General manager Julie Bell thinks the Felin Fach Griffin’s knack of attracting accolades will help to grow business across the Eatdrinksleep company. Rosalind Mullen reports
Need to know
The Felin Fach Griffin is a Bib Gourmand dining pub with rooms near Hay-on-Wye in the rural Welsh village of Felin Fach. It was refurbished in a modern-rustic style and opened as part of the new Eatdrinksleep company in 2000 by Charles Inkin, who trained as a chef at Ballymaloe School and went on to work at the Michelin-starred Shanks in Belfast.
Eatdrinksleep has since added two Cornish inns, the Gurnards Head near St Ives, in April 2006, and the Old Coastguard in Mousehole, in June 2011. Charles runs the company with his brother, Edmund.
Along with the other inns, the Felin Fach Griffin is run on a long-term, free-of-tie lease with a private landlord. The business was started via shareholder loans and expansion has been funded out of cash-flow from the existing businesses.
Julie Bell, who worked with Charles at Shanks, joined as general manager of Felin Fach in 2006.
As a small pubs business, the ethos across Eatdrinksleep is to appeal to a broad spectrum. As Bell explains: “Guests who like us are those who appreciate good, honest food and drink; a hospitality culture that always says yes to our guests; quietly professional service; and a belief that simple is often best. We are happy to look after anyone – as soon as you start making exceptions, you are not really in the business of offering hospitality.”
Why it stands out
The village is a not-spot, as opposed to a Wi-Fi hot-spot. There are no TVs in the rooms, although there are Roberts radios. While the team embrace technology, they regard their USP as being an oasis of calm in an increasingly hectic world. “We promote relaxation with service that is unpretentious and friendly and food that is allowed to speak for itself. Our ethos is directed to the simple things in life done well,” Bell says.
Why customers choose it
It provides a slower pace of life than other modern pubs and hotels, with Vi-Spring beds, sustainably sourced local food and award-winning wine lists. Many guests are regulars or have visited one of the other two properties in Cornwall, so they are buying into the ethos of no TVs, Wi-Fi and so on. “We’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but those who choose us do understand what we’re about,” Bell says.
The team continually reassesses what it is doing and listens to the guests. Across the Eatdrinksleep business, they try to pre-empt the rest of the market. But they don’t change for the sake of change, and won’t follow the industry’s tendency for gimmicks.
The Felin Fach Griffin relies on the support of the local community and the focus is on becoming an ever-greater part of it. Locals provide the inn’s bread and butter and Bell is aware that to upset them would damage everything she has built up in recent years.
In September, the inn hosted a mini festival or “Hiraeth” one evening that used the best of local suppliers, music and food. Next year they plan to have a full-day event.
Best business advice
Bell advises not to sit back and expect business to come to you. “Listen to those around you, accept advice with grace,” she says. “Stand by what you believe in and don’t give up if you truly believe you have something worth doing. If you don’t love it, don’t do it.”
What Julie Bell couldn’t do without
“My right-hand woman, Laura Miles. Ask her about anything – from taking reservations, to the colour of paint on the walls or the inner workings of our septic tank and reed bed to answering the phones and from customer service to what wattage of bulb goes where. She has the answer. Invaluable.”
Spotlight on Awards
Felin Fach Griffin has stacked up an embarrassment of awards compared with most pubs, all of which help to market the company as a whole. This year alone, it has won two wine accolades: Pub Wine List of the Year from the Imbibe/Roederer Wine List of the Year awards, and Wine List of the Year for Wales at the AA Hospitality Awards.
The inn sources wines that can’t be bought in shops and offers 20 by the glass. As for winning the awards, Bell explains: “We never develop a wine list with awards in mind and we explain clearly in our [entry] letter what we are trying to achieve with our wine list.”
Other awards this year include a César from the 2013 Good Hotel Guide, a third Dining Pub of the Year listing from the Good Pub Guide and a Bib Gourmand from Michelin.
“We try to limit the self-congratulatory impact of awards: there’s no point patting ourselves too hard on our backs. We might choke,” Bell says.
While the business didn’t set out to win awards, Bell quietly acknowledges them as confirmation that they are doing things in the right way. More importantly, this helps to raise Eatdrinksleep’s profile and generate new business alongside the existing fruitful word of mouth and database marketing. Any new guests are then encouraged to try Felin Fach Griffin’s sister inns in Cornwall. This is particularly useful in attracting guests to the recently opened Old Coastguard, which is slowly being refurbished.
But is the work that goes into getting awards more trouble than they are worth? Not according to Bell, who reiterates: “It’s great for our team to see that what they are doing is appreciated. They also give confidence to our guests that they are taking good decisions by trusting us with their time and money.”
Facts and stats
Owners – Charles and Edmund Inkin, directors of Eatdrinksleep
General manager – Julie Bell
Head chef – Ross Bruce
Staff – 30
Number of rooms – 7
Average weekly occupancy – 80% (12 months)
Room rates – Standard dinner B&B rates start from £165 per night for a smaller double room or £115 for B&B only
Number of seats in restaurant – 45
Three-course set menu – £28.50