The Stag in Offchurch, near Leamington Spa, has already won the Publican Awards National Food Pub of the Year - just two years after opening. Co-owner Charles Harris talks to Neil Gerrard
NEED TO KNOW
Charles Harris and business partner Nigel Brown know pubs, despite having opened the Stag, a traditional village pub in Offchurch near Leamington Spa, just two years ago. The pair both previously worked at Peach Pubs for several years, before setting up on their own. In that time the business has already bagged an industry award and started to attract a foodie crowd from Leamington and beyond.
WHY DO CUSTOMERS CHOOSE IT?
Harris attributes the Stag's success to a fairly simple approach. "We have very good food made with the best produce we can find and we use local produce where possible," he says. "I say ‘where possible' because there is a lot of local produce available these days but the quality is not always there. Running a restaurant you need good consistency all the time and sometimes it is only the big companies that can do that for you, so we use Aubrey Allen for all of our beef products, for example."
He is also convinced that his business's attempts to offer value have been key. "We started off in the recession which is a scary time for everyone," he explains. "So we don't overcharge. We do little things to set ourselves out from the rest. So everyone gets complementary bread and olives and everyone gets offered complementary tap water. We don't push people. It is trying to get the sales in the right way so when people leave they feel happy and don't feel ripped off."
FAVOURITE SUPPLIER Other than suppliers such as Aubrey Allen, Harris says his favourite way to source produce is to go to Birmingham Wholesale Market. "For me that beats any supplier because you can walk around and pick up and touch everything you want. I know that despite what you see on TV, not many people do it. It saves a lot of money and keeps us really seasonal," he says.
There are plans to convert an outbuilding at the Stag into a private dining room if possible. But Harris and his team are also in the throes of opening a second business, called the Moorings, on the canalside in Leamington itself. "It is a lot bigger than the Stag and I see a lot better lunch trade," he says. "It's not that we have a bad lunch trade at the Stag but whereas there it is ladies who lunch or older couples, at the Moorings it is going to be more suits and people working in the area." In a scheme which he admits may be "slightly mad", he plans to start the Moorings off with a completely new team, rather than taking staff away from the Stag. But the Moorings team will not lack experience, with another former Peach colleague taking control of the kitchen.
"I think if you are not careful then people can look at you if you go and open another business and think the first business is let down by it. I'd like to get this one right, get the second one right and then maybe start with a third site," he explains.
For Harris, the success that he and Brown have had in starting the Stag is all down to the team they have created. "I'm not here because of myself. I have done well because I have been part of strong teams and we have formed a strong team here. We have a very low staff turnover and are a family orientated type of business," he says.
To help bring the team together he has recently taken senior staff from the Stag, as well as those set to join the Moorings for a two-day team building exercise together. "It was good to get out, let everyone have a few drinks and talk about what we are doing and how we want to grow," he says.
COULDN'T DO WITHOUT The old till at the Stag was "rickety", according to Harris, and took two people to operate it at busy times. So he is pleased with his new till system, supplied by IBS, which came out of a Pizza Express. "It takes away so much of the hassle and gives you more time with the customer. It really cuts out any mistakes and makes everything look a lot smoother," he says.
CHARLES HARRIS'S REVELATIONS
Favourite hotel Grupotel Gran Via 678, Barcelona
Favourite restaurant Champignon Sauvage
Favourite book Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay
Motto We undersell and we overdeliver
Would have been Since I was a boy I wanted to go into this trade. Nothing else comes to mind
Industry figure Raymond Blanc
Describe your business in five words Consistent, passionate, team-driven, ambitious, perfectionist
SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING
Marketing has played a major role at the Stag, right from the moment when Harris and Brown undertook an unusual initiative to win round villagers when they first took on their pub. "We didn't have very much money and we were probably a bit mad but we baked 100 loaves of bread," he explains. "We walked around the village and we introduced ourselves because there were rumours that we would be opening a wine bar and change this lovely country pub."
The latest plan is to get chefs and managers more involved with Twitter. "I'm fascinated by it because it is growing really quickly and is an amazingly good free marketing tool. However old you are you have got to get into social networking because it is going to be the future," Harris says.
FACTS AND STATS
Head chef Nigel Brown
Staff 30 (10 part-time )
General manager Charles Harris
Average spend £22 per head
Years since opening 2
Covers per week 1,100