Following widespread protests and the conversations sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement about inclusivity and equality, difficult questions are being asked of all sectors and industries, and the pub trade is no different.
The MA decided to speak to a number of black, Asian and minority ethnic pub operators to understand their experiences in the on-trade.
When I tell customers I’m the manager it takes them by surprise
Asked why he feels there are so few operators and staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds working in Britain’s pubs, Jerry Magloire – who is of Haitian-Belgian descent and runs Fuller’s pub the Euston Flyer in London – highlights a cocktail of cultural differences and Britain’s “huge pub culture” as the most significant barrier.
“There can be a cultural and a religious aspect to it,” he says. “Asian people might not drink as much as they've not grown up with a pub culture, black people too.
“English people, when they're growing up with their parents, they usually go to the pub on Sundays to have a roast or they go to the pub from a young age on the way to a football game. They've grown up with this pub culture.
“It might have something to do with some pub operators that may be a bit scared to put minority groups in managerial positions, but it's mainly a difference in culture and religion. Some of the other ethnic minorities might not necessarily understand pub culture.”
Magloire, who has made a point of employing a diverse team at his London pub, says his efforts have had positive effects on both sides of the bar.
"I'm from a black background but have also got a very diverse team – whether its sexual orientation, etc." he says. "People from all walks of life and different nationalities work here.
"It's so we can talk to, approach and relate to any customer – whatever their background is, whatever their sexual orientation is, whatever their nationality is, it always brings extra bits to the team. The more differences you have in the team the more equipped you are to deal with situations."
While Magloire has seen customers generally become more knowledgeable on the subjects of race and diversity during his nine-year pub sector stint and feels “extremely well supported” in the trade, he also acknowledges racism is still a big issue in the pub sector.
"When things go well everything's absolutely fine, but people don't like to be told 'no',” he says. “If I have to tell somebody 'we can't serve you anymore', if something else happens or I have to say 'no' to people they do sometimes pull a bit of a strange face.
“When they ask to speak to the manager, and I tell them I am the manager it takes them by surprise sometimes. It's probably because there are not that many minority general managers in pubs. People go 'well who are you to tell me no? and it's the 'why don't you go back to where you came from' kind of thing. That's something that does happen.
"For me personally, if I'm faced with a difficult situation, it motivates me more to deal with it and to bring it to a good end. I don't let it get me down."
We didn’t think they liked us
According to Lana Bewry, owner of the Golden Anchor in Nunhead, Greater London, while there were lots of pubs owned by black operators in the early 90s, she says they are "few and far between" now.
"That generation made a good living here, started a family, seen their children grow up then gone back to Jamaica – a lot of them have opened bars or supported bars there,” she tells The MA. “The younger generation following them were not so keen on the pub.
"[The older] generation would be 70 or 80-years old now, so when they came to England, the pub was a meeting place,” she continues. “There weren't the options we have now – night clubs, bars, restaurants or what have you. If you wanted to meet up with people from your area that’s what you did, and that's how you got connections for work as well, go to the pub.
“As time's gone by, a pub might become available, people might group together and get it, or one person in a group who was financially affluent might get it and that would be it, that'd be the black pub, the Jamaican pub or whatever they referred it as. It was a hub for people to meet together, drink and socialise.
"That generation, who haven't passed away, are too old for pubs now.”
However, Bewry caveats that a modern reluctance to get into the pub trade isn’t exclusive to members of the younger generation from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds and that, regardless of race, she believes young people are increasingly hesitant to get into the pub sector for the long haul.
"You can make money much quicker and easier [elsewhere],” she says. “This is a seven-day-a-week job, who's really going to commit to that?"
Reflecting on her 24-year stint in the trade – which began with working weekend shifts in the Golden Anchor to supplement a nine-to-five job in banking before she took on her own pub full-time – Bewry believes she may, at times, have inadvertently closed herself off from locals, something she's striving to change.
"It's simply because we didn't think they liked us,” she explains. “They didn't think they were welcome in our pub and, in my mind, it's because we were black. That's why I thought they don't come to our pub.
"My attitude has changed,” Bewry continues. “We've got white people popping in, but I mean popping in. For the numbers around us I just really thought they were racist or the they just didn't want to come to our pub because we're black.
"We need to make them know that they're welcome. It's no good [us just] thinking they're welcome – my thoughts would be 'how can they not be welcome? It's a pub, it's open to everybody' but somehow we'd alienated them.”
However, Bewry adds that her efforts to reintroduce the pub to neighbours through initiatives such as flyering and putting on an open house to invite locals into her refurbished pub have been something of a double-edged sword.
"I feel like we've kind of alienated a lot of our black customers,” she says. “I feel like they feel like we're not accommodating them or that we want to go white.
“As a black person I know it's not our culture to drink and get drunk,” Bewry continues. “They're working people, they're stopping off on the way home from work and will have two bottles of Heineken or something like that. Two bottles of Heineken from 10 people cannot even touch on any of the bills that a business like a pub has to pay. It doesn't work like that; you need people coming in constantly. Our community is not like that.”
Racism happening more and more
One multiple operator, who over the last twenty years has run pubs across the midlands and north with a major pubco, told The MA he feels the issue of racism in Britain’s pubs is only getting worse. Their details have been kept anonymous as The MA has been unable to contact all parties involved in a number of their claims about racism in the sector for response.
When seeking to take on one pub, for example, he claims he was overlooked on multiple occasions due to racial profiling – explaining that he applied for one of the pubs he now runs three times under its previous owners.
"The credit check was fine; the money was there, and I was looked over,” he says. “They gave it to someone who I know was known to the police for drugs. When I see that happening, I think there's something not right here. The opportunities are not there."
Asked why he feels there are so few black pub operators in the UK, he says that when people think of the “great British pub” they don’t expect to see a black person behind the bar.
"A lot of black people I know would like to get into the pub game, but they don't get the right treatment,” he says. “I've got a friend up in Leeds, he's been trying to get into the pub game – he's not got bad credit or anything he's just being looked over. I can't understand why he can't get a pub.”
However, he believes that showcasing and celebrating the success of black pub operators within the trade can provide much needed encouragement that people from minority backgrounds can succeed in the sector. He cites his own experience of being the first black person to run a pub in one city before moving to another and earning public recognition after transforming a pub following its issues with drugs.
“Little things like that show other black people that we can do it as well," he says. "It just needs another face. I'd never seen another black person running a pub until a couple of years ago.”
Speaking after the resumption of trade following the Government’s enforced closure, he adds that he was very recently the subject of racist abuse for reminding a customer to sanitise their hands and adhere to coronavirus guidance.
"I don't know what's going on with the culture today, but for some strange reason I think it's happening more and more,” he says. “I don't think enough is being done to stamp it out.
"Last year I was racially abused in the pub. I called the police and the guy was arrested. The police said someone was going to get back to me but to this present moment I've not had a call. The guy was released, I've seen him about."
The operator adds that he’s often met with silence when entering pubs. During a recent visit to check out the local competition at a new venue near one of his own sites, he tells The MA he felt compelled to leave after one drink.
"It happens to me every time,” he says. “A couple of weeks ago I went into a pub in Derby, one guy watched me, another guy watched me, I felt a bit uncomfortable, so I thought I'm going to have my drink and leave. I saw four or five guys watching me together and talking. You feel a bit intimidated by that. I had my drink and left because of how uncomfortable they made me feel.”
But what motivates him to keep going?
"I love the pub game,” he says. “My mum had a bar since I was small, and my dad had a bar as well. I grew up in that industry then I went into policing, then I did security and used to work on the doors.
“A friend of mine who had a pub went on holiday and asked me to look after it. I started looking after the pub, spoke to him and said, 'I think I want to go into the pub game'.
“I like the people that come in, having a laugh with them – I speak to everybody, black, white, Asian about what issues they have, that's what I enjoy about this job.”
Ending racism and being actively anti-racist is a challenge for all
Lucy Do, founder and owner of the Dodo Micropub in west London, tells The MA she used to think racism was a problem she’d left behind in her school days. But while she says it's a much rarer experience nowadays, she knows it’s still a huge issue for others across the UK.
“Sadly, racism has affected me personally in my own micropub which I’ve specifically set up to be a welcoming and inclusive space for all regardless of gender, race and sexuality,” she explains. “From your ‘everyday’ micro aggressions like someone asking, ‘where are you really from?’ when Brentford clearly isn’t the response they were hoping for, to plain outwardly racist remarks like the time I was told you don’t often see Asians running a pub, it’s normally a takeaway business.”
Do believes that there’s a lot of work left to do to diversify the pub sector, something she hopes the wider industry is also keen to address given the crucial role venues play within communities.
“Ending racism and being actively anti-racist is a challenge that everyone should be taking responsibility for and that includes the UK pub sector,” she says.
“It’s very apparent to insiders and outsiders of the industry that it is very white, male dominated so there can definitely be more work done to represent and champion diversity.
“It’s an effort and can be uncomfortable but small steps lead to big changes,” she continues. “Mistakes have and will be made but making a stand for diversity and inclusion imperfectly but being open to change is better than doing nothing at all.”
In terms of first steps to diversifying the UK pub sector, Do believes taking example from or replicating a number of new initiatives from across the pond would be an ideal place to start.
“There have been some great initiatives launched in America to better attract and support black people specifically and it would be great to see similar replicated in the UK,” she says.
“Pull Up For Change calls for brands and businesses to report on the number of black people they employ. It’s an important starting point for leaders and business owners to actually care about diversity beyond a tick box exercise or black square on social media.
“A bit closer to the industry at hand, Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery recently launched the Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling to fund scholarship awards for people of colour who wish to join the industry. A hugely positive action that clearly strives for diversity and inclusion.”
Time to listen
While schemes similar to Pull Up For Change and Brooklyn’s Michael Jackson Foundation for Brewing and Distilling have yet to reach these shores, the American influence on British discourse on race and diversity is clear, and has had recent repercussions for the pub sector.
According to figures published in The Guardian on 29 July, the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparked protests in 260 towns and cities across the UK as thousands defied lockdown to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Guardian’s data found that by mid-June more than 210,000 people had attended demonstrations, with the 10,000 who marched in Bristol toppling a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston.
The ensuing campaign to remove monuments deemed to celebrate slavery and racism has seen a number of pubs come under pressure, with a number of companies forced to address the issue head on.
Kent-based brewer and pub operator Shepherd Neame confirmed that it will rename one of its pubs amid fears that it could be considered "unwelcoming" by customers, for example, while JD Wetherspoon revealed it is open to the possibility of renaming the Elihu Yale in Wrexham, north Wales, due to historic links with the slave trade.
What’s more, brewer and operator Greene King also recently condemned the revelation that one of its founders profited from 19th century slavery, and argued against its abolition, as “inexcusable” and publicly pledged to redouble its commitment to diversity.
“We don’t have all the answers so that is why we are taking the time to listen and learn from all the voices, including our team members and charity partners as we strengthen our diversity and inclusion work,” chief executive Nick MacKenzie said.
“We plan to make a substantial investment to benefit the black, Asian and minority ethnic community and support our race diversity in the business as we increase our focus on targeted work in this area.”
These stories have been reported by The MA, but received a prickly reception on social media, with some Facebook comments dismissing the matter as “stupid” or “absolute rubbish”.
However, the Black Lives Matter movement, experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic pub operators mentioned, and broader conversations about race and equality kick-started by the recent protests question whether the pub sector should be pulling together more to tackle racism and whether the industry is truly reflective of the communities it serves.
Echoing Greene King’s MacKenzie, it’s surely time the pub sector admitted to not having all the answers and elected to listen and learn from “all voices” in its bid to call time on racism.