Former recruitment executive Edward Halls changed career at 28 to become a chef and now owns an award-winning Essex pub. He talks to Gemma Rowbotham about his busy first year
Need-to-know At the age of 28, Edward Halls decided working at an investment bank was not for him and started out as a chef. After securing his first paid job at Morston Hall, Norfolk, he moved to London to work at Pétrus and was also a private chef for General Lord Richard Dannatt at Kensington Palace.
A stint running a business with his cousin in Suffolk gave him a taste for owning his own pub. He looked at about 10 properties before settling on the Rose and Crown in Great Horkesley, on the Suffolk-Essex border. Halls grew up in the surrounding area so he knew there were a lot of wealthy villages around.
"When I first walked into the 17th century building, with its oak beams and beautiful floors, I knew that it was the one," he says. Halls met with the leaseholders, Greene King, and they put together a 15-year deal, contributing to the full refurbishment of the premises. It took five weeks to redecorate and cost £40,000.
Target Audience When Halls signed the deal, he says there were about five people coming in for a pint per week. Now he does 450 covers. The weekly lunchtime visitors consist of the local business community from Colchester, while in the evenings the audience is mainly local. "We have people come from all the surrounding villages, within a five-mile radius. At the weekend people travel further because they know the quality they'll get here," he says.
"We're not going to give them two roasts for £10, but what they do get is outstanding local beef and every part of their meal is home-made, with real attention to detail. But we don't really have any pretention here. It's a very relaxed, gastro-pub environment."
How it stands out Halls thinks the main way the Rose and Crown stands out is by being a local talking point. "Somebody is going to pay good money for this and it should beat their expectations," he says. "The best form of marketing that you can have is word of mouth and recommendation."
He also stresses the importance of the local produce. "We're in the middle of East Anglia, only 10 miles from the coast, and we have Mersea oysters at our door, beautiful local line-caught fish, fabulous local beef, lamb, pork - everything you want."
Future plans In the next two years, Halls wants to make sure the Rose and Crown stands on its own two feet. After that he plans to open more gastro-type pubs, but he also wants to open up a steakhouse.
"We have the most fabulous beef on our menu - 50% of our sales are steak, it's that good," he says. "I never intended it to be that way but everyone tells us we sell the best you can get, as far as they can travel. I think we are comparable to any top steak house, but really I'd like to open up a separate one."
Business Advice "It's always going to get hard, particularly in today's climate, but you just have to work hard and keep going. You question yourself and your sanity sometimes. I've been through that in the last year but I just kept my head down," Halls says. He also stresses the importance of keeping an eye on costs. "They can spiral out of control and in a very short period of time you don't realise what you've spent."
Lastly, he believes you should hire slowly, and when you have the right members of staff, listen to them, reward them, and let them get on with their job. "Apart from my customers, they are the most important thing."
Marketing A lot of marketing in the year to come will be possible through the prize Halls has won as part of the East Anglia Times‘ "The One" competition. This included £15,000 worth of PR, £15,000 worth of design and branding, £10,000 worth of advertising, free accountancy and free business consultancy.
Up until then the pub had a strong web presence. "If you type ‘best steak Essex' in Google, we come up as number one. We're strong on Facebook and Twitter," he explains. He also advertises locally in village magazines and newspapers, and does a lot of internal advertising, with competitions for people to win dinner. There are also monthly wine evenings and a wine club.
"We actually have the wine makers come over from France and so on, to present their wines and match them to foods," he says.
edward halls' revelations
Favourite hotel The Ritz
Favourite restaurant The Albemarle at Browns hotel
What book has inspired you The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
Motto Nil Desperandum, Never Despair
If you weren't a publican what would you have been? A pilot
Which restaurateur do you admire? Marcus Wareing
Describe your business in five words Welcoming, positive, warm, professional and quality
Spotlight on steak
The most popular dish at the Rose and Crown is the 28 to 35-day aged Dedham Vale steak.
Halls says: "I wanted to put a really good steak on the menu so I Googled everything just to find as many suppliers as possible. I ate my way through a considerable amount of beef, along with my sous chef, and time and time again for consistency, quality, flavour and price, Dedham Vale beef came out on top. It comes from a company called Direct Meats. I think they actually supply Restaurant Gordon Ramsay but they just happen to be in my postcode, which is luck really."
The Rose and Crown does a special steak offer on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which brings in about 60 customers. There is a choice of rib eye, fillet and rump, which come with twice-fried hand-cut chips, roasted garlic tomatoes, watercress salad and battered onion rings.
"It has excellent marbling, a deep rich colour and the only way to describe the flavour is ‘really beefy'," he says.
Facts and stats
Chef-owner Edward Halls
General manager Claire Lee
Average spendon food £25
Covers per week 450 Months since opened 12