Stephen Harris from the Sportsman at Seasalter in Kent is one of this country’s most admired chefs, so we were thrilled that he paid such generous tribute to us in his acceptance speech when he took the top spot in the Morning Advertiser/Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropub Awards earlier this year (we came second, by the way!).
When we took on the Pipe and Glass in the early spring of 2006, we were both relatively young – only 30 and 27. We’d both trained and worked in the restaurant industry since leaving school, but neither of us had run our own business – and nothing can prepare you for that rollercoaster ride.
A former coaching inn dating back to the 17th century, the Pipe and Glass had been at one stage a popular local pub, but had become run down as the years passed – when we took it on, it was, to say the least, shabby and the ‘fully equipped kitchen’ described in the estate agent’s ad turned out to be nothing more than a bank of microwaves, some ovens which James deemed to be ‘dodgy’, and a big deep fat fryer.
We had just £25,000 to spend on the place. It seemed an impossible task. And yet, with the help and, perhaps more importantly, the belief of our family and friends we opened two weeks later, as planned, in mid March 2006.
Since then there have been ups and downs that we just couldn’t have anticipated.
Who knew, for instance, how hard it would be to find reliable suppliers of quality produce willing to deliver to a relatively remote area of East Yorkshire? And yet slowly, we found them – and more than one literally within walking distance of the kitchen door.
And we’d love to think that our success has perhaps had a knock-on effect for others in the area, helping local producers to run sustainable businesses, giving others in our business access to their great produce, and bringing media attention to the area.
On the other hand, if you’d told us on that chilly March day in 2006 when we first opened our doors that just four years later we’d have a Michelin star shining over us, and that it would carry on shining there to this day – well, you really would have been able to knock us down with a feather!
We still believe that a major part of our success has been always sticking to our original guns – that we are first and foremost a pub, where locals can drop in for a pint and a sandwich – whilst simultaneously undertaking an ongoing programme of upkeep and innovation to keep the place fresh and interesting.
This has included a state-of-the-art kitchen, five luxurious bedrooms in the revamped gardens, a private dining suite with demo kitchen and chefs’ library upstairs, and ongoing refurbishment to the interior.
Our garden suites have been a particularly pleasing success – we opened our first two in 2009, and before long they were in such demand that we had to start planning more: three further suites opened last year. You can read more about them elsewhere in this issue of The Pantry.
And, of course, not only has our business grown, but so has our family – there are now four of us: Toby came along in 2009 and Molly was born in 2011.