we can.
We’re trying to replicate customers coming to the pub and sitting down at the tables. We have the deliveries and we’ve got to keep the momentum going and, as tough as it, you have two options: lie down and give up or stand up and fight.
We don’t want to create a big box of debt at the end of this because that is a tough position to get out of – I’ve done that before at previous pubs.
Pubs will be changed after all this is over and possibly not for the best.
I wasn’t well about a year ago and needed major surgery – so really I should still be resting but it comes down to a simple choice.
How did you set up your offer?
What’s on the lockdown menu?
Here are just a few of the dishes available at the Anchor for delivery.
- Tiger prawns in garlic, chilli and coriander butter with rocket and dipping bread – £5
- Garlic and herb mushrooms on toasted ciabatta with crumbled stilton – £4
- Antipasti to share: cured meats, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, leaves and ciabatta to share – £12
- Fish and chips: battered haddock with chips, peas and tartare sauce – £10
- Slow-cooked featherblade of beef with bourguignon sauce, horseradish mash and seasonal vegetables – £11
- Vegan Pearl Barley and Sausage Cassoulet: meat alternative sausages in pepper and tomato sauce with pearl barley – £10
- Strawberry Cheesecake – £5
- Chocolate Fudge Cake – £5
- Sticky Toffee Pudding – £5
- Pork – £10
- Chicken – £10
Drinks delivered (two-pint container):
- Harvey’s Best – £8
- Hairy Dog Brewery Bloodhound – £6
- Beck’s Vier – £7.60
Our website is from a company called weebly.com and are part of our merchant provider squareup.com. Weebly designs retail websites and they changed our site quite a bit since the night of the shutdown.
It’s not perfect but we got hold of them at about 11pm that Friday night (20 March) and asked them to ring us the next day but they got back to us at 11.45pm and told us to have a look at the site then because they had done a lot of work on it.
Me, Lee and Greg were working on the menu until about 4am that night.
Everything was ready the next morning and squareup.com also reduced our rates for transactions, stopped any extra fees, told us they were with us through all of this and even gave us £5,000 worth of free transactions on our account – they have been fantastic.
We have a very small supplier for all our draught products called C.O.D Brighton and he’s been driving around everywhere to find us beers. We’ve used him for years now and he’s had to adapt to all this as well of course. At the time, he was driving up north to get us two weeks’ worth of beer. We also use Harvey’s in Lewes for our ales.
Food wise, we have been using Elite Fine Foods in Newhaven and they’ve been good too and Lew Howard & Sons Butchers, which is very local – they have provided sausages for Harrod’s for many years and we’ve been working closely with him. We’ve managed to adapt our menus and worked together to make necessary changes.
Both are small companies and we’ve created a good tight team, and we have used CupsDirect for our food packaging for deliveries.
I have to specifically say how good C.O.D and Lew Howard have been because we’ve been talking at silly times of the night about what we can do for each other and it’s a foundation that keeps us alive.
We used them before the shutdown because we like to use small suppliers. We could use nationals to save a small margin but using small businesses, like us, keeps us all going and these firms always go a step further to help you and that is really worth it.
What’s it done for business?
It feels like the community we are managing to contact have pulled together around us and given us their undying support – and that’s incredible.
The messages of praise run into the hundreds every week with thank-you notes on Facebook.
We have a list of set meals for vulnerable customers and we take out smaller portions for free and some beer too just to do our bit to help. We have 11 customers we serve for free and we try to get someone different to deliver to them each day so they can have a chat from the end of the driveway.
Delivery is free for everyone and the menu prices are reduced compared to if you were to come into the pub too.
When I went into this it was about survival and cash flow – not about profits. It was a way to serve the community and – in the long run – it will, hopefully, help us thrive in the future.
This wasn’t a money-making exercise – it was just to save our presence. I know it sounds corny but it’s the truth.
We could make more money by charging a couple of quid extra per dish but that won’t help us survive – and, if we can survive, the community will be back in here when the lockdown is lifted.
What’s incredible is the amount of draught beer we’ve been selling. We are more expensive than the off licences, of course, and we reduced prices but the ordering level has been great.
We ordered all the milk cartons to offer beer at home. We never thought we’d be doing barrelage but were still doing five barrels a week.
That shows the community wants this to work and that they want us to survive.
What lies ahead?
It’s a really tough one. It’s all about what happens with the post-shutdown restrictions, and about how they are lifted. I doubt pubs will be allowed to open again until June.
I’d love to do a village green party but we are still in so much of the unknown. Ringmer is one of the largest villages in terms of population in the country – there’s more than 4,000 people here and we are right in the heart of it.
We have to be – and have been – responsible so we will make a decision based on Government advice. If there are limits on social distancing then we abide by that but if it is a wide opening where everyone can gather, we will get the barbecues out. We have outside bars too. I think we would do free food for the whole village but charge for drinks.
And then we could also get on with working on the garden area and the play area too.