Skip to main content
Top of the Page

The BII thrives on the diversity of its 10,000 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.

Robert Shepherd, FBII - The Thistle Street Bar 

Traditionally Scottish, The Thistle Street Bar, located on the historic Thistle Street in Edinburgh, has become a tourist destination for travellers seeking a drink in an authentic Scottish bar. Licensee Robert Shepherd FBII reveals how every decision he makes fits with the bar’s ethos and contributes to the genuine, premium experience that has made it so popular, Peter Basket reports


Dating back to the late 1700s, when it was a cow shed of all things, the Thistle Street Bar site is steeped in history. So, when first taking the bar on, licensee Robert Shepherd FBII decided to focus on this amazing heritage and make it a celebration of the very best that Scotland has to offer.


“I decided to create a pub that reflected that historic element and delivered the best of Scotland without it being parochial or gimmicky. That was the idea,” he explains. Robert got into the bar trade in the 1980s, when he worked at different venues in a variety of roles, from bar manager of the Edinburgh Sheraton to the area secretary for the UK Bartenders Guild. As he started a family, he decided to leave the trade, only to return some years later when he was approached with the opportunity to take on the Thistle Street Bar.


Re-entering the trade, he noticed a shift in the way that many pubs were being run. “For me, there seemed to be more emphasis on getting drinks out there and less emphasis on the hospitality aspect itself, the kind of traditions that I grew up with, which was all about engaging with customers, trying to hold customers in the bar and to deliver an experience that was more than just to serve a drink.” For Robert, it was important to deliver on the expectations of the people visiting the area. Recognising that the bar was located on an upmarket street in one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations, he ensured that was reflected in the bar’s offer. “We have a wide range of whiskies, as you would imagine, and we try to have as many good quality Scottish local products on the bar, as we can.” The concept of maintaining the traditional Scottish look and feel runs deep through the Thistle Street Bar, with every element from the décor to the music being carefully curated to fit the bill.


Robert gave an insight into the process behind choosing the products he stocks: “What we tend to do is we look at it and see if we can have a product that is Scottish or has a Scottish connection. That’s the first thing. Next thing we ask, is it good enough? Is that a good enough product for us to actually sell?” Giving some examples of this in practice, he mentions their house gins, which are a locally made Edinburgh Gin and an Isle of Harris gin, which is distilled from scratch and contains locally sourced kelp that is gathered by divers daily. Even their house Champagne, Lagarde Écossaise, is named after the 6,000 Scots Guards who fought alongside the French in the 14th century.


Having a local connection is a high priority, but quality remains the crucial factor when deciding what to sell over the bar. Vodka is one such example of this. “There are Scottish vodkas out there, but we would rather not sell one, as we feel that it is not as good as some of the classics. So we’ve chosen Absolut.”


He adds that they don’t sell shots, as it wouldn’t fit with the style of the place, and instead he offers guests a measure of whisky, as the idea is to be able to sit and enjoy a quality drink in good company, rather than get drunk as quickly as possible.
Having a tenancy with Greene King and weekly rent to pay, Robert looks at products other than beer to deliver the best profit. “To increase our margins and make it profitable for us, we major on our whiskies and our gins,” he explains. “For example, our mid-range malt whiskies from Speyside carry a higher margin. We’ll go for around about an 80% margin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re expensive to the customer.”


How does Robert find the unique products to fill his shelves? Apart from attending tastings of new beers, wines and spirits (a difficult, but necessary part of the job, he laughs), he says regular communication with his suppliers is key.
“We keep a dialogue going with them, as we like to find out what’s new. We can usually tell immediately if it’s for us or not, and our suppliers know that they can’t sell us something that doesn’t fit with the bar’s ethos,” says Robert. “I think that’s why the Thistle Street Bar has been successful – it’s because it stuck to the formula.”


Part of the experience is finding a drink that suits the customer’s personal tastes. Bartenders working under Robert will have a talk with the customers, in order to find out what kind of taste/palette they have, and will then recommend a drink to suit them. By always starting with the lower priced ones, Robert finds that customers will tend to be curious and want to try the more expensive options after. Though there’s never any pressure to spend more – it is the experience that takes priority.
In order to provide such an experience, the bar stocks a variety of spirits at all price points. This is where having a good supplier becomes key, as consistency is important – if a product sells well, Robert doesn’t want to hear that he can’t buy it again. “Morton is one of our spirit suppliers, but we’ve also hooked into Royal Mile Whiskies, which is right in the heart of the old town. These guys can source whiskies and products that we would never get elsewhere. Customers are looking for things that they don’t recognise and for whiskies that they won’t be able to buy in the States, for example.” 


It’s not all about the bar, either – the street is filled with top-notch restaurants, including local seafood, and one of the best Thai restaurants in Edinburgh. As such, Robert makes an effort to recommend nearby dining locations to hungry travellers, and offers them an appropriate aperitif – which could be anything from a light lowland whisky to a glass of Prosecco. Customers will often return after their meal to thank Robert for the recommendation, and stay to enjoy another drink or two.


Again, it’s about the overall customer experience – whether that’s inside the bar or elsewhere. Robert reiterates: “if you give them an experience to remember, they’re more likely to return – or at least recommend you to others.”


Live music has also become a staple of the Thistle Street Bar experience. Most days of the week you will be greeted by mellow tunes that have been chosen to resonate with their target demographic (generally people 40 and over). Besides adding to the authentic feel of the place, the live music often attracts passers-by who may be looking to stop for refreshments on their travels.


Having a couple of talented and reliable musicians regularly scheduled in the bar means that the organisation, on Robert’s part, is minimal. Musicians will likely know other local musicians as well, and are usually more than happy to find extra talent for special events or as cover.


While the bar does have televisions, they are reserved for showcasing current promotions, or for big sporting events, such as the Six Nations. “Our bar is built on the ethos that bars are about people interacting. It’s not just about selling alcohol, it’s about creating that whole interactive atmosphere and one of the elements of that is live music.”


If there is something to take away from the success of the Thistle Street Bar, it is this: be authentic, bring the focus back to hospitality and, above all, create an experience to remember.

Jimmy Adams & Ludo Bathgate MBII - The Lucky Saint

As well as being a great tasting alcohol-free beer, Lucky Saint is now the proud operator of a London pub. The BII’s Head of Communications Molly Davis CBII speaks to the Head of On Trade London, quality & pub Jimmy Adams and licensee Ludo Bathgate MBII to find out more.


The Lucky Saint sits in the perfect London location. Just on the edge of Regent’s Park in Marylebone, it occupies a traditional corner plot, and is one of those gems that makes you feel at home as soon as you walk in the door. Just last year, however, the pub was a dilapidated shell, having stood empty since before the pandemic, in its former guise as the infamous Masons Arms.


The team from alcohol-free beer brand, Lucky Saint, have never shied away from a challenge, and taking on the huge task of bringing this much loved pub back to its former glory was no exception. After months of hard work and a steep learning curve for a business that had never run a pub before, let alone taken on a major building project, The Lucky Saint opened its doors for the first time in March 2023.


The ethos of Lucky Saint as a brand is about so much more than just beer without a hangover, and licensee Ludo Bathgate MBII, and Head of On Trade London, Quality & Pub, Jimmy Adams, have strived to make their pub something extra special. Everyone who is part of the company lives and breathes their values, now from their new permanent offices above the pub itself, following rapid team expansion that necessitated 10 office moves in four years.


From the get-go, the Lucky Saint team were determined to create a pub that became the heart of its community once again, a safe and inclusive place that local people could call their own – a pub for modern times.


Jimmy commented: “When the Masons Arms shut its doors in 2020, it was a community institution, and the closure had a hugely detrimental effect on the residents in the local area. We want to be open as much as possible to give people a space to come, meet, hang out with their families and friends.”


As the project got underway, local residents were curious about the refurb of their beloved pub, and the Marylebone Residents Association met with Jimmy on several occasions. Their support and desire for the pub to be open again, and be successful, was a great boost during the inevitable challenges the transformation of a historic venue brought.


Making the Lucky Saint an accessible and friendly space for residents, local office workers and hospital staff was a priority for all involved, and even in the first few months of trading, it is clear that this approach is bearing fruit. BBC Radio One DJ, Greg James, who was an avid fan of the Masons Arms before its closure, has also been delighted to see the site come back to life again as a local pub close to the BBC studios.


As well as welcoming customers from the local community and businesses, the refurbishment was designed to offer flexible meeting space, enabling not only the Lucky Saint team to work from the pub, but also providing a haven for remote and hybrid workers to hot desk in style.


The business isn’t just about the building, beautiful as it is, with reclaimed windows from the original venue keeping some of the nostalgic London pub charm alive. The best pubs are all about their people. At the helm, licensee and General Manager, Ludo spoke about his approach to getting the best team in place.


“I’ve been in bars since I was 19 – back home (in Australia) I went from a glass collector right through to a supervisor role. Moving over here, I went straight into management with Bar Works.


“Hospitality is seen as much more of a career in Australia, as it is in Europe. Trying to get young people here involved and seeing it as a career option and not just a stop gap job is a real challenge, but it’s important for our sector to break that mould.”


Despite having a lot of university students working part-time whilst getting their degrees, the onboarding process is the same for anyone joining the team, a process that goes much deeper than just how to pull a pint or clear a table. Jimmy and Ludo want anyone working with them to feel part of the Lucky Saint brand as a whole and everyone is given the opportunity to learn about all channels in the business.


Ludo believes the key to engaged staff who will stay and grow with you is real mix of factors, from transparency about how the business runs, to better pay and an easier work week, enabling staff to have a great work/life balance. Employing more people, doing less hours and giving flexibility around shifts, adds another challenge for a brand-new business, but with the support of the local community and the opportunity to be part of an exciting, fast-growing brand, they are off to a flying start.


The diverse range of drinks available for guests obviously features fantastic low and no alcohol brands, including spirits from Pentire and Everleaf, but there is something for everyone, with the ethos centred around quality and inclusivity as a priority. As a relatively new pub, they have the ability to experiment with the range, but sourcing partners based on aligned values and sustainability is of vital importance to the team.


BII Support


Although Ludo has a wealth of experience in the industry, becoming a BII member has given him and the team access to the support and key information that they will need on their journey.


Jimmy also credits the collaboration across every part of the industry as a major part of the future direction for the Lucky Saint. “We have been on such a steep learning curve from the beginning of this project, and so many people have helped us along the way. We are looking forward to using the collective insight of BII members to shape what we do next.”


It is clear that the Lucky Saint is leading the charge in the next generation of pubs, matching the needs of the community, local businesses and its team to perfection. We can’t wait for what’s next for this incredible pub and the wider Lucky Saint brand.


What would you do differently, knowing what you do now?
“Take advice and input from a wide range of sources, but also take the time to figure out what will work for you.”


“Make sure you get the design right before you start any building or refurbishment. We could have saved ourselves time and money doing it right the first time.”

“We should have hired Ludo earlier in the process – he had the practical experience we needed to inform the way we designed key areas, such as the bar.”

Terry Lee, FBII - Leo's Red Lion

Terry Lee FBII is one of our longest standing members, having run Leo’s Red Lion, his pub in Gravesend, for as long as the BII has been around. With over 40 years in the trade, Terry has some truly incredible stories and lessons to share from his time at Leo’s.

The BII’s Peter Baskett MBII reports.

Leo’s Red Lion is not your typical pub – how many pubs do you know that have hosted the likes of Iron Maiden, Samson and Steve Marriott? Terry Lee FBII considers Leo’s to be more of a small venue than a pub, as they regularly feature British rock artists in their popular weekend music events.

Coming from a background in music as a DJ and promoter, he recalls how he originally took on the lease for the pub, which was conveniently adjoined to an old factory. He eventually 
got the freehold and transformed the venue into a staple for local rock fans.

“The lease on the factory next door expired and that’s when they approached me to ask if I would be interested in the pub.

“I had to take a lease out, and then I eventually got the freehold. To be 
perfectly honest, if I hadn’t had bought the freehold, I’ve got no doubt that the place would have been shut along with the other 10 pubs along this road.”

Terry explains how being resourceful has been key to his pub’s longevity. For example, when he first came into possession of the factory, rather than throw out the old workbenches, he decided to repurpose them.

“It had about 10 of these, what I call Victorian weld benches, which are bloomin’ solid, you 
know, four-inch legs on them – you could put a car on them. I removed all of these benches and, like Tetris, put them up one end and then covered them with inch ply. And I looked 
at them and thought, I know what to do – and to this day, that is the stage.”

Pubs are not only about food and drink; they’re also about community and entertainment, which is what Leo’s excels at. Talking about the recent shift in how people engage with pubs, Terry explains how he converted a quiet bar of his into a local boxing club, to make use of the space and to give back to the community.

 “My other half asked me when was the last time I had used that bar? It is the size of most pubs and I wasn’t using it because not enough people came here. So, when I saw that the children didn’t have a club anymore, I let them use it.”

Giving back to the community in this way builds loyalty among the locals, which is paid back to Terry when he hosts social functions.
“When we hold family functions, like our firework display in November, we’ve got 200 children, mums and dads out the front, half of whom come from the boxing club. It’s second to none, literally, there is not a fireworks display that matches it.”

Adapting your business to the current climate requires creative use of the resources available to you. Leo’s is fortunate enough to benefit from a large space, which they put to good use. When the pandemic rolled around and the venue had to shut, Terry was already thinking ahead: “I said to my missus, I’ve got a plan. I think the first thing we’re going to be able to do again is use outdoor facilities.”

Having an old and disused stage outside, he got to work on having it cleaned and repainted, posting updates to the pub’s Facebook page along the way to keep customers in the loop. When pubs were granted permission for a limited number of customers outside, as Terry had predicted, Leo’s was ready.

“During the pandemic, we were the only music venue in Kent that was able to put bands on.” These were big bands, used to performing into front of 1,000s but who, due to the pandemic, hadn’t been able to play.

“They were quite happy to come here and perform on this small, outdoor stage in front of 70-80 people, just to be able to play, because there was no other option. As a result, we’ve built up a very good reputation for music. In fact, we’re rated as one of the best privately owned music venues in England, let alone in Kent. So we are quite lucky.”

Try new things
When asked what advice Terry has for other pub operators, he replies that people shouldn’t be afraid to follow their ideas, take risks and try new things, while also learning from your experiences to understand better what works and what doesn’t. 

Know your costs
Having a thorough understanding of your business’ finances is crucial to maintaining 
a successful pub, as is the case with Terry and Leo’s Red Lion.

He referenced a recent example, where he was charged £5 extra for a crate of toilet rolls. Questioning the new £17 price tag, he was told the price of everything was going up. “They might be, but it means I will never be buying a toilet roll from you ever again. Because I can get them from Bookers for £12.”

Terry’s takeaway? Don’t forget there’s no return on the money you spend on toilet rolls.

He has also tackled the recent increase in energy prices, which have created a number of new challenges for publicans. Event venues, like Leo’s, have had to make big changes to their stage equipment to remain viable. Terry has swapped the power draining spotlights, which were 500 watts each and wired into a 60-amp supply, for LED spots on a 13-amp supply. 

As one of our most loyal members, we asked Terry how the BII has helped him over his 30 years of membership, to which he replied that his BII Fellowship had saved his pub in 2005.
He explains how, when the Local Authority didn’t want a live music venue, they put pressure on him to sell. 

“But I said no. ‘It’s far too important as a live music venue for you to shut’, these were my exact words to them.”

After refusing their offer to buy the pub, his operation was regularly visited by the police, which he believes was in an attempt to catch him out. Then he was told his licence, which he’d had since 1985, was to be reduced.

Speaking to the licensing officer of the time, Terry was told the change was due to misdemeanours, which he said was ironic, when he had just been awarded a Fellowship by the BII. 

Not one to give up, Terry contacted his local newspaper, the Kent Messenger, to tell his story. And when the news broke about the Gravesend pub of over 20 years, owned by a Fellow of the BII, being pressurised to close, Terry says the problems went away, which he puts down to his being awarded the fellowship at the time.

We’re delighted, of course, that Leo’s Red Lion is still here and hosting live music, as Terry’s approach is a great example of how being adaptable, taking risks, focusing on your community, and understanding your financials can bring long-term success

Back to Top