After better than expected turnover in the first part of the year, Edwin and Trudy Cheeseman are looking to increase capacity at the Carrington Arms by adding a conservatory at the back of the building
Edwin and Trudy Cheeseman are pretty fed up. The BSE crisis has been a bad end to what was, until then, a successful first year.
Almost a year to the day after opening, the Carrington Arms was regularly turning over £10,000 per week - way above the target of £6,500 per week proposed in the first six months. Then, on Wednesday 20 March, health secretary Stephen Dorrell made the statement that threw the meat industry into chaos. Before that, it had been a normal week at the Carrington Arms, which looked to be ending its first full year on a high.
The rest of that fateful week the pub remained busy - until Sunday. Although not usually a very busy day, the couple were not prepared for the public's response - just two people came for lunch and that was it for the day.
The following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were also quiet. "Not just quiet, it was absolutely dead. Crypt quiet," says Edwin. Trade has since picked up, but it is way off what it was before. "A few people, particularly regulars, came out to give us a bit of support and others who came out were eating beef. We didn't change the menu - there's no need - we have a wide range of options of fish and other meats. But we are known for our steaks.
"It seemed that people were deciding to not only stop eating beef, but eating out altogether. Other restaurants we know in the area are experienced the same thing."
Edwin believes the British public is so ignorant about food, how it is produced and what is good and bad, that they are willing to swallow anything. "All along we have said a big part of our job is educating our customers about what is good food, why it costs that much and why we don't muck about with it."
The Carrington Arms has, since its opening, displayed a small sign saying that all its steak comes from naturally reared stock from William Donaldson Farms in Perthshire. Edwin makes a great effort to find out exactly where all his produce comes from and ensures that his staff rigorously check the orders before they are accepted.
"Now every local pub has a blackboard or photocopied letter saying their beef comes from BSE-free herds. How the hell do they know? Because someone told them?" questions Edwin.
A question of quality
Because Edwin has never served anything other then the highest quality, he reckons the business is going to be affected twice. First from the loss of trade and second because increased demand for the high-quality beef he uses will push prices up. "The price of other beef may have fallen through the floor - ours hasn't.
"I have read everything I can get my hands on about BSE, including the entire spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee report, and I am convinced things have been said for political point-scoring and publicity. A lot of people work extremely hard to produce the highest-quality ingredients and food, and they are being tarred with the same brush.
"The public simply doesn't understand the difference between good and bad food. The ignorance is frightening - what we need are some proper, informative actions, not hype," says Edwin.
Not surprisingly, Edwin and Trudy have lost enthusiasm for pre-BSE crisis plans to build a conservatory extension. The need for extra space was getting urgent, but now that the level of trade is back to "full" rather than "over-crowded" the building work may be delayed. The couple are still pressing ahead with obtaining relevant planning permission and finding out how to comply with building laws.
But even this is not without its troubles. The idea is to erect the conservatory at the back of the building, with access through an existing door and a view into the conservatory through the bar window. But listed-building regulations are conflicting with building regulations.
To comply with the latter, the Cheesemans are unable to use the existing door as access to the conservatory (a fire exit) without building a corridor to the outside between the pub and conservatory. They do not want to do that.
Building a new fire door, however, conflicts with listed-building consent. Edwin is convinced it will be sorted out, but it's hassle he doesn't need at the moment.
On top of that, planning permission is needed for some new exterior lighting. This lighting is particularly important for the car-park, which has been re-laid and landscaped. The previous sandy patch has been levelled, compacted and doubled in size. The first part is covered in stone and that leads to a further car park on a higher level, which is finished with compacted Tarmac chippings. "The bonus is that people tend to park neatly in the first car park and when that is full they notice the other one further up. It works very well," says Edwin.
Inside the pub there's been an addition to the menu. The Carrington Arms now sells caviar from the renowned supplier, Caviar House. The company has given the Cheesemans a good deal, which allows them to sell it at the same price as some retailers: £36 for 50g of Iranian sevruga, £48 for oscietra and £101 for beluga - they also do take-aways in special boxes at the same price.
"Putting it on the menu is a bit like the oysters were at first. We are making it available and then creating a market for it. Obviously it's popular with the Japanese customers, but other people are buying it for a treat and at £36 it makes a good starter for four," says Edwin. The caviar is served with grated egg yolk, grated egg white, finely chopped shallots, sour cream and warm blinis. It is served with a plastic spoon because metal oxidises the caviar.
This month there is also a new wine list. The couple have removed the wines that were not selling - higher-priced New World wines and Chablis premier cru - and added more of what they see the customers drinking. Sales of white Burgundy and heavy, plummy reds are good sellers at the Carrington Arms. "We sell a lot of the house wine because we like it, and it is very good value. We always sell more of what we like ourselves," says Edwin.
The figures in the Factfile cannot be updated this month because the books are with the accountant. Trudy estimates the turnover fell from £10,000 per week (inc VAT) before the BSE crisis, to rebuild itself to about £8,000 per week (inc VAT) now. The full first year's figures will be reviewed in next month's final visit to the Carrington Arms.
Final visit to the Carrington Arms: 23 May
Published by: The Caterer