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Meet the Eggleton family, owners of the Pony & Trap

24 July 2017 by
Meet the Eggleton family, owners of the Pony & Trap

The Eggleton family have taken the Pony & Trap restaurant near Bristol from modest beginnings to a food empire encompassing pubs, fish and chip shops, a foodie festival and even a café in a yurt

The family have come a long way since then. After achieving a Michelin star at the Pony & Trap in 2011, they have bolstered their restaurant portfolio: there's Salt & Malt, a fish and chip shop on Chew Valley Lake; Yurt Lush, a café in a Mongolian yurt in nearby Temple Mead in Bristol; the Kensington Arms pub in Redland; the Chicken Shed; another Salt & Malt at Wapping Wharf; and the soon-to-be Bristol Beer Factory.

"Dad wanted to open 15 hair salons and now we are on our way to opening 15 restaurants!" Holly jokes. Gail and Chris own a hair industry import and distribution business, and Chris says that they "blundered" into purchasing the Pony & Trap because Josh wanted to make a career out of being a chef.

"I remember going to the Pony & Trap as kids and the queue used to be out the door," Josh says. However, their first day of trading wasn't quite of that standard.

"We had two customers the whole night and when they left we had £15 in the till. It was horrific - Gail was nearly in tears!" Chris laughs.

The Eggletons (from left): Josh, Holly, Scott, Gail and Chris
The Eggletons (from left): Josh, Holly, Scott, Gail and Chris
Taking on a pub is no mean feat for anyone, let alone two siblings - one aged 19 (Holly) and the other 22 (Josh). "We didn't have a computer to print the menus out and we couldn't afford a printer, paper or ink. I had to write the menu on the blackboard," Holly says.

The tipping point came quickly - the following Sunday, which happened to be Mothering Sunday. "We had three sittings - 12pm, 3pm and 7pm - it was insane," Chris says. "We fed more people on Mothering Sunday than in the whole first month of the business."

In 2011 their efforts were rewarded with a coveted Michelin star, and overnight their sales went from around £11,000 a week to £18,000. "I've always called it a double-edged sword," Josh says. "We had to employ more chefs and front of house staff, but it also enabled us to do other things that I wanted to do. For example, I wanted to churn my own ice-cream, but I didn't have the manpower and I couldn't afford the machine. The profits helped us achieve more of the vision that I wanted for the restaurant."

Last year, the Pony & Trap celebrated its 10th anniversary and its turnover was £1.5m, up from £105,000 a decade earlier - a great achievement for what started out as a two-year project. "I think the turning point came when we had the opportunity to buy the freehold," Chris says. "If that opportunity hadn't come along, we would probably have had to curtail the amount of money we were investing in the business."

Festival season

Following an unsuccessful experience running a second pub, the Compton, their next project was Pony Kitchen, an outside catering operation. Pony Kitchen has three events booked this year, but at one point the family were tackling between 25 and 50 a year.

Wye Valley asparagus, cured pickled egg, smoked eel and dukka
Wye Valley asparagus, cured pickled egg, smoked eel and dukka
"Sometimes we would do two weddings on one weekend, as well as run the two pubs," Holly grimaces. "We used to take on every job we were offered, whereas now, seven years later, we are a bit more selective. We need to make it worth our while. Mum used to do every single wedding with me. We would work every weekend and be back at the pub for Sunday lunch. Dad would always be driving around because we had forgotten something. We got to Taunton once and realised we had forgotten the red mullet for the canapés, so dad had to drive like a lunatic to get it to us!" Following on from the outside catering operation, in 2012 Josh had what Holly describes as a mid-life crisis and launched the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion food festival in the city's Queen Square, alongside local farmer Luke Hasell. "Josh came up with the concept, I came up with the name, and we talked about how it could work," Chris recalls. "I really thought it would end in tears and disaster. We went to a site that had no water, electricity or drainage, surrounded by offices. On the day it opened it heaved down with rain, and the one thing the festival was dependent on was good weather. Every morning the chefs would have to come in and chase the seagulls away with brooms." In 2014 the chef line-up included Nathan Outlaw, Sam Moody, Jonray and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Paul Ainsworth and Jack Stein. The festival was hugely successful and had more than 50,000 visitors in 18 days. "It grew into a monster very quickly," Josh says. "We will do events under that brand in the future, but just scaled down a little bit." Two restaurants have emerged from the Eat Drink Bristol Fashion brand: the Yurt Lush café and Chicken Shed, an organic fried chicken restaurant in a renovated shipping container in Wapping Wharf. Taking on the takeaway In 2015 the family opened Salt & Malt at Chew Valley Lake - a casual waterside restaurant offering fish and chips. The site had been a tea room that hadn't made a profit in 18 years. "Bristol Water weren't worried about making it a profitable site, so it just plodded along. But it could have been something huge," Holly says. Now it is. On opening day in December 2015, a queue formed outside the restaurant. It was all systems go. Josh fried the fish and chips while Gail handed out mulled wine to customers in the queue. They turned over around 200 covers that evening in a restaurant that seated just 15, and for the following two weeks Josh was stationed in the kitchen.
Pigeon, cauliflower, pickled walnut, pigeon bresaola, pickled kohlrabi and jus
Pigeon, cauliflower, pickled walnut, pigeon bresaola, pickled kohlrabi and jus
hin a year the fish restaurant, tea room and takeaway went from an annual turnover of £350,000 to £1.5m, serving more than 1,500 covers a day. Now, in year three of the business, the family have opened a second site, Salt & Malt in Wapping Wharf, which opened last month, overlooking Bristol's harbour. And the empire continues to grow. Last year the family purchased the Brunel Pub Company in partnership with Guy Newell. It currently has a portfolio of one pub, the Kensington Arms in Redland, Bristol - a brasserie restaurant with a bar, a terrace and two function rooms upstairs. "I said for years I would never do another pub because they're such hard work, but the Kensington Arms has turned into more of a restaurant," Josh says. The intention is to develop the Brunel Pub Company into a portfolio of iconic Bristol pubs. A role for everybody So how does the family manage such a diverse portfolio? "We are completely acclimatised to it. It almost takes over your whole life," says Chris. "We don't go anywhere or sit down for dinner without talking about what we did yesterday and, more importantly, what we are going to do tomorrow. It's all-encompassing." Gail runs the financial side of the business and HR, while Chris is the go-to when there is a financial requirement. "I lead from the financial point of view, but for the first six years, every Saturday and Sunday morning, I would spend an hour picking the fag butts up from outside the pub," he says. Another sibling, Scott, is not directly involved in the business, but will turn his hand to anything, from helping in the kitchen to working on the weddings in the events business. His dominant skillset is property, so he helps negotiate leases and gets surveys done. At this point, three women enter the restaurant and ask if we are having a birthday celebration. Chris and Gail start talking to them and the conversation with Josh and Holly turns to what their parents have taught them. "Dad says we have our independence, but that's only come in the last two years," Holly says. "People would talk about The Inbetweeners, but we never saw it. I missed 10 years of TV," Josh sighs. There are more projects in development. This month, the Eggletons took a stake in the Bristol Beer Factory in partnership with Newell and have a five-year plan to expand it four-fold. Josh will be a director and on the board, but not as involved as with the other sites. "It has a tap room and pub, and we are looking to take on another four pubs and a beer factory," he says.
The apple orchard
The apple orchard
e family have also just purchased the field next door to the Pony & Trap, and Josh intends to turn it in to a micro-farm over the next five years. They plan to add accommodation in the form of gypsy caravans and shepherds' huts. "A farm will be a big cost, so we want to offer accommodation," Josh says. Josh has a passion for growing his own food and wants to start rearing their own animals. He used to own two pigs, Tick and Tock, whose photo hangs on the wall in the snug. The pigs' previous stomping ground is now home to 36 flourishing apple trees, 30 of which are less common species. He's even managed to find a 150-year-old apple variety, Eggleton, which naturally takes pride of place in the orchard. Holly Eggleton Holly started her career at the Carpenters Arms in Stanton Wick in the Chew Valley, south of Bristol. After some encouragement from Josh to work for a bigger operation, in 2006 she started managing functions for 25-75 people at Hotel du Vin Bristol. She completed a degree in fashion and textiles in 2011 - the same year the Pony & Trap was awarded a Michelin star. "I was still working here while at university of Bristol," she says. "All of my lecturers told me to quit the pub. When we won a star, I went into college, and all my lecturers said 'you never said it was that kind of pub!' For them it changed; it never changed for me." Holly was awarded her Wine & Spirit Education Trust qualification in 2014 and she now encourages her staff to take the course. "We do a lot of training here. We try to go to the local suppliers. Some days we will close the pub and go to the bakery, the coffee factory, the rapeseed harvest. The local forager came a couple of months ago, and all the staff went foraging." In 2016 Holly won an Acorn Award, making her one of the hospitality industry's 30 promising stars under the age of 30. Josh Eggleton Josh's interest in cooking was sparked at nine years old, when a neighbour bought him cake tins for his birthday. "He would make Victoria sponges to die for," Chris says. "He wouldn't give them away, though," Holly adds. "They were £2 a sponge!" When it came to Josh choosing a vocation, he asked himself what he was good at: "I was only good at cooking," he says. In 2003, he became a Gordon Ramsay Scholar, which inspired him to make a three-year-long culinary journey, taking in France, America and Sicily, where he worked in Michelin-starred kitchens. On his return he took over the Pony & Trap with Holly. Josh appeared on the BBC Two show Great British Menu in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The first year he was on the show, business at the pub shot up by about 20%; the second time there was a 10% hike; and in the third they saw a rise of about 5%. Josh is also a director of the Community Farm, an educational food hub just outside Bristol, and is a brand ambassador for Bristol Sport, where he provides insights into corporate hospitality. The Eggleton empire - Pony & Trap (from 2006) - The Compton (2008-2010) - Pony Kitchen (from 2008) - Eat Drink Bristol Fashion (from 2012) - Yurt Lush (from 2014) - Salt & Malt, Chew Valley Lake (from 2015) - The Kensington Arms (from 2016) - Brunel Pub Company (from 2016) - Chicken Shed (from 2016) - Salt & Malt, Wapping Wharf (from 2017) - Bristol Beer Factory (from 2017) Save Save Save
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