Little interview

Pub operator wants taxpayer money ‘spent somewhere else’ after successfully diversifying trade

By Stuart Stone contact

- Last updated on GMT

Bouncing back: since opening on 'Super Saturday', the Jolly Brewers' trading has been 30% up year-on-year
Bouncing back: since opening on 'Super Saturday', the Jolly Brewers' trading has been 30% up year-on-year

Related tags: Admiral, Food, Pubco + head office, Finance, Tenanted + leased

A Norfolk pub operator plans to eschew further taxpayer-funded Government support for his site after registering year-on-year growth under a diversified business model since lockdown.

While Greene King operations director turned Admiral Taverns licensee Adam Noble intends to register the Jolly Brewers in Shouldham Thorpe, Norfolk, for Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme​, the successful diversification of his business during lockdown means he believes the pub can stand on its own two feet without further Government funding. 

"The reality is it's not about not wanting to take Government money,” Adam Noble tells The Morning Advertiser (MA)​. “We have taken Government money in terms of the grants we received, which has helped us to diversify our business. The diversification has been successful and as a result we haven't been overly affected by Covid-19.  

"Ultimately we looked at do we honour the offer [Eat Out to Help Out] or not honour the offer and we thought we can honour the offer. We thought do we need to claim money back in order to honour the offer and actually if it drives a bit of business Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we don't need to take taxpayers' money to fund it. 

“I would rather, given the circumstances the country is in, that money was spent somewhere else than funding something that we don't need because we've been able to diversify."

Different pressure

While the Jolly Brewers has been eligible for, and benefited from, financial support throughout its enforced closure, Noble explains the gravity of having skin in the game is different to spending Government grants to sustain his pub. 

"We received a grant for the business, and we furloughed team members,” Noble tells MA​. “I know lots of people were saying 'you can apply for this £3,000 grant for doing the shop’ and you can get this and that, but we were confident in our diversification, so we funded it. 

"If you're using other people's money you're less engaged in it, it's a different pressure when you put everything in yourself. 

“Don't get me wrong we used that grant for the initial outlay of the changes and didn't use much furlough because as the shop was growing and we added the takeaway in we needed to start bringing those people back,” he continues. “We've reduced our furlough claim by 50% month on month because we were bringing people back. 

“In fact we've created jobs as well because we needed different skills – takeaway is different to a dine-in operation and retail is different.”

Year-on-year growth

The Jolly Brewers, which has previously partnered with King’s Lynn Foodbank​ to tackle the pub’s edible food waste output, initially facilitated an online ordering system using MyPubShop and created a shop stocking around 40 items during lockdown. 

“We have a huge site here in terms of space and has a nice little area that could always have sustained a shop,” Noble says. “Lots of the villages around us don't have a shop and most of the people around us are used to going to Tesco, which is about seven or eight miles away."

However, as locals began to request specific products, the pub shop stock grew to more than 250 items, even selling facemasks from local crafters.

According to Noble, from a trading point of view, the weekly level of business from the Jolly Brewers’ shop alone was the equivalent of a bad week of pub trading. 

"We opened the pub on 4 July and it started very slowly,” he says. “I didn't expect much from the pub, I didn't think people would come out, and on the first weekend they didn't seem to. But since that first weekend we've been in about 30% growth on last year.

"The wet side of things is 20% of our business, the takeaway side has been huge as we do many more takeaways than we do dine-in customers. I would say we're a 60% food business then the other 20% would be the shop. We're a very different business to when we closed."

As previously reported by MA​, James Rix of the Fox and Hounds in Hunsdon – the only Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant in the Hertfordshire – revealed his pub’s lockdown-launched farm shop accounted for 25% of 'Super Saturday' takings​.

Hospitality well supported 

Ultimately, while Noble feels the Jolly Brewers and the pub sector at large has been well looked after by the Government, he considers it a shame a number of venues have slipped through the cracks.

"I wouldn't criticise the Government because I think they've done a fantastic job, but in order to do that fantastic job they had to do things quickly,” he tells MA​.

“There are pubs around us for example that weren't entitled to a grant because of their rateable value and they haven't been in a different situation to us. 

"Ultimately the big thing that sticks in my mind is how do some of the live music venues open? It's a huge challenge and I wouldn't take the gift of the job of Prime Minister for all the money in the world.

"I have to say we were very well looked after and I have to say very quick which enabled us to be proactive and quick. 

“Generally, I feel the hospitality sector was well supported but I do think there were exceptions to that. That is a shame.”

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