Running a traditional 1950s style pub in a high-end North London suburb, with the surprising addition of a Thai restaurant attached, would be an interesting challenge for any first time publican.
Let alone a 26 year old woman in their first autonomous manager role.
We caught up with new BII member Jessica Thurley at her pub The John Baird in Muswell Hill, to discuss how she found her calling in the industry.
BII: How did you feel about taking on such a unique venue? Did you know much about the place?
When I first heard about it to be honest I was really nervous as we’re such a funny mixture… we’re on the premium end of a pub, we’re decorated kind of 50s hipster, but we show the sports, and we’re in Muswell Hill, and we have a Thai restaurant! I was like ‘how does this work?’ But actually when you’re here, it does work really well.
It ends up being really nice, because [customers] come get their drinks, pick up a couple of menus, go sit down, and then they get table service Thai food, while they’re just in the pub! And I think because the Thai has such a good name for itself, the food does really well.
And the other way round, you get people that come in just to have dinner and then end up staying for drinks and end up getting sucked into the pub.
BII: What’s been the biggest challenge or unexpected part of being a publican?
This is the first time I haven’t worked for a corporation... I’ve worked in like coffee shops and things, for massive chains… Everything is told how you’re going to do it. Because there’s no rules telling you how to do anything [as a publican here], you end up doing everything and taking on a lot on yourself that you probably shouldn’t do. Or you spend time worrying about things that you shouldn’t be worrying about.
Now I’ve been here six months things are now set to my rhythm and now they’re going like clockwork, but I can’t remove myself from it because there’s no shift pattern for me…
That’s what I found hardest. Being the assistant manager [at a pub previously], you could clock off - but being a manager you just don’t, you can’t. Especially when you live in! So even if I’m off, I can hear the crowd downstairs and I’m like ‘oohh I’ll go down a bit earlier.
BII: What was it that attracted you to working in pubs?
I guess what actually kept me with pubs…Was the like family nature of it.
When I was 18 and I first went into pub work, I worked in a small pub, and the same two people are running it and the same bar staff still come in to have a drink - and you don’t get that in other industries. When you’re working somewhere small like that, where everyone knows your name… you at least know there’s going to be a couple of regulars that know you, and it’s so nice.
BII: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I think the thing that’s really nice is when you come into a pub that was perhaps trailing in its clientele a little bit, and you get everybody coming back in. You are kind of like this weird minor celebrity, in that people want to find out who you are coz you’re ‘the gov.
I think that there’s an element of being a girl that catches people off guard and then they’re interested in to why when you’re in your 20s are you doing this and they expect you to be a boy or 40 plus.
It’s when you get somebody who’s like ‘oh I used to come to this pub all the time, and I didn’t really like it that much so we stopped coming, we found somewhere else to drink - and then when they come back, you feel like you’ve won! You’ve won that little fight.
BII: What attracted you to becoming a member of the BII?
Well there’s only two active pubs in this little group that we’re in, so while we have someone above us, actually the two of us who are running the pubs are kind of autonomous and we have to do a lot of it on our own. And the big boss, he does know quite a lot but it’s just really nice having that cover… I was the assistant manager in [a] pub before, and the landlord there, he basically used it for everything. It seemed like everything was just ran through or just checked by the BII. So it just felt like that’s something I needed to have too.
BII: Do you have any advice for someone going into pub management?
…People want to be able to chat to you and that’s what makes a pub a pub. I think I guess my advice is like you should do it because you have a passion for the industry.
I started teaching myself how beer is brewed, and like all the little nuances of things and tried to teach myself everything because I loved this environment so much you want to carry it well.
So you do kind of just have to live and breathe it a little bit. Like if people enjoy it and think they wanna do it I think you do just kind of have to dive in with both hands… ask the cellar men what’s going on and how do they do every little thing and then without even realising you know how to – you can run a pub. I just got dumped in here like all of a sudden I was running a pub, but because you’ve taken all the time before to know everything, you can actually, you can do all of it yourself. You don’t need that guy in his 50s who says he’s running the pub to do it because you’ve taken the time to learn every aspect.