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The Caterer

Barry Gwilt, director, Fountain restaurant and bar, Lichfield

23 November 2006
Barry Gwilt, director, Fountain restaurant and bar, Lichfield

Barry Gwilt, 35, is co-owner of the Fountain restaurant and bar in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Originally a chef, in May 2005 Gwilt gave up a well-paid job as operations manager at contract caterer Caterleisure to become his own boss.

Now a Punch Taverns lessee running a traditional 19th-century inn, which has a 40-seat restaurant, ample back garden and patio area and front bar with capacity for 100, he has a team of 11 staff and works alongside his wife and business partner, Denise.

"Before, I was managing 370 staff, but the smaller team at the pub is harder, because I no longer have a secretary to help with organisation or a personnel department to keep me up to date with employment law," says Gwilt.

Gwilt said it was his many years in hospitality, which have seen him working in the UK and Hong Kong - as a fine-dining waiter at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, at the expat-favoured Bull & Bear pub and as a consultant chef at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club - that really helped him take on his own business.

"I don't know how people without previous experience could run a catering business," he says.

Gwilt, who runs the kitchen at the Fountain, believes "ready-meals should be banned". Determined to create everything he serves from scratch, avoiding the preprepared mass-volume route, his approach is winning favour with customers, as is his eclectic mix of dishes, from traditional pies to Chinese and Thai food. But with a busy kitchen and his commitment to sourcing good produce, it's an 80-hour week.

He and Denise haven't been idle since taking on their first pub. The pair have an outside catering business and bar event venture as well. Gwilt even added a kiosk at the bottom of the pub's garden this summer selling kiddie-friendly snacks and soft drinks to create additional revenue.

It's important, as the financial side has been the hardest part in the venture's infancy. The Fountain is unlikely to break even until the end of its second year.

A mis-sold loan and, Gwilt admits, naïvety on his part, landed the duo with sky-high repayments on their £100,000 lease and a repair bill for the property running into thousands of pounds.

"The best advice I can give is that, if you're buying a business, make sure the existing lessee is up to date with maintenance. I signed up to handle any such repairs under a dilapidations clause, and we've had to replace windows, redo the pointing and paint the exterior," he says.

Unperturbed, the Birmingham College of Food graduate is keen to add a second business in 18 months and is training up a full-time manager to take over the Fountain.

The lowdown

The Fountain has…

  • Turnover £240,000
  • Staff 13
  • Capacity 40-seat restaurant, 100 in bar
  • Gwilt's key duties menu and cooking; sourcing produce; marketing the business; staff training; business development
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