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The BII thrives on the diversity of its 9,000 plus members, and through case studies and interviews we're able to find out more about some of the individuals that make up our network in the licensed trade.

Click on any of the links below to read about the personal experience and benefits individuals have found since becoming members of the BII.

Chris and Jason Black, MBII -The Pityme Inn

Jason and Chris Black MBII are the winners of the BII Licensee of the Year Award 2021. BII News’ Editor Kate Oppenheim CBII spoke to Chris about their achievement and goals for the year ahead.

What does it mean to you both to be crowned winners of the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award 2021? 
Winning has been a massive achievement for us, bearing in mind that we have only been licensees of our own business for three years. Receiving recognition from industry experts, especially during this time when the sector has been so hard hit, made it all the more intense. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions getting through to the finals, with each stage of the competition giving us an opportunity to reflect upon our business and everything that we have achieved. 
What are the stand out successes of your business over this last year? 
Our ethos is always to keep going. When the pandemic hit, we started to do meals-on-wheels and with a team of volunteers, we delivered up to 200 meals twice a week to the vulnerable, disabled and old people living locally. It was important to us that we kept the supply chain going, as we recognised that our suppliers were really struggling.  We started offering takeaways too, fish and chips on a Friday and roasts on Sunday, as we saw it was important to give our customers a break from the monotony and boredom of cooking at home every day.
Everything we achieved during lockdown has helped us build a better business moving forward. For instance, when we first reopened our garden for trade in April 2021, we had the single biggest sales day on record. Doing what we did gave people a reason to want to come back and we made them all very welcome. We also opened our shop, which focuses on selling local produce to our community. It’s a farm-shop style offer, that has a strong environmentally sound ethos, for instance, we sell milk in glass, returnable bottles, that people bring back for refilling. We also stock our frozen ready meals and it has been so successful that it has become a permanent fixture, utilising an area of the pub that wasn’t particularly well used before.
With three sites in Cornwall with St Austell – the Pityme Inn, Rock; the Lugger Inn, Polruan; and the Weavers Inn, Bodmin – we also launched our new app, called Cornish Inns. This allows our guests to collect reward points, order click-and-collect takeaways and access exclusive deals, as well as our ‘pay at the table’ facility, and get information on upcoming events. Ultimately it gives them access to everything they need to know about our pubs and encourages repeat visits. We see it as a great way to future proof our business and is another initiative we’d like to share with our fellow BII members. 
How are you ensuring your business is sustainable, not only for now, but for the next two to three years? 
We have invested a lot in new systems over the last six months, to give us better control over our GPs and stock, and to get all of the elements of the business interlinked. In terms of environmental sustainability, we are looking to grow more of our own produce, like herbs, to avoid having to buy in pre-packed goods in plastic, and we invested in an electric vehicle to deliver our takeaways. Reducing waste and food miles is key, which means we keep our menu seasonal and try to use local suppliers.  

What pearls of wisdom and inspiration would you like to share with our members?
It would be to always think about your business in terms of having a long-term strategy. We view our business as a career for us and our team. We try not to take on seasonal staff, but employ a full-time team throughout the year, as we believe seasonal staff are less engaged with the business. We look to promote and develop our people through the business from team member to assistant manager and onto general manager, and we move people around the three pubs too, to give them the broadest experience possible. While we are in a heavily touristy area, we work hard not to alienate our locals during the peak seasons. In winter, we diversify more and hold a Christmas market, along with themed nights, live music, etc, to create a meeting and social space for our locals. It’s not just about the food and drink. These days, it’s very easy for people to drift from one pub to another restaurant, and so on, but we place huge value on developing and growing our brand for the long-term. We keep our brand relevant and engaging all year, making it as easy as possible for people to want to return to us.


Our branding has been created to have a broad appeal – it is as applicable to the high end, second home owners, as to the camp site visitors on a tight budget, and it is for the locals too.  We also do a lot on social media. We have also started using a software system called Feed It Back, which provides a dashboard of all social media engagements. It identifies any recurring issues and also makes it easy to gather the positive messages. You are given an overall score at the end of each week too, which provides a good guide to what you’re doing well and what’s going wrong. Facing up to any problems is important, because if things are wrong, you need to own it. If you’re getting four out of five, it’s about working to achieve five out of five. 
What do pubs and the wider hospitality sector mean to you? 
Both Jason and I have grown up in and around pubs, Jason was a General Manager with Mitchells & Butlers for eight years and I have a degree in business and food, and I worked for a food importer doing product development across Europe, developing ranges for the major supermarkets. We believe that our experiences give us a wider and very balanced view of the industry. We are absolutely committed to what we do. We see hospitality, especially pubs, as vitally important to all our communities, and this has never been more true that over these past couple of years. Creating a viable and community focused business is what we are passionate about, and taking part in this awards process has helped us view the bigger picture and see things with fresher eyes too.
We, as a sector, need to make pubs more viable and work to create outlets that are seen as being vital in providing community support and valuable, long-term careers. Hospitality workers should feel proud to go to work every day. As an industry, we need to cultivate and grow the next generation of licensees: we need fresh, new blood to create even better venues for future generations.  Getting out of your business to visit other venues can be an eye opener. We get out every week and encourage our staff to use other venues too – we pay for them to go to and drink/eat elsewhere, and when they come back, we ask them to tell us about it – what they liked or what they would change.  All this means we have a high level of staff retention, with 10 of our team members having relocated from M&B in London to Cornwall.
As the winners of LOYA, you will have the ear of the industry, its governing bodies and even the Government. What will be the key messages you’d like to get across? 
It’s that hospitality needs to be seen as a career. We all need to make hospitality even more relevant to new candidates and better promote everything this industry has to offer. Also, sustainability – both financial and environmental. Everyone should be growing their business year-on-year, while also looking to be more sustainable: being greener is a selling point.
Finally, it wouldn’t be the ‘Oscars’ of the licensed trade without giving you the opportunity to thank those who have had the greatest impact on your success…
Fundamentally our teams have got us through the tricky times. We couldn’t have done any of this without them. Also, St Austell has been hugely supportive and the BII has been really helpful, both in terms of advice about growing our business and also career development for our teams.
As winners of the Licensee of the Year Award, Jason and Chris Black MBII will receive a year’s free pubs and clubs subscription to Sky Sports, £500 towards a party in their pub to celebrate with their staff and a model of their pub created by artist Bunty May Marshall to commemorate their win.
BII's Licensee of the Year Award is a yearly competition for personal licence holders to receive the tools to help assess and develop their business, as well as working towards the accolade of LOYA winner. Click here to learn more.

Paul Clarke, MBII - The Lifeboat Inn

When The Lifeboat Inn in Shirehampton, Bristol, became available in Autumn 2020, Paul Clarke MBII and eight friends got together to take on the lease. BII's Eleanor Golding MBII spoke to Paul about why the group became involved and how important it was for them to join the BII.
Nestled a few miles outside of Bristol town centre, The Lifeboat Inn was at risk of being turned into flats, or shops, before Paul Clarke and eight of his friends approached Admiral Taverns to take on an initial six month lease.

"We had lots of chats between ourselves about whether or not it was a good idea. The nine of us are friends and we all vary in age, a couple are in their 60s, one in his 50s and the rest of us are in our 40s, there's even a father and son within the group," explains Paul. 


"We've all known each other for more than 30 years because most of us have a bit of a rugby background. That's how we know each other and the pub itself was like an extension to the rugby club. Most of us had even had our first drinks there as teenagers."

Looking back on his 18-year-old self, Paul could never have imagined taking on the pub in his adult life. Working as a full-time aircraft engineer and with other members of the Lifeboat group employed on the docks, in logistics, IT, engineering and window fitting, together they brought the practical and technical skills that are needed to manage the refit, set-up and run a pub.

"None of us were in it in order to quit our day jobs, we came together and invested an amount of money each, without really expecting to get it back. We put our money and resources into it for the good of the community."

In the years since their first pints together, Paul had noticed that the pub had been going downhill. "We thought to ourselves, 'we need to reclaim the pub a little bit'. Initially, as there was no budget to refurbish, we took it on as it was and started investing our own funds. The electrics were in a bad state and a lot of the floor joists holding up the boards were rotten. By the end of it, we were really taking the place apart," says Paul, adding that they received plenty of help from the community, from people running the pub to the many locals who were offering to drop off materials and volunteer their time.

In true community spirit, the team received anything from electrical expertise to beer and cake. All was gratefully received and it was decided that this help should get official recognition. 

"The Lifeboat Legends board is still to go up, but the principle is that if someone helped out, whether they provided paints, plumbing or cake, we would add them to the board. We used Facebook initially, posting when someone offered their support. We'd say a thank you and end with the phrase 'Your position on the Lifeboat Legends board is now secure!'"

The board, which will be like a Captain's board more usually found in sport's clubs, will be mounted on the wall, with the names displayed in no particular order.

"The footprint of our bar was something on our radar from the start. Originally the pub had a bar room and a separate lounge, but we repositioned the bar to make a more efficient use of space," says Paul.

This had had the added benefit of making more of a feature of the bar, which is created from an old lifeboat (installed in the mid=1980s). The feedback has been very positive too, especially as this unusual feature is now visible to passers-by, thereby arousing intrigue and causing people to stop or do a double take. 

In the run up to opening, Admiral Taverns provided the team with someone to provide on-site training. 

"She was helping with the layout of the pub, with things like signage, how to load the shelves and to organise everything from a practical point-of-view, even how the pub should be set up . It has been a steep learning curve. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, in terms of how much was involved. From CCTV and safety assessments, to fire regulations and ensuring our pricing offered us a good margin. We didn't have any experience of that."

Having joined the BII in September 2021, Paul says he and the team, alongside their Manager Kai Hopkins, have utilised the BII Staff Contract Builder and HR Helpline to help support staff.

"We're still very much hands on as well, running repairs, or making sure the tills operate properly and even that the juke box is working Whatever it might be, we're really involved in the day-to-day running of the place."

At the time of our interview, The Lifeboat Inn had been open for just five weeks. Now established into a rhythm and regularly taking on feedback from customers, the team of nine have their sights set on adding live music events (kicking off with newly signed Spencer Flay) and serving fresh pizzas from their shiny pizza oven.

George Ralph, Chris Jakeways, Martin Ackerman, Bob Hane, John Golder, Jonathan Golder, Julian Stevens, Jerry Male and Paul Clarke make up the nine men who took on the Admiral tenancy to save The Lifeboat Inn as a pub for their community. Between them, they run the pub, hold down their full time jobs and are even involved in two bands, called Half a Barrel (folk music) and The Black Crash (indie, rock).

How to Make Your Pub a Community Minded Hub:

  • Pubwatch - connect with like-minded licensees and work alongside your local council and police teams.
  • Create a group of businesses within the local community -  Paul says that working with the local businesses "means we have a partner in our community, between us we attract people in the area, or get people to stay in the area and support local."
  • Invite your local MP - showing your MP the work you do within the community can really bring your venue to the forefront of their minds when they're planning future projects.
  • Create a space for customers and community members to share their thoughts or feedback with you - this could be as part of a feedback box, an outreach program, recording feedback as you chat to customers, or encouraging comments on social media.

Manu Bhatt, MBII - The Queen's Head

Building his Little & Large Pub Company, Manu Bhatt MBII has achieved success with The Queen's Head, Dorking, and more recently with The Running Horses, Mickleham. Eleanor Golding MBII reports.

Before venturing into the the licensed trade, Manu Bhatt had never heard of Dorking, but following a recommendation from Iain Rippon, Fuller's Head of Operations (Tenanted), his heart became set on a pub there. 

"I absolutely loved the pub; the potential was huge. We took it on in February 2020, but after just three weeks, we were thrust into lockdown. It was unknown territory, but I'm an optimistic person; I always see the bright side, so I thought I would take the time to do something - try things in the pub that I couldn't have done before."
 A Fuller's tenancy, The Queen's Head in Dorking was the inaugural site in Manu's Little and Large Pub Company. It has since been joined by The Running Horses in Mickleham (a Brakspear tenancy), which opened in November 2021, with a third pub in Brockley, London, being added to the portfolio soon. 


Manu is a great believer in forging strong industry connections, which he sees as being fundamental to growing his business and success. Stunning creations orchestrate immersive worlds that are the bedrock of Manu's pub. These installations and effects are the result of collaborations with local businesses, suppliers and customers, who pitch in to help maintain the garden, and are proven to grab the attention of passers-by and lure people inside.

"My plan last year was to do a Christmas market in the teepees we have at the Queen's Head; we had everything planned and all the suppliers lined up, but with the distancing measures in place last year, it became too tricky.  The teepees have since opened and we also built an outside kitchen over lockdown, so the plan [for 2021] is for Christmas style Winter barbecues and things like that.

"When you go to a Christmas market, what do you notice? It's that smell of the mulled wine, a hog roast, German sausages and that kind of thing."

Manu recognises that when people feel inspired by their experience and find it visually appealing, they're likely to take more photos and shout louder about where they have been.

"The pub is quite deceiving, it's small from the outside but when you go inside, we've designed a pathway like the Backyard Cinema events - a beautiful walkway that leads people to the teepees. We wanted something which is weatherproof, a place we can bring food and drink to, and somewhere that is also magnificent to look at. We used lights and lots of beautiful flower arrangements to create that."


It's the attention to detail that is all-important in creating something truly spectacular, and which is "photogenic, clear, fresh, glamorous and different" - the ingredients for success. 

He advises: "Go outside and see what your pub looks like to people walking past. Around Christmas time last year [2020], even when we were closed, I left all the Christmas lights on and it encouraged people to come and take selfies."

With a love for interior design, Manu says he draws inspiration from the places he visits: from boutique hideaways in the Cotswolds, to the luxury of the Pig Hotels found in the New Forest, Bath and by the coast. 

"I always look to the bar as the starting point, when it comes to the interior, as this has got to be your focal point, and then I carry on the journey throughout. There was a carpet running throughout The Running Horse, so I took that up to reveal the beautiful wooden flooring beneath: it brought things to life immediately. Also, there were curtains hanging at the window, which were obscuring the view of a beautiful church opposite, so we got rid of them. Now customers can enjoy the beautiful surroundings."

Giving customers an excuse to return, as well as to pose for a photo opportunity (and in turn create more exposure for the venue on social media platforms) Manu regularly freshens up the decor in the pub, working with the team at the Kingfisher Farmhouse in Abinger Hammer to curate a seasonal floral archway for the entrance, as well as giant wreaths and table settings too. 

Once customers are enticed indoors, the dishes on the menu are a mixture between classic comfort food and items with an exciting twist. 

"Our most popular dishes are duck, a chicken kiev dish and our seafood risotto which has been recently replaced with a fish pie. We work at a GP of 70% on food and drink, and we achieve that consistently. Spend per head is at £40, we want to offer good value, but with the prices of everything going up, especially our electricity which is rising by 50% at least, we will have to make a decision on whether to take a hit on our GP or pass it onto customers."

A pragmatic strategy as financial changes are coming into effect, Little & Large draws from the wealth of Manu's life experience. Having worked around the world from an early age, he started working as an intern in an Australian hotel at the age of 16. Manu was drawn to running pubs because of how quickly he can action his ideas and adapt the business, a definite bonus as circumstances remain challenging for pubs at the moment.

Manu's Tips for Creating Atmosphere with Your Interiors

  • Keep things feeling novel by changing decorations and floral arrangements seasonally. Many companies now specialise in floral doorway arches and also paying attention to seasonal menus can be great for your bottom line and for the environment.
  • Think about your customers' touch points. View your venue from their perspective, step outside, take time to notice what you've got on your walls. Is the lighting cosy? What other venues surround your pub? Is your seating suited to the ambience you're trying to create?
  • Use the skills of local suppliers, such as florists and lifestyle shops, to inject a point of difference into your venue. You could print little cards noting where customers can buy the pieces from, or even create a social media series with them to help subsidise the cost of your decor.

Tim Tomlinson, MBII - Merchants 1688, The Stonewell Tap and The White Cross 

Running three venues and acting as Chair of Pub Watch in Lancaster,  BII LOYA finalist from 2017, Tim Tomlinson has been rushed off his feet for the last 18 months and says that instead of a holiday, nirvana, for him, is just a really boring few weeks of pre-Covid life.

Opening his first venue in 2004 with The White Cross, Tim quickly grew his portfolio with The Merchants 1688 in 2007. Both being tied lease agreements (The White Cross with Stonegate and The Merchants currently with Greene King), Tomlinson divulges his success in growing these businesses: “From when I bought it in 2004, [The White Cross] was doing maybe £50,000 per year, we’ve got that up to £1.4 Million now.”
 “A lot of that was down to us offering a really good Real Ale selection, doing good food and offering great service too… but the Real Ale was a cornerstone to that.” Nowadays, The White Cross offers 12 craft beers and 12 real ales, delivering an experience similar to offerings in big cities like nearby Manchester, which Tim puts down to going through the process of reviewing his agreement with Stonegate. 

 The Stonewell Tap (renamed from The Stonewell Tavern, it’s 1980s incarnation), caught Tim’s eye in 2017. He took on the venue as a freehold, for its potential to house a craft beer and real ale selection to match no other. Tim says, “The market in Real Ale offered strong growth from the early noughties to the mid-teens, but from about 2016 onwards it flattened out and I noticed it started to decline slightly. Craft beer has since been in the ascendancy, so I spotted that as a market trend and something I could differentiate myself on.” For those who prefer not to commute back after an evening of indulgence, The Stonewell also boasts an Airbnb apartment, run by Tim’s wife Lucy. 
 “Lucy isn’t a publican, but The Stonewell Tap is our joint business. She’s a full time social worker. But the trade has come back on the Airbnb, so that’s a nice bit of income for us when things have been difficult.”
Speaking over the phone one morning in August, Tim is keen to share the issues on the lips of everyone in our industry at the moment. 
 “I got a call yesterday from our food and drink supplier and all of their team have been isolating, so I’ve got to drive over to their depot and pick everything up to make things work.” With the “pingdemic” causing many businesses to close, stop serving food, or operate under stressful circumstances, Tim says that what’s particularly difficult is the loss of that charitable and forgiving feeling felt during the lockdowns.  “I read a review that said something like ‘they can get over using Covid as an excuse now, it’s over, everything’s normal now’. Hang on a second, you really don’t get this do you? We aren’t operating normally.” He continues, “Getting to a point where you’ve not got the capacity to deal with customers who want to buy food and drink from you is so difficult, after doing everything possible to grow your business for 15 years.”
Boosting the morale and mental health of his team, Tim says, starts with himself. “It’s important to notice if I am feeling stressed, to not try to be in denial, but to go ‘Yes, this is pretty crap actually’ and recognise that it’s okay to feel weird. “We are 20 to 30% down in sales this week but there’s no point in getting yourself more stressed about it because stress isn’t going to change that. But it does feel like 6 months’ worth of stress is all coming at once. I find talking to other people and being open about it really helps.”

Having a WhatsApp group with local business owners has been a great forum, not only to share best practice, but personal experiences too. A topic up for discussion is the notion of returning to bar service or balancing staff needed for table ordering. “If you’ve got three people behind the bar and 100 customers getting served, those customers will come over, take their drinks, some might bring their glasses back, come backwards and forwards to order more. But if you’ve got the same staff levels to serve 100 seated it takes a lot more time.
“There’s a cost implication, staff costs might rise by 30-50%, but you don’t want to alienate customers by changing price points.”
Tim’s tips for other licensees working towards a period of recovery is to find the right balance between exemplary service and not overreaching yourself. “On quiet days, you can always do more trade, but on busy days it’s important to recognise that you can’t overstretch. Typically, we try and upsell 10%, but if we overstepped ourselves and the service wasn’t there, we’d be worse off in 6 months’ time without our regular customers.”
At the moment, spend per head is up by 20-30% more each visit, with GPs on popular food items being 70% because of the continued VAT rate cut, but Tim is balancing this with the fact that staffing levels are low and pay increasing.  “We’ve essentially missed two years’ worth of training. Where you might have recruited a young kitchen porter two years ago, they could be a commis or chef de partie now, but that hasn’t happened.” With a lot to balance, bringing things back  to business essentials is how Tim is going to spend the next few months, so we’ll leave you with his sage words for recovery:
“It’s an old thing in business that winning a new customer costs ten times as much as keeping an old one, and it’s true. If someone comes to you every Wednesday and they have a great experience that’s good, but if they have a bad experience and never come back, it costs you a lot of money in the long term.
“It sounds a bland statement, but it’s key to our bottom line, you’ve just got to make sure the new ones also keep coming back and convert into regulars too.”
Tim tells you his BII top tips:


  •  “The online and email communications that we get from you are always helpful, it’s great to learn and confirm the latest changes. There have been so many bits of advice and information, but the BII have been really solid and reliable, and independent.” – Learn more here
  •  “Ringing in and speaking to the Landlord & Pub Co helpline really helped me with the MRO process that helped me to work to a new agreement that meant I could start stocking the real ale and craft beer that would suit my customers” – Call Your BII Team today on 01276 684449

Cheryl and Paul Brew, MBII - The Spanker Inn 

Star Pubs & Bars tenants, Cheryl and Paul Brew joined their newly refurbished pub, The Spanker Inn, just after the first lockdown hit. Already well established within the hearts of customers, BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Cheryl to talk about the values that create lasting community connections in Belper, Derbyshire. 

“We opened properly on 4th July 2020, which means we missed the £35,000 support from the Government by a week. What we did receive, like the Christmas support grant, kept our heads just above water.” Having both been in the pub game for 25 years, Cheryl’s knowledge of the local area and what her customers best respond to is evidence of living most of her adult life in Derbyshire.  “It was very exciting to have Star invest in The Spanker, because it’s a very community minded village and it was great for them to see the pub company invest in their pub, in their community. It makes you very proud of what we are and where we are.”

 It’s clear to see that Cheryl and Paul have made an effort to connect with those around them, having recently hosted a pub quiz in aid of Andy Lathem (a local customer raising awareness of prostate cancer following his own diagnosis). “Andy set his mind of raising awareness more than money, but he was a big cricketer in his day and so did 60 in 60 (he turned 60 this year) and walked 60 boundaries round all the cricket grounds.” Raising over £800 for the charity involved hosting 12 teams for the quiz night, as well as selling raffle tickets with prizes. At the end of the night, Cheryl says, a team member came up and said, “I love what you two have done for the community.” She continues, “To hear that from somebody really warms your heart, it makes persevering through the tough times worth it, to have that feeling of love or warmth come back to you from the community.”
 It’s no wonder Cheryl and Paul were recipients of our Heart of the Community Award in 2020; with every event, idea and way of working, Cheryl is conscious of how it helps the people living around them. “We have a vintage day coming up, because our friend David noticed the potential in our car park. Someone we know collects vintage tractors and cars, so that was the starting point and we wanted to keep on the tradition of the old steam fair that was run each year in Belper.”
 On offer are market stalls selling vintage clothes and woollen creations from a lady that joins the pub’s Knit and Natter group every Thursday.  Based around the era of make-do-and-mend, a time where people would make a cardigan themselves, or repair an older one, Cheryl says that this year’s event is a softly softly approach to test the local appetite. “We’re charging stall holders £10 which we’ll donate to charity, we don’t do it for financial gain but if you’ve got an extra 50 people here, they’re going to buy cups of teas, pints, lunches, you kind of make it back that way.
 “We’ll be offering afternoon teas, scones, and we’re running a vintage menu in the kitchen too, corn beef hash, there’s talk of spam fritters to really get into the spirit.”

 As well as injecting a camaraderie and fun into the village, Cheryl and Paul also work to make things a bit easier for visitors. “There’s no shop in the village so we set one up, we’ve called it The Essential Shop. We have a great connection with the local caravan park too, they often recommend us as a lunch or dinner spot, so we thought, ‘What would we forget to pack on holiday?’. We’ve tried to think of everything!” Not stopping at holidaymakers though, Cheryl says people often stop by for a pint and pick up some tea bags on the way home too. But it’s not just ale and tea on the menu at The Spanker (which operates to a split of 30-35% food and 65-70% wet), Cheryl has thought of some savvy ways to add to profit margins while ensuring everyone is catered for. 
 “When we first opened, there was no food in the pub at all, we offered a very small selection and slowly built it up from discussions with our Area Manager.
 “Our charcuterie and cheese boards are a new, upmarket, addition because we noticed that groups often came in and ordered a few picky starters to share. We sell the boards for £14.95 so that’s a GP of 65%.”
 Catering for older and younger generations resulted in The Spanker’s “smaller plates” menu which sees smaller portions of the more filling main courses. “We wanted to cater for older children who perhaps want to feel a bit more grown up, or an older person who fancies a hot meal for their lunch.” Adding more options to the menu without having to carry a wider range of stock, the larger plates are priced at between £9.95 (for a larger plate of ham, egg and chips) to £10.25 (for scampi) and £5.95 for the smaller plates. Leaving customers with more room for pudding was a happy coincidence, and Cheryl is often to be found in the kitchen rustling up dessert while Paul’s interests lie in all things bar and cellar (having recently been awarded his Cask Marque plaque!)
 With hopes to turn a period of recovery into thriving business, Cheryl says that she’s turning her sights onto the people still too nervous to set out from self-isolation. “We need to let the ground settle for a bit, but we want to support the older people in feeling confident again. We’re setting up the luncheon club again that offers two courses for under a tenner, and planning a re-entry Afternoon Tea, a chance for people to bring their friends once a month and know that we’re still offering Covid mitigations to keep them safe.” 
 It’s no wonder the local community are overjoyed at the attention The Spanker is receiving, this pub turned shop, turned cafe, is lucky to have Cheryl and Paul at the helm – they’re looking after their customers in every way they can. And as one Derbyshire newspaper noted “they’re doing a smashing job.”
 Cheryl’s top tips for community-minded recovery:
  •  “Because we’re the only pub in the village, it has been about getting involved in the community, developing contacts in the community to work with the community. People are so grateful that their pub is open again, I think this could be the resurgence of the Great British pub it’s just finding the right way to do it for your locals.
  • “You’ve really got to offer people the best service you can give them, because so many pubs are shut and aren’t going to reopen. We need people to use them, but in encouraging that you need to give them the best quality, make it a good experience, so that they come back and use you rather than lose you.
  • “If you’re in a position like we’re in where you are the only pub in the village, you have to get involved with things, you can’t just open your doors and expect people to come in.”

Sophia Idjer, MBII - The Bohemian Cocktail Bar 

Currently leased through Greene King by Sophia Idjer and her business partner Blake (Mark Blake), The Bohemian Cocktail Bar is a music hub that takes inclusivity seriously. BII’s Eleanor Kirby joined Sophia on a video call to talk about working to welcome all and making their commercial kitchen do some hard graft.

Opening her first venue in August 2020, mid-pandemic, seems not to have phased Sophia Idjer who has a background in hospitality technology. Joining BII Trusted Partners, Kbox, as their European Sales Managing Director (a post Idjer has now left to focus on developing The Bohemian), Sophia says “it felt like I came home.”
 Speaking over Google Meets in early August, The Bohemian Cocktail bar has newly reopened free from all restrictions (after only being open for three months prior to the winter lockdown) and Sophia can only but sing pub company Greene King’s praises. “We’ve been heavily restricted. I’ve had an awful lot of support from Greene King. Our Business Development Manager is Asa Charlton, and although I think we’ve got quite a different venue to one he’s used to, he has been so supportive. All Greene King have done is try and learn and be supportive.”
 With no other financial support available in terms of local authority grants or Bounceback loans, Sophia is thankful for the brewery’s support on rent relief.  “Greene King have also been really helpful when we were first setting up our commercial kitchen, they helped me bring in equipment, replace older equipment, and they’ve shared some of the costs too.” Describing The Bohemian Cocktail bar as being a music venue with a focus on old school R&B, old school Garage, Reggae and Bashment music, Sophia says, “we’ve got a very different offering to anyone else in Moseley which has a very bohemian feel.

“The beauty of bringing in customers to our venue from all sides of Birmingham, and even London, is that other local businesses – the chip shop, the convenience store, local eateries and the taxis, get a completely new set of customers too.” Setting up the kitchen, with the help of her knowledge of Kbox brands meant that the venue could enter into the food delivery space during lockdowns and find a use for their kitchen space while the venue is closed (The Bohemian Cocktail Bar concentrates its opening hours on a Friday-Sunday schedule centred around music promoters). 
“Kbox is an absolute no brainer for a hospitality venue that has a kitchen that isn’t at full capacity. We traditionally think of bums on seats: we think of people coming in and purchasing our core business, but there’s revenue that sits within a three mile radius to your location.
 The most popular brands that The Bohemian Cocktail Bar uses are The Absurd Bird and The Absurd Vird (the vegan option), which Sophia says also work really well alongside sit down brunch offerings on Sundays. Currently, it makes up around 30-40% of their revenue. Quickly adapting to changing restrictions, Sophia recognised that she needed to build a package of events to boost trading on a Sunday and cater to the customers who perhaps didn’t want to finish the weekend quite so soon.  
 “We’re very lucky that Bohemian has a loyal set of party goers as a late night venue. Fridays and Saturdays just weren’t enough for us while we were working at a third of our capacity, so we started the Sunday Sessions which were events where you could go with a little bit of a hangover, but still dress up and party.
“Sundays actually became our strongest days because we were working with our promoters, DJ Dayday (recently featured on BBC 1Extra), DJ Mexy, Supper Club Sundays (our main support throughout lockdown), and our two resident DJs: DJ Gzee on a Friday night and DJ Surgery on a Saturday Night.“
 Working with promoters and DJs, Sophia has found, really helps bring in followers of the DJs themselves, but also means they have an affinity with the venue and want to push it to a new set of customers too (with many boasting upwards of 30,000 followers on social media and music platforms). Greene King have really helped pivot the venue in this way, as Sophia notes that the trends in drinks aren’t your usual draught beer or ale. Shots are their most popular order at the bar, yielding 73% at a time, but the venue also hosts a mixologist called Saller Yero who creates new cocktails to suit each event (often using favourite rum brands, Hennessey and Wray & Nephew). 

 “We have a really good agreement with Greene King, we were tied until about a week ago, but even before then, if we wanted something they didn’t stock, we were free to shop around.”
Inclusivity is important to Sophia, and recent feedback from customers shed a light on just how dear that is to the people who enjoy themselves at The Bohemian. 
 “We recently had some guys come in from a famous grime collective from London– a famous garage/grime group. They came up to me at the end of the night, held my hands and said ‘Thank you for your customer service, people like us don’t go anywhere and get treated the way you guys have treated us. People don’t want us in their venue because of how we look’.”
 With the majority of their customers hailing from Asian, Black or Mixed Race backgrounds, Sophia is keen to note that inclusivity runs beyond greetings and standard customer service as she and her team of 15 staff work hard to include every gender, race, sexual orientation and ability.
 “We have disabled and special needs customers, and so it was really important to make this a fun space for them too. Disabled toilets are usually quite clinical, so we’ve made ours swish to match the venue, adding nice flooring, mirrors, plants, toiletries.” With all staff, including security staff, being female (aside from Blake and Saller), the venue is also very focused on female safety. 
 “We’ve recently launched ‘Ask for Angela’ and we’ve been known to pay for taxis home. I’ve tied handbags and heels to peoples’ wrists, ordered Ubers for them, taken the taxi driver’s phone number for updates. We’re really careful with our customers.” A thriving venue that consistently operates to capacity, Sophia’s ideas for the future span creating a London-style rooftop bar and setting up a festival that sees The Bohemian Cocktail Bar collaborate with Moseley Private Park. 

Sophia’s top tips for recovery

  •  Customer service – “One thing I’ve learned recently is that everyone is at a different stage in their pandemic journey. Some are comfortable, some are uncomfortable, some are uncomfortable but want to be out. It’s all about understanding the new range of needs for each individual.”
  •  Collaboration – “Work with great entertainers locally, and support them in what they’re doing – even if it isn’t something they’re doing in your venue, support them inside and out your venue. Push their work and they’ll push their work with you.”
  •  Thinking outside the box – “Having Kbox in our venue was a great way to assess how to boost revenue. Think outside the box and make the effort to understand what’s happening in your local area!”
  •  Share best practice – “Approach people in our industry, pick their brains, ask them the questions on your mind – ‘How do you deal with this? Is this normal?’ – It’s my first venue, I wasn’t shy about contacting people for their advice.”

 Learn more about the “Ask for Angela” campaign, focusing on customer safety, here: 

Simon Barton, FBII

50 years in the industry and Simon Barton is still going. BII’s Jess Topping spoke to Simon about his progression in the industry from a Saturday job, all the way to owning 4 pubs with his son and business partner, Dan along with his new wife Suzie.

Starting off in the trade just before his 16th birthday working part-time in The Navigation Inn at Wootton Wawen, Simon began with simple jobs such as bottling up and pot washing, he progressed until he began working in the bar the age of 18. This is where his love for pubs really started to grow. Tenant Eric Wells mentored Simon, showing him the ropes and training him through all the different departments, drawing him into the trade. 

After working in the Navigation Inn, Simon joined Trophy Taverns, (the forerunner for what is now Beef Eater) where he continued to train in the industry, working as a relief manager initially before becoming the youngest manager in the business! 

In those days dinner jackets were worn and Managers were referred to by their last name by staff. Being close to the big cities included Birmingham meant they had to perform searches on customers upon entry due to the troubles. Being in this role is where Simon felt most comfortable. “My favourite role is the management, front of house. I can be talked into whites every now and then but not often.”

Simon worked many different roles for different companies gaining experience and progressing, including spending a period of time with Bass Charrington, where he was area manager. At the same time Toby Grills and Toby Carvery were launching, where he helped with a lot of the initial set ups, planning the layouts and training staff for the grand openings.

He also did a spell with Bernie Inns, the franchise that bought dining out to the masses, best known for their steak houses. Simon worked in the Leefe Robinson, in North London which could hold 180 covers, turning over 4 sittings an evening on the weekends. “Most Saturday nights guests were waiting in the bar for 1-2 hours to be seated. In one year under my management, we got the best year gross with £1million through the till. Bearing in mind this was 30ish years ago when you could pay £4 for a steak.” 

Berni Inns were very sure on how their business was going to work, “At one point they had the seats in the diner made so that after an hour to an hour and a half they would become uncomfortable so people would want to leave and they could get more sittings in that evening.” Simon remembers.

In 2000, Simon and his then wife decided they wanted to take their love for hospitality abroad, sailing to Goa. They used the boat to host tourists, providing the hospitality for day trips, with some overnight stays as well. They also worked closely with the local diving instructor by installing a compressor on their boat to support with the gas canisters. “It worked well, hosting the guests and feeding them whilst the dive school did the entertainment.” Simon spoke very highly of the people from Goa “They were very hospitable and friendly.” Sadly, Simon’s wife passed away, so he decided to return to the UK.

After returning from Goa, Simon went into the soft services business, working with companies like Sodexo providing catering and cleaning for large businesses such as British Aerospace in Farnborough. Although it was great to be working with new people and for a good company, Simon still had itchy feet and wanted to continue his travels.

He then ventured to Ghana, where he built a guest house and stayed for around 3 years, hosting locals and tourists in the house, providing food and hospitality for them. He also invested in a bar and night club whilst out there. 

Adding another notch to his career belt, Simon started working for himself, providing business advice for those people who had purchased hospitality venues like large hotels during the financial crash. Travelling all over the world including South Africa, Brazil, most of Europe and many other places, Simon worked closely with the investors, meeting some very interesting people along the way.

This then bought him back to the UK about 6 and a half years ago when he met up with his son from his first marriage, Daniel. Daniel was also based in hospitality, working this way up through big companies. When they spoke about the industry, they both knew they were fed up with working for other people and that both wanted to work for themselves.

From this, they set out looking for pubs that they could make their own and grow. After about a year of searching they came across The Royal Oak at New Ash Green. “It grabbed our attention straight away, it was run down, the garden was huge but unused and full of derelict sheds but the space was perfect.” They negotiated with Shepherd Neame, and acquired the pub in October 2016, celebrating 5 years next month. New Ash Greene is also where Simon met his current wife Suzie, who was a customer at The Royal Oak and now helps Simon run the business. 

About 18 months later they came across The White Horse at Sunbridge, owned by Star Pubs and Bars. They were attracted by its potential and absence of a similar individual gastropub in the immediate area. Once the agreement had gone through they did a huge renovation of £150,000 with the help from Star, including redecorating outside, including new signage, and the installation of lighting and seating for 100 drinkers and diners.

Wanting to continue to grow their business with more pubs, the pair were approached by Shepherd Neame about running The Chequers, situated on the edge of the St Claire’s Estate, which had 7 years left on the lease.  After redecorating and giving it their signature style, with a facelift provided by Shepherd Neame, Simon is now very pleased with how the pub is running, “It’s a lovely place with an acre of garden and carpark.”

Pub 4 in the collection is one of Greene King’s called The Laughing Fish. Originally known as the Station Hotel, the pub is situated in Isfield near a small railway that is no longer used. The previous tenants of 20 years, Andy and Linda, were leaving due to retirement. The father and son duo were lucky enough to work on the renovations with Andy and Linda, using their knowledge to help make the pub even better. 

Currently owning four pubs Simon gave hints that they have been looking at number five, a Greene King on the south coast…but that’s all the clues he was giving. There were talks that the pair’s plans were to have 10 pubs under their hat and when asked, Simon commented “When we started, 10 was our goal. I reckon I’ll be in the business for the next 5 years or so, so actually to go to 10 isn’t out of our reach and I would still like to achieve this.”

The pair have been very lucky working together, as they share very similar views. They both believed in one thing when starting up in the industry which was “we should never lose the feeling of a British pub.” Simon explained how even though he has travelled the world and been to many bars and pubs, “You can’t beat anything like the British pub and how it works.”

They both share roles but Dan is the real foody, taking control of the menus, researching new food items and being very hands on, maintaining control. Simon’s role at the moment is all about going out there to find new properties, training staff and designing the interiors of the pubs. He moves around the pubs, almost like a BDM role, which he has had many years’ experience in.

Alongside the pubs, they run Liquor Box and Pantry LTD. This is their own external catering company which they provide food for several different events in and around the villages and towns near to each pub including hog and hogget roasts. In pre-Covid times they were running 2 or 3 a month and would like to build back up to this.

Jess asked Simon how their main Pub Co Shepherd Neame had been throughout the pandemic and what support they had given. “They were absolutely amazing.” Removing all rent charges during the pandemic, they really supported the pair with anything they needed. 

Throughout Simon’s career, he has had the support of the BII, being a member for almost all of the 40 years the BII has been established. The membership is frequently to help them run their four sites, including covering all their Insurance from Trusted Partners PXL, “I have to take this opportunity to thank the entire team at PXL for the fantastic service they have provided over the past 5 years. Not only do they insure all of our properties and contents but have provided cover for our outdoor events covering Hog/Hogget roasts, BBQ and giant Paella.” Simon also said that since being abroad he always checks any HR queries with the BII Helpline as it is different in many countries.

The pubs are now all fully open and running without restrictions, albeit with a hold on events indoors to avoid crowds, but the locals have been supportive, sensible and careful in the different premises. The towns and areas around each pub have all played a part in helping reopen, all now performing at about 80% in comparison to pre-Covid with all showing growth each week.

With a huge history in the industry under his belt and a blooming business which continues to grow alongside his wife Suzie and business partner and son Dan, we wish them all well in their next adventure. 

Rob and Lucy Brewer, MBII - The Pier House Hotel, Charlestown

Located on the picturesque Georgian harbour of Charlestown in Cornwall, Rob and Lucy Brewer’s pubs, the Pier House, Harbourside and Rashleigh Arms are set to provide tourists some much needed escapism this summer. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Rob about setting up retreats and finding their flow again. 

Famed for its stunning views, well documented by BBC’s Poldark, Rob and Lucy Brewer’s fleet of venues sit in the World Heritage Site near to where Rob grew up in St Austell. Having won the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award with the Rashleigh Arms in 2015, they soon added the Pier House and adjoining Harbourside to their portfolio. With St Austell unveiling newly rennovated larger scale hotels, the Pier House is set to expand their retreat offering, while the Harbourside remains a more relaxed community space this summer. 

“Towards the end of 2017 we were running four pubs and St Austell decided to invest heavily in refurbishing the Pier House. It made sense to concentrate on that rather than spread ourselves too thin.”
Just 35 yards from the Rashleigh, Lucy now works at the Pier House part time, with Rob acting as manager. “We took what was a niche hotel, somewhat quirky and impractical, and completely redeveloped it to make the route flow better and expand the business.

“The idea was to rejoin parts of the hotel that had previously broken off into segments. What’s now the reception area used to be a prop bar with a queue of people waiting to get served. There was an outdated a la carte menu separated by the resident’s lounge, so we opened everything right up.” Making the space lighter and more open plan meant that all hotel rooms could be accessed through the landing space, with one essential bar looking onto the terrace-with-a-view through double doors. 

“It made the customer journey easier, they could move from inside to outdoors with ease, rather than walking around the building through a side door,” a move that serving staff reacted positively to as well.

The menu didn’t escape refurbishment either. “We used to run three menus from one kitchen, a Harbourside menu, bistro for families and the outdated a la carte. It meant the chef was submerged by all the prep and different dishes going out, so we binned it and now have one for the Pier and one for the Harbourside.”


With business growing from the renovation, Rob is honest about the impact Covid has had on the business. Tier 2 saw a drop in sales of 80% and Rob estimates a turnover has been lost of around £1 million. But, both Rob and St Austell are feeling positive about the Pier’s power to “climb the mountain out of Covid” with nimble feet. Making the most of Brits wanting to find some escapism closer to home, the Pier House has become a retreat venue within the pub company’s managed estate. In a move set to future proof the hotel so it is a less seasonal operation, Rob says it will encourage visitors to see it as a getaway that can offer a great experience 12 months of the year. 

“With a more extensive wine list and menu, the Pier House operates to an average spend per head of £18, with a 45:45:10 split on food, drink and accommodation, but this has shown a rise on 2019 for the few months we were allowed to open last year.” Having grown up in St Austell, Rob is aware of the ambient power of the sea, with wife Lucy attending weekly “Swim and Tonic” meetings with fellow BII Member and LOYA winner Tanya Williams (of the Polgooth Inn).

“A lot of the brewery managed sites have the best location in Cornwall, we’re working to enhance that. We’ve added more choice to the wine list, fine-tuned the menu and are in the process of changing all glassware, crockery and staff uniforms. It’s been a massive development for the whole company really!”


Putting a positive spin on things, Rob says that closing due to Covid was an opportunity that “you just don’t always get to do these things.” More than a “getaway” concept to increase footfall in November and February, the retreats will see a move away from the one way systems and timed sittings influenced by Covid restrictions, into a service that will encourage customers to linger.

“Our guests have always wanted an experience, and it’s more important now because people have saved the money, and banked a lot of time spent with little diversion, to come out.” That eagerness shows in their emails, as Rob said he worked through upwards of 800 as soon as the date for reopening was unveiled. Accommodating all for dining and staycations, Rob has been working closely with the private landowner of Charlestown Harbour to rent outdoor space and increase covers by 30 tables, extending capacity from 80 to 110.

Well placed in the inner harbour where visitors can buy fish and chips, visit the rum bar, coffee shop, or delight in a summer BBQ, Rob is glad to have the Pier represented in St Austell’s food and drink hub. With guests encouraged to linger, the Pier House’s clientele are sure to be lapping up every ounce of experience long after the last waves of Charlestown’s tourists have returned home.

Having won LOYA in 2015 with the Rashleigh Arms, Rob and Lucy Brewer went on to take on the Pier House a year later. With the award opening up for applicants in 2021, Rob notes that now is a better time as any to get involved!

“As a process, LOYA gets you to look at your business with a fine tooth comb, you’ll look at the points you want to sell to the judges, but it will also give you a chance to look at some weaker spots and think about how to make them better.

“It is the toughest award out there, but it’s recognition from the heart of our industry. You find a whole network of people to connect with, and the support from the BII means it’s worth doing for that alone.”

Entrants this year will receive information packs detailing feedback from judges at every stage of the competition, meaning it’s a real opportunity to assess your business for the better.
Learn more about our Licensee of the Year Award here!

Keith Marsden, CBII - The Prince of Wales, Moseley

Having been out of the business for three years due to illness, Keith Marsden is now back at the Prince of Wales in Birmingham, a pub he originally joined in 2007. BII’s Eleanor Kirby chatted about cultivating excellence, bringing Mexican delights to Moseley and winning LOYA in 2015. 

The tied leasehold with Greene King was the perfect spot for Keith after a corporate career managing an extreme sports centre helped him gravitate towards the more social aspects of its bar and music venue. Save for a short career break due to illness, he hasn’t looked back since. 
“I returned to the business in September 2019 after 18 months away, and I’ve worked hard to bring it back to what I believe are the CORE principles – Commitment, Ownership, Responsibility and Excellence.” Talking humbly about the pub’s Tiki Bar and Wine Shed, Keith is worried that the theatre of these points of difference will be lost among Covid restrictions. “The Tiki Bar and Shed are high quality experiences with staff available to explain the notes of each drink, but booking online and sitting at the table has taken away that social interaction. They’re designed to be clinical.”



Theatre and entertainment that comes with the Tiki and Wine Shed have been put on ice for a while, on the warming plate instead are Marsden’s new foodie ventures. Inspired by his travels to California and its Mexican influence (“CalMex” as it’s known) Leaf Lovers and Taconistas have been developed to power the Prince of Wales into the delivery market. “We originally wanted it to be on Deliveroo as a migration strategy, but now have agreements with Just Eat and Uber Eats too. Leaf Lovers is our vegan street food brand created in December and Taconistas is my magpie idea. I saw some “shiny things” in America and thought I’d bring that creativity back to the UK.”


With Keith finding commission rates high across the board on the delivery apps (between 30-40%), he notes the balancing act of raising prices as not being entirely sustainable. “We did our market research and found one operator charging £16 for a burger to be delivered. Sure, when you pick up your phone at 7:30pm on a Friday and you’ve had a wine, you probably don’t care what you pay, but it’s not going to create an affinity with that business.”

As a migration strategy though, Keith says it works well. “It’s all about who owns the customer, and the apps own them at the moment. Strong branding, using the help of our designer and my marketing experience, will make the two feel recognisable standing alone, without the barrier of the apps.” Working to a GP of 50%, spend per head is between £25-28 for both brands, but the goal is to get this over £30, to help rebuild after an 85% reduction in revenue over the past 18 months. 

Leaf Lover’s vegan menu is a personal choice for Keith, as well as following the savvy trend. “We’re not campaigners, but it’s a lifestyle change – to help community health, as well as the planet. But we don’t compromise on taste.” Appealing to vegans, meat-eaters and flexitarians alike, the Leaf Lovers Kitchen is making its way to its own venue, despite utilising a similar range of ingredients (bar the vegan components) as Taconistas. On offer will be mains such as “Tofish and Chips” (marinated tofu in wakame batter), “Chilli non Carne” and “Chick’n” burgers, with classic twists on sides such as “Pomegranate Molasses Slaw” with vegan mayonnaise. 


It’s a move that sees the business open up into a wider brand that encourages footfall between pub, café and virtually via online ordering. A BII member since 2009, the CORE principles are also down to Marsden’s Licensee of the Year Award entry and eventual win in 2015. “I’m interested in excellence, and what better recognition for that is there than LOYA?”

Kickstarting entrants into merging all areas of their business from finance to experience, staffing and online presence, Keith hails the journey as being a valuable management tool. “It helped us look at the business in a different light, and was a great process to help us improve our performance as well as reflect on it. We entered twice, the first time we got to the finalists stage, but I think we eventually won because the process forced us to aim higher.

“Running a pub is a tough and competitive business right now, LOYA is a true test but you’re encouraged to interact with your other finalists, their operations, and learn from their excellence.” Keith couldn’t have come back to the business at a busier time, but using his time away from the industry to gather inspiration and regroup was time well spent. Whether you’re a leaf lover, taconista, savour the flavour of wine, or are freaky for Tiki, Keith has woven excellence into everything. 


Inspired by Keith and our other Meet the Member interviewees? The BII’s Licensee of the Year Award competition launched on 1st June and there’s still time to get your entries in!

Head over to our Licensee of the Year Award page to fill out our nominations form and read more about the entry requirements. 

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