The multi-millionaire founder of HomeServe, the emergency plumbing business, is to give away 50% equity in the North Yorkshire pub he owns, which he intends to become one of the best in the UK.
Listed at number 447 on the Sunday Times Rich List with a fortune of £218m, Harpin originally acquired the pub to ensure there was somewhere affordable where locals could eat and drink, but has since decided that he now wants to create one of the top 100 pub restaurants in the country.
"I always vowed that I would never get into the pub or restaurant business, but since I've got involved and seen the potential, I want to take it all the way," said Harpin.
He has been inspired in his ambition by the Wild Rabbit, the pub-restaurant with rooms in Kingham, Oxfordshire, created by Lady Bamford, wife of the JCB magnate Sir Anthony Bamford. Opened in 2013, the Wild Rabbit was named Michelin Pub of the Year just over 12 months later.
Harpin's initial foray as a pub landlord was not promising. Having originally lent £50,000 to the tenant who was running the Alice Hawthorn when he acquired the pub, the business failed and went into liquidation in June 2014. He then teamed up with Vicky Roberts and Josh Overington, the owners of Le Cochon Aveugle, a French restaurant in York, to operate the business.
"However, they found that they didn't have the time to run both establishments," explained Harpin. "So in January we promoted Mike Taylor, the head chef, to run the business. We shut the pub for one month at the beginning of the year for a major refurbishment and since reopening business has doubled from a turnover of £4,000 a week to £8,000 a week. It needs to reach £10,000 [a week] to make a profit."
Now that Taylor - who once worked under Michelin-starred chef Frances Atkin at the Yorke Arms - does not want to continue to manage the pub, preferring instead to concentrate on developing the kitchen, Harpin is looking for a manager who has the ambition to fulfil the dream of creating one of the UK's top food-led pubs.
"Most successful operations have a husband and wife team. However, Mike's wife looks after their young son, so ideally he needs a chef's ex-wife to come in and run the day-to-day business side of the pub and restaurant," said Harpin.
The new appointee and Taylor will each receive a 25% equity stake in the Alice Hawthorn, while Harpin and Kate, his wife who has undertaken the interior design of the new-look 80-seat pub, will retain a 50% interest.
Harpin will continue to support the development of the business. Having spent £500,000 on acquiring the property and a further £100,000 on a refurbishment, he now intends to undertake a £800,000 expansion, which will involve the conversion of outbuildings into a private dining room with wood burning oven, village shop and new kitchen, alongside the building of eight bedrooms.
An economics graduate of York University, Harpin started his career as a brand manager for Procter & Gamble before setting up a management consultancy. He founded HomeServe 21 years ago as a joint venture with South Staffordshire Water. The business demerged from the water company in 2004 and today is worth around £1.4b. Last year the business achieved a turnover of £568m with profits of £84m.
Halpin commutes daily by helicopter from his home in the picturesque village of Nun Monkton to the headquarters of HomeServe in Walsall, West Midlands.
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