Amanda Baker and Chris Lillitou invested in a failing village pub and turned it into a family friendly operation that has widened its appeal through guidebooks and Twitter. Katherine Alano reports
Background Running a pub was not on the agenda of husband and wife team Amanda Baker and Chris Lillitou, until an opportunity came up that was too hard to resist.
Located in the leafy village of Seer Green, near Beaconsfield, the Jolly Cricketers was a failing pub with hardly any trade despite being in a relatively wealthy area. When the owner decided to sell up, he approached Baker and Lillitou to see if they wanted to buy the pub.
Lillitou worked on local golf courses, including Beaconsfield and Burnham Beeches in Slough.
Á¢ÂÂWe werenÁ¢ÂÂt planning on buying a pub. We knew the village very well and knew that it needed a good pub,Á¢ÂÂ explains Baker.
In March 2008, the couple bought the lease from the owners with Punch Taverns. A year later, just as the recession was hitting the UK, the coupleÁ¢ÂÂs bank agreed to a loan, and they made an offer to Punch to buy the freehold. Punch agreed and they took the pub on in July 2009.
Target market The Jolly Cricketers caters for a broad cross-section of customers from locals to travelling foodies, walkers, families and dog owners.
Á¢ÂÂItÁ¢ÂÂs a pub. We cater for everyone from the real ale drinker to couples who want to dine out on a Saturday night,Á¢ÂÂ says Baker.
The pub has been fortunate to pull in a lot of business from word of mouth, but since gaining recognition in guidebooks, such as Michelin (it holds a Bib Gourmand), its net has widened and it is now becoming a destination pub.
Á¢ÂÂWith the train line to Marylebone, which only takes 30 minutes, and the easy access to the M40, we now have a 25-mile radius of potential clients. Twitter is also helping us spread the word,Á¢ÂÂ says Baker.
She is keen to launch their website too Á¢ÂÂ" which is currently a work in progress.
Trading through the recession Due to its location in a fairly affluent area in Buckinghamshire and with good links in and out of London, the Jolly Cricketers has been fortunate not to have been hit in some way by the recession.
Á¢ÂÂWe have been incredibly lucky and have been busy since the moment we opened the doors. We have been very much a business that has evolved over the years,Á¢ÂÂ says Baker.
Key to their success is acknowledging that as inexperienced owners it was important to learn everything about the business, such as understanding margins, looking at them and translating them to the bottom line.
Building up the customer base from a failing pub to a successful one was a big hurdle, but the couple were keen to provide the community with a real pub and a real landlord.
Á¢ÂÂThe challenge is that we are in a small village,Á¢ÂÂ says Baker. Á¢ÂÂSo getting the local community involved is crucial. By employing local people and using local suppliers for the menus we are giving something back and keeping the money in the local area.Á¢ÂÂ
Suppliers As much as possible the couple try to use local produce, but ultimately it is quality that determines what they use. Flying Fish Seafood based in the South and West of England is their preferred supplier of fish. The company supplies sustainably sourced fish and shellfish from Cornwall.
Á¢ÂÂThe quality from our fish supplier is always exceptional, as is the customer service. What they say they are going to deliver they deliver, with very high quality,Á¢ÂÂ says Baker.
The pub uses Berkman Wines Cellars to help the build the wine list.
Future plans Eventually Baker and Lillitou want to build a successful business for the long term. They want to showcase the best of everything, while executing high-quality service.
The ambition is to be an example of a good English pub, where walkers can bring their dogs, have a sandwich and a pint of ale or go for a more substantial lunch.
Á¢ÂÂWe want to be very much a community pub, with the old boy that comes on a Saturday to the families that come for Sunday lunch,Á¢ÂÂ says Baker.
Á¢ÂÂIt is an important part of a small community Á¢ÂÂ" for example, a lot of young people in the village that turn 18 have their first pint at the Jolly Cricketers.Á¢ÂÂ
Business advice Having never run a pub before, Baker admits that it has been a steep learning curve, but you canÁ¢ÂÂt afford to rest on your laurels. Á¢ÂÂTurnover is vanity, profit is sanity,Á¢ÂÂ she says.
Á¢ÂÂWe didnÁ¢ÂÂt know everything when we started, so we are forever researching new things, going out and experiencing new things at other businesses and taking away something to implement in our own business.
Á¢ÂÂIf you are starting out in business as an inexperienced operator you have to have your finger on the pulse.
Á¢ÂÂOnly you are responsible for your business. That is very difficult if you are open seven days week, and doing such long hours. You have to learn very quickly and take advice. We try to listen and take the advice and move forward,Á¢ÂÂ she adds.
For the couple it is all about having the energy to drive their business forward and to improve all the time.
Spotlight on Gerd Greaves
Gerd Greaves joined the Jolly Cricketers as head chef through word of mouth and has a fine-dining background, having worked at LÁ¢ÂÂOrtolan in Reading, ColetteÁ¢ÂÂs restaurant at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire and most recently Danesfield House in Marlow.
Greaves is half German and Barbadian and brings a Caribbean twist to the modern British food that is offered at the Jolly Cricketers.
His whole work ethos is amazing, says Baker. He is very committed, determined and a perfectionist.
The pub each year supports the local school and has four school children on work experience that come into the kitchen to work with Greaves and his team.
Their Saturday boy, who now also works on Thursday, started off as work experience from the school but is now being mentored by Greaves.
Facts and stats
Average spend per head Á£36 dinner Á£20 lunch
Head chef Gerd Greaves
Owners Amand baker, chris lillitou
Staff: 5 full time and 5 part time