The Griffin Inn, Swithland, Leicestershire, is a premium gastropub that forms part of The Cat and Wickets Pub Company, owned by Gurney alongside fellow ex-cricketer Stuart Broad.
The duo has reported strong trading results since launching the pub in November 2022, with a sales increase of 240%.
“We’re pretty ecstatic,” Gurney tells The Morning Advertiser. “Trade has exceeded expectations.”
When he took over the pub slap bang in the middle of a utilities crisis last year, it was “probably in need of a bit of love,” having been well-run for 20 years by the previous operators, he said.
Due to the economic climate, he was “slightly nervous” to take over such an iconic venue in the area. But he knew how well-loved the pub was. As a local, he’d visited it for bonfire nights and before his brother’s wedding: “It was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down,” said Gurney.
The pub quickly doubled turnover from predicted levels. “It is quite nostalgic, really, to call it my own for a few years. It’s been fantastic,” he added.
But the year hasn’t been without its challenges. The duo inherited a load of wedding bookings when they took on the site.
Gurney said: “We had a year’s worth. I didn’t want to ring 50 brides and tell them their wedding was cancelled. There’s not been a huge amount of money in that side of the business, but we wanted to honour that.”
While the cricketer will be discontinuing the wedding business, it certainly led to some chaos, with only one and a half chefs working in the kitchen.
He recalled: “We’ve had guests kicking the door down in the middle of the night because we’ve had to call an end to proceedings so we don’t upset the neighbours after midnight, and the guys are often wading through the stream out back to find wine bottles the morning after a wedding.
“It’s been fun and games but we’re excited about next year.”
Gurney has noticed a trend where guests go out less frequently but seek something a bit more premium when they do go to pubs or restaurants.
As a gastropub, this has made the Griffin Inn “more robust” than other kinds of venues, helped out by an £80,000 refurb which included light fitting, ripping out a bar and adding a load of new furniture to create a “lovely, fresher environment”.
Gurney said: “We put our team in there in nice uniforms and a nice consistent menu that’s always available. We did the basics well.”
He shares his proudest moment from the past year: “There was one member of the team that we inherited, who we got off to a really bumpy start with. But in the last year, he’s really developed and bought into what we’re doing and has just completely transformed himself. He’s on a great career path and is a huge asset to our business.
“Being able to have an impact on someone’s life like that is the biggest thrill of being a business owner.”
The gastropub already has a host of accolades under its belt. In April, It was named Leicestershire Pub of the Year at the National Pub & Bar Awards and in July it was crowned Best Gastro Pub at the Midlands Food, Drinks and Hospitality Awards. In October, it became a finalist for Pub of the Year at the Leicestershire Promotions Tourism and Hospitality Awards.
Gurney sees these as a great opportunity to take out the team and celebrate their hard work.
But he’s not exempt from the challenges facing the hospitality sector, such as soaring costs. “We made the decision that we were going to be brave and increase our prices in order to maintain our margins,” he said. “With that comes responsibility to make sure the product is really great, and that when guests come to the pub they have a great time. Thus far, it’s played out well.
“The new minimum wage that’s coming in in spring is another challenge that we’re going to have to decide whether we pass on that cost. I think everyone in the industry will be having that same debate over the next few months.”
So what makes the gastropub premium? Gurney said: “Its great quality food cooked in a skilful way and presented in a skilful way and most importantly, in an environment that is beautiful that my wife and I would like to go and sit in and have guests.
“The most important thing is that it’s served by such a brilliant team. We seem to be building a really nice culture of people with smiley faces that will make you feel really welcome from the second you walk in to the pub to the second you leave.”
The food offer is “slowly evolving and coming better” and in spring, the pub will relaunch a new menu with a slightly different structure.
It will have a bit more of an international influence while also sticking to its guns with pub classics. “It will offer a little more variety and sophistication because we’ve now got the team in place,” said the ex-sportsman.
In summer, one dish on offer was pan fried Hake with dhal and onion bhajis. Gurney said: “We sold almost as much of that as fish & chips, burgers and pies. It was a really popular one.” He promises the dish will be back next summer.
The ethics of sourcing food is important to Gurney, who only buys grass-fed meat and wouldn’t buy fish that had been caught in a cruel way.
The pub is also working with Net Zero Now to reduce carbon footprint as much as possible year on year, and is looking at implementing solar panels and heat recovery systems at the pub.
He feels “cautiously optimistic” about the future of trade. While he predicts more economic pain to come in terms of discretionary spend, he’s looking on the bright side: “We seem to have a formula that, despite the challenges of the last 12 months, seems to have been working across our three pubs, and hopefully that continues.”
Gurney believes pubs are the heart of communities. He said: “Both of our pubs are in beautiful villages in the east midlands, and they are places communities can come together, and people from further afield, to celebrate occasions.
“There’s nothing more important in life that human interaction. In a world of technology and AI I do think restaurants, pubs and bars will survive. We’ll still be here in 100 years, because there’s no substitute for sitting and having a steak and a glass of wine with your best friend.”