Nestled in the tiny hamlet of Friday Street, near Dorking in the heart of Surrey's beautiful countryside, is the traditional family-run pub, Stephan Langton. Steeped in history, the pub is named after the reforming 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury who was a signatory to the Magna Carta, a copy of which is pinned on the wall beside the bar.
Husband-and-wife duo Chris and Rosie Robinson took over the Stephan Langton in 2006, and the business is run as the limited company Tofly Limited. A favourite with locals, walkers and cyclists, the Stephan Langton provides a menu of simple, unpretentious home-cooked food created by head chef Simon Adams, such as corned beef hash and home-made pork pie.
Decor is traditional, in shades of green and brown with a retro twist, replacing the flamboyant colour scheme selected by the former owners. Attractive patterned wallpaper designed by Orla Kiely adorns occasional walls in the dining room and toilet, while framed black-and-white photographs of local people add a personal touch to the otherwise plain, earthy walls. There's also a large courtyard, with six round wooden tables and chairs.
The Robinsons are warm and friendly, welcoming guests into what is essentially their home - they live in the upstairs rooms with their two children. After a quiet December, they are enjoying a busy start to 2009, with bustling weekends bringing in more than 50% of sales.
Company turnover reached £365,000 up to December 2008 but, like many small businesses, over the coming year the Robinsons hope to tackle the issues of diminishing wet sales, rising costs, changing legislation and the long-term effect of the economic slowdown.
"This is our first business venture, and we need to work hard to stay ahead of the competition," says Chris, adding: "Average spend is down, wine sales are lower, the midweek is quieter, and corporate business has died down a bit." In order to tackle these issues, Chris says he wants to "understand the value of formalising the Sunday lunch period" and "explore training staff in formal service".
With a strong demographic of affluent customers and businesses in the surrounding area, Chris is not concerned about his client base but would like to "get more out of it, and either develop the corporate business or look at alternative opportunities". Rosie would like to investigate hosting more events, such as a cinema night or commuter dinners, but expresses caution over health and safety restrictions. She'd also like to landscape their land behind the pub and let the rooms they currently live in, but describes these aspirations as "a pipe dream".
Unsurprisingly, the recent snow had a negative effect on business at the Stephan Langton because of its remote, hilly location. "We were very quiet when it snowed, but business picked up considerably by the Sunday," says Chris Robinson. Tables were also fully booked for Valentine's night and Friday 13 February, when the Stephan Langton also offered the Valentine special. Demand from local lovebirds was so high that Rosie and Chris took extra bookings for tables in the adjoining bar area on both nights. To top it all off, the Robinsons are also screening the Six Nations rugby games, and the Wales v England match was screened in the bar to a crowd of 20-odd locals.