The news comes as Darran and Caroline Lingley have left the pub trade after selling their Saint Arnold pub group, which includes the Five Bells in Colne Engaine and the Lion in Earls Colne, to Rooney Anand's RedCat Pub Company.
The group, which originally had four pubs, including the Griffin in Halstead and the Three Horseshoes at Fordham, had been up for sale before the pandemic hit.
Lingley said: “I could see the industry is going to have the biggest storm it has ever had. The only way to weather this storm is to have a big pot of money behind you.”
He revealed the company had been trading well until the winter lockdown. But, in April this year, the “kick in the teeth” was that many staff did not come back who had been on furlough.
“We could see to a degree the writing was on the wall with what was happening. We had invested heavily in the pubs, the furlough scheme was not free and it cost us over £188,000 to administrate for that period,” he said.
“We had made redundancies, which also had an impact. Everyone who we made redundant got a new job and are still in the industry. It was some of the hardest conversations I have had to have in my life.”
To keep the pub group trading, Darran was back in the kitchen and Caroline was working on the floor.
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“I thought we have to push the button on this,” he said.
The couple were forced to shut the Griffin becuase it was a drink-led venue and Lingley said “he could see the writing on the wall”. Currently, the pub is not trading and it is likely this will be sold for alternative use although Lingley is not happy about it.
The Three Horsehoes at Fordham is also small but serves food. When Government restrictions were in place, it forced the pub to half covers to 30 and, with the extra staffing, the ratio was not working.
He said they were very conscious they did not want to sell to someone who would fail and, in turn, close the pub but they found a buyer who purchased the pub in December 2020 who wanted to move out of the corporate life and run it with her family.
“I put a plan together and they bought it with a lot of help from me to make sure it worked. They have got a really good, successful pub and it is still going really well,” said Lingley.
“I can walk into the pub head held high and know I did a good thing.”
But then RedCat Pub Company turned up and made an offer for the remaining pubs.
“I know Rooney [Anand] and I knew of Chris Hill, who is the chief executive. I know they are very good operators and knew they had the funding behind them, and we got to a deal,” said Lingley.
“Obviously, it was a slightly depressed deal because of the trading because we could not show what trading was like in the past year.”
He said the deal involved RedCat buying the St Arnold business, ensuring that the teams and the businesses were safe.
“During this lockdown period, people have re-evaluated what they want out of life and they realised their time is more valuable than to stand at a counter being paid minimum wage. Putting in all the effort and passion and not getting the reward,” he said.
"If you want to have a life, mortgage, kids and family, you can’t do that on a hospitality wage at the moment.”
He added the industry is being split between the bottom-end corporate pubs and the fine-dining experience venues.
“The middle section is just getting squeezed,” he said.
But there is a sea change coming with consumers having to accept that they are going to have to pay for the experience.
“A local pub can’t make money on you just walking in, using the facilities and paying £4.20 a pint,” he explained.
“It is a bitter-sweet moment saying goodbye to 19 years of my pub. I have handed it on in good faith to a company I believe has the backing, and operator Chris Hill, who has good ethics. If he can’t make a go of it in this pub industry, we are not going to be in a very good place.”
Lingley said he and Caroline would be spending some time at home looking into the next challenges.
“This is the first time in the whole of my life that I have been fully unemployed,” he said.