Rumit and Tosh Lakhani were sold on The White Horse Inn, which is located between Gloucester and Bristol, from the moment they first saw it. They did have some reservations, not least because it was 22-miles from their home to the bar, but the magnificent scenery won them over.
“It’s a spectacular view and such a luxury to sit here and do the paperwork first thing in the morning. It’s the best office you could have really”, says Rumit.
A destination pub, the family men knew they had to be pro-active with ideas to drive business. “Regular customers said ‘you must make the most of the summer’. Before we arrived, the Winter months would be dead in the evening, we were even warned by Butcombe”.
Visiting in Autumn on a weekday lunchtime, their success is clear as customers fill each table setting. “We wanted to create a venue that wasn’t an Indian restaurant, or an Italian restaurant, nor a pub - we wanted to create all of those things. So, we came up with the idea that we had to have something unusual to pull people out here, and that’s why curries came into it”.
Tosh explains that, “Every customer has to be respected, they come into the pub as a customer and they leave as friends”. The door is held open as you walk in and Tosh has a reputation for going the extra mile.
“Seeing a regular walk in, I got his beer ready and cracked one of his favourite glasses. You can’t buy them new anywhere so I said to him ‘while you are here I’ll go online to see if I can get you some more’. It was £20, but it made his day”.
This goodwill extends to their staff too.
Chef, Sam, who had been employed by the previous tenants, was given a free hand to encourage him to experiment and become more passionate about the food that he was serving.
Tosh knew that mediocrity was born from poor equipment. “If half the equipment in the kitchen is not working, a good chef cannot produce anything. Our staff see that we put our hands in our pockets when we need to”.
“Our percentages stay where we want them to because we go to different suppliers. The produce we bring in is fresh, which then motivates Sam because he has the best ingredients to work from”
Working together wasn’t difficult for Rumit and Tosh when outlining their roles in the business.
“We complement each other well. Dad oversees the buying and the finance, while I manage the front of house. We work off each other’s energy”.
After bringing the well-known beer “Kingfisher” over from India, Tosh worked with Shaw Wallace, a brewery based in Kolkata, to develop another lager, “Bangla”,using skills stemming from an early interest in flavours, inherited from his mother.
“I used to stand next to her and say ‘how did you do that?’, noting down the order she toasted cumin first, then mustard seeds”.
When the family opened one of the first vegetarian Indian restaurants in the country, on Gloucester Road in Bristol, Tosh remembers, “We were so ahead of the times, people would ask for a chicken tikka and wonder where the table cloths were!”
Even as a child, Rumit took a huge interest in business. Tosh remembers how he would come home from school bursting with ideas. “‘Dad, you’ve got your wine glasses wrong’, he explained that he’d passed three restaurants on his way home and seen that all their glassware was placed on the tables upside down!”
Tosh adds: “I thought it was so heroic for him to take an interest in what we were doing, even when he was small.”
This hunger to create fresh and new ideas is ever-present with Rumit and Tosh, who admitted: “We eat and drink The White Horse. If we’re with friends, we don’t forget about the pub, we might talk about sports, or religion, or Brexit. But the eyes and ears are always open”.
Opportunities can’t afford to be missed, they explained. “As soon as we bought the pub we went to other establishments to see what they were offering. There was a place that had a carvery on one side and a pizza oven on the other, so I said to Rumit ‘we must have this’,” said Tosh.
In true Lakhani style, pizza has made its way onto the menus, but only after opting for the very best in wood burning ovens, employing a pizza chef who used to work for Harrods, and buying only the most luxurious tinned tomatoes for the bases.
“We need these tools because we want to give customers the best of what they want,” said Rumit.
The pair are driven and their vision extends to helping other Butcombe tenants, whom they mentor. “You have to have a passion for this, the other side of the bar is very different. When you’re drinking as a customer it’s a rosy idea, ‘I wish I had my own pub’”.
Tosh concludes with the golden rule: “You have to give people a reason to keep coming back”.
How does technology help in your business?
Technology helps dramatically, our CCTV, tills and even our draught lines are cloud based systems. It means we can monitor everything in real time from any remote device. Using Vianet means we can see on our laptops whether taps are clean, and that’s important to our customers, they know that the beer quality is maintained.
How do you inspire a community feel at The White Horse Inn?
We have a knitting club on Mondays, it was started by one of our regular customers, she used to come in by herself and would sit, have a coffee and knit! One said we said we’d noticed other ladies knitting and inspired her to organise a time during the week where everyone could join together. Groups like this are most welcome.