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‘I hope I’m wrong but pubs won’t ever be the same again’

By Gary Lloyd contact

- Last updated on GMT

New dawn: Ye Old Sun Inn is preparing to reopen
New dawn: Ye Old Sun Inn is preparing to reopen

Related tags: Pub, Food, Freehold, Food and drink, Coronavirus

Ashley McCarthy tells us how he felt when pubs closed, what he has done to keep his destination pub – Ye Old Sun Inn – running, his reopening plans and how he sees the industry post-pandemic.

Facts ’n’ stats

Name:​ Ye Old Sun Inn

Address:​ Main Street, Colton, North Yorkshire, LS24 8EP

Website:www.yeoldsuninn.co.uk

Licensees:​ Ashley and Kelly McCarthy

Number of staff:​ (usually) 20, including six full time; (currently) 4, including three full time

Wet:dry split:​ (usually) 40:60; (currently) 10:90

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The pub

We came here in 2004 when it was an Enterprise pub. We bought a lease from them, which was tied on everything but wine and spirits. It’s a Grade II-listed building and is the only business in the village. We’re 10 minutes from York city centre and there are about 100 people here. 

In 2009, when the financial world collapsed, we put a cheeky offer into Enterprise, which they laughed at but gave us a counter offer and we bit their hand off and managed to buy the freehold.

From there, we made a lot of alterations. We added a big restaurant and increased kitchen capacity. We made it more of an experience. The bar area was purely for drinking and we brought the village atmosphere back and have been a destination pub since then.

We added a shop in the pub in 2005 but that disappeared when we extended the kitchen. But it’s come full circle and the shop is back again now.

We had the garden AstroTurfed and put a separate log cabin in there where we can get 40 people in for private functions or general use.

We can fit 100 people in the garden area normally and the paved front patio gives us 30 to 40 more covers under normal circumstances. It’s south facing so we get the sun all day when the weather is good.

The publican

I’m the owner, licensee and chef. It’s me and my wife Kelly’s first business together. She has hospitality background from when she was younger and I’ve been cheffing all my life.

I started in pubs then went to hotels and now I’m back at a pub again.

Under normal circumstances we’d have around 20 staff, six of which would be full time but now we have we have just one full time member of staff, along with myself and Kelly, plus we have taken on a part-time lad in the kitchen, who does six hours a week.

Ye Old Sun Inn 1

Lockdown day

I can’t forget that night when pubs were forced to close. We were having tea at home and put the news on it was like someone punched us. We had a quiet week and we expected it to happen but it was getting close to Mother’s Day so it would have been nice to get a bit of notice.

Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for us. We had 400 people booked in for Sunday lunch. I felt physically sick. So we had to come back to work that night and finish it, in effect.

The pub was busy that night. A lot of locals that you may not see usually were in. We did a lot of fish and chips takeaway meals that night. The regular dining was a little quieter but drinks sales were very busy.

We’d lost everything we’d worked on for in 16 years – and it was nothing of our doing. If it had been a bad decision we could have blamed ourselves. I don’t blame the Government but it was heart-wrenching for everybody – it wasn’t so bad for me because I could hide in the kitchen where it was sombre but how Kelly did service out the front that night, I really don’t know.

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The new offer

That night we locked up and went home. I had a couple of beers but I couldn’t sleep. I was panicking, as I'm sure every publican in the country was so I came to the pub, cleared the tables and chairs, and collected everything we had in the dry stores, such as vegetables, to set up a shop.

My wife came over at 5am and thought I’d gone stupid.

The next day, we contacted all the people who had booked for dine-in on Mother’s Day and offered them a takeaway service. I would say 60% said yes. They came along and took their meals home hot. We put all the stock in a shop. That included anything ready to be cooked and made into ready meals.

It was just literally a way of survival. It was a bit of a panic mode. We knew the beer would keep for a few days but the food wouldn’t and we couldn’t fit everything into the freezers.

That was on the Saturday and Sunday and we had to put all the staff on furlough, unfortunately.

We thought we’d carry on working and see what happens.

What’s on the menu?

Lockdown opening hours: Tuesday 11am-2.30pm, Wednesday 4pm-8pm, Thursday 11am-2.30pm, Friday 4pm-8pm; Saturday 11am-8pm

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Wood-fired pizzas

Parma ham, salami and chorizo – tomato sauce, red onion, mushroom, sliced tomato, chilli, cheddar cheese – £11

Goats’ cheese and artichoke – tomato sauce, red onion, mushroom, sliced tomato, cheddar cheese, black olives – £10

Smoked salmon and prawn – tomato sauce, red onion, mushroom, sliced tomato, cheddar, finished with rocket leaves – £12

Fully encased pies

Steak and ale; chicken, leek and bacon; roasted squash with spinach and goats’ cheese; curried cauliflower (vegan) – all served with garden vegetables, chips or mash – £9

Selected dishes

Fish and chips – £8

Sausage and mash – garden vegetables, gravy (vegan option available) – £8

Vegetable Chilli – braised rice (vegan option available) – £8

Pork and black pudding meatballs – rich chasseur-style sauce and braised rice – £8

Desserts

Chocolate brownie or sticky toffee pudding – £3.50

Whole treacle tart – £6.50

Fruit crumble – £5

Alcohol

Two-pint cask or draught beer/cider – £6

Cocktail of the day – £5

House wine – £8.50

How does it work?

We continued with the takeaways and started doing deliveries more recently too but most deliveries are for people buying from our shop.

We stock the shop from our wholesaler and spoke to butchers and fishmongers – they’re all local suppliers, we don’t deal with nationals. The smaller businesses lost 90% of their income too so the idea was ‘can we work together?’.

We put a list out on Sundays of fish, meats and cupboard goods and customers get back to us to place their orders. We do the same on Wednesdays too. By working with local suppliers, it gives them a bit of a lifeline and gives customers a reason to come to us and, hopefully, we can retain them in future.

For the takeaways, we’ve always offered pizzas and fish & chips so we kept that going. More recently, we’ve been able to up the menu with a selection of pies, for example, and we are doing specials such as Beef Wellington too. It gives us more of a restaurant feel when we do specials like that.

We didn’t sell beer initially and lost quite a bit of the cask until we sourced proper containers for two or four pints of beer. Once we got those in, we saved some kegs but it was too late for some of the cask. We have a hand-pull on at the moment. It’s only a nine [gallon cask] where we would usually do six nines.

Yorkshire Heart Vineyard & Brewery is based in Monkton so it’s local to us. They have wines and beer and we are just trying to support the locals. You get a better service from these people because they are in the s**t just like we are.

The best way we deal with our takeaway service is we prefer a direct phone call rather than online orders. We take their order – and try to upsell if possible. We then allocate time slots for pick-ups - everybody wants between 7pm and 8pm. We have to limit what we can do to avoid overloading ourselves.

Then at the right time, the customer drives into the car park, rings us and opens their boot. We take the food and drink over and put it in the boot, and they drive away. It’s contactless and germ-free.

Weekends are where we are doing well. On Saturdays, we sell about 120 meals and on Fridays we do about 80. It’s quieter on Wednesday night and also for the lunches we do too.

We are doing enough to help be the heart of the village. The shop was something we felt we needed to do for the people because it meant older people didn’t have to risk going to supermarkets.

Although our shop sales are dropping, our takeaways are increasing – and we are a food business mainly so we’re here to survive and give this service.

Community response

I’ve got to say the response was fantastic on the first Saturday and Sunday for the Mother’s Day meals and the shop, and it has continued to be great.

At first, we went out and bought goods from the cash and carry. We made bread and ready meals and they sold like they were going out of fashion.

The support was a lot better than we expected. The shop is still ticking over and gives an income but that has quietened down as the lockdown continued because supermarkets have got their act together.

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Preparing for reopening

The pub isn’t a pub right now – it’s a shop really. We have the garden laid out with two-metre distancing between seats and tables already and taken away extra chairs.

If we can open on 4 July, we will look at moving the bar service into the cabin because it’s bigger than the Grade II-listed pub and we would struggle to social distance in there.

We are not committed to opening because it’s dependent on the information that we are given. How do we take food to customers? How do they use the toilets? That’s the information we need from the Government sooner rather than later. Can we do this safely? The last thing I’d want is to pass on infection of any kind. We’ll have to wait and see.

When we do open, it will be in the garden but that is also dependent on the weather too.

We are already selling lots of our home-made takeaway ice creams already but we need the weather to be good to us.

We are covered on licensing for outside but we are still in a small village and sound travels so we would have 9pm closures at the latest. We can’t expect people to sit outside quietly until 11pm and we also don’t expect our neighbours to be disturbed even though we are in a detached building.

The future

I don’t think pubs will ever be the same again. I’m hoping I am totally wrong, but, especially with the clientele we have who are mainly aged 40-plus, they will be more mindful of their health and they don’t want to go out and get legless. Those people will be wary of coming out and will hold back.

Potentially, it could change the full face of pubs. It really is scary. I hope I’m wrong but this could be the death of country pubs because people will be scared to go out. It will take a long time to get anyway near what we had. 

There’s the second wave that people talk about. As a business, we need to be open as soon as possible. We need people back in a routine while the weather is nice. If it becomes winter before hospitality opens again, there’s no pull to get people in the pub. They will have everything at home and are used to watching TV but when the weather is good there’s nothing better than a pub.

If the industry doesn’t get the reopening right – and deaths spike again – the trade is knackered and will be in serious trouble.

We are not alone. Our customers are struggling as well – will people have any revenue to even go out?

We are in our own little bubble. I spoke to a journalist at the Daily Mail​ and we are in the same position. I wouldn’t have even thought that journalists would be in any kind of trouble. We are all in our own bubbles fighting for our lives.

People want to get back to the pub but is it safe to do so?

Read the latest digital edition of The Morning Advertiser​ – for free – by clicking here​.

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