When I managed to catch Claire Bryers (owner/landlady of The Black Horse, Foxton) this week for a '10 minute chat' - (that's all she could promise me, although it turned out to be 40 mins!), I got her to reflect on the 1st 8 months of the year - eg. what went well, what didn't, (with hindsight) what she'd do different, and plans for the forthcoming autumn and winter months.
This is what Claire had to say:
"Looking back, as with everyone else, the year started with a lot of uncertainty as 'Covid' was still trying to restrict our business. But we knew we had a local community to look after - customers who had been loyal to us, and I think that drove us to 'staying positive'. We are very fortunate in Foxton to have such a lovely bunch of people!
We developed our 'take away' with optional delivery service, quickly establishing and supplying what our customers wanted, 'anything and everything' whether it was fresh meals or eggs, bread, fresh vegetables or whatever was required. We knew many were self isolating, or were less confident to venture out so, although it was all very new to us, we had a van and the means, and I like to think we have given (and still give) a valuable service - we know it was much appreciated and of course, while keeping people safe, it kept our business and our sense of purpose alive!
But while the pub was closed, it gave Daniel and I time (what's that?!) to plan for the future. And 'plan' we did! In fact it was a very thought provoking and creative time!
The Tea Room (adjacent to the pub) was of course closed, but we knew it needed updating and now was the time. And then, with the help of the family, the ideas came in abundance and were overflowing. It was an exciting time. Of course some of the ideas although creative were totally 'ridiculous'... or were they? Why not 'jazz up' the old fashioned tea room and while we're at it, add an Artisan Bakery! Mad? - yes, but then we thought about it. After all, we knew from our takeaway service experience that people wanted a variety of fresh bread, and we had the means and opportunity to supply it! And of course, it would supply the tea room. So we actually set about making it happen! Down came a few walls, up went some new ones - bish bosh - we now had the structure of a brand new Tea Room and Artisan Bakery! All we needed was an oven, some equipment and some artistic flair!
In March, the '4 step' plan to lift restrictions was announced by Boris. Of course, we had to wait until 'phase 2' ( April 12th) to open the pub, serving people 'outside only' with strict covid safe restrictions.
Well since April 12th, it's been 'non stop'! But I never knew how great it would be to see our customers again and serve them a much needed pint of beer! It was brilliant! But we quickly realised that serving people outside was dependent on our great British weather! And that was never going to be reliable! Still - only a minor problem we thought!
We invested and ordered a 'state of the art' canopy for our outside terrace - and some lovely teak furniture - 46 chairs to be exact ( I know 'cause I had to paint them all!)
But, do you remember the story of a rather large boat with a cargo of containers getting stuck across the width of the Suez Canal? Well guess what was in one of the containers! Our Canopy and furniture!
So not to be outdone, we borrowed a marquee from a lovely villager and thought all our problems were solved - only we didn't bank on the ferocious winds of late April and...... one night our marquee blew away over the pub! Still - only another minor problem we thought!
Sure enough our new canopy finally arrived on 17th May and it was quickly erected and firmly secured on our terrace. It had no sides, originally to comply with 'outside service only', but now Phase 3 had kicked in and we were once again serving food and drink inside and outside. Our 'canopy sides' (as at 1st Sept) have still not arrived! Still - just an extra minor problem we thought!
From 17th May, life has gone 'crazy' - the weather has generally been good and we've been back as a busy pub again! The new Canopy Terrace has been very popular and proven to be a BIG success. We also opened the new Tea Room & Bakery back in May to much interest and that's been doing really well, as has our take away service which has still been thriving. Dare I say, our business has been (almost) back to 'normal'! In fact, summer has been a 'blurr' at The Black Horse - we are blessed to have been busy throughout June, July and August and I really don't know where the time has gone!
At this point, Daniel and I want to say a HUGE thank you to all our staff - you really have been amazing throughout - and an extra shout out to the young ones who have coped so well considering all the extra 'situations' you've faced. You really have had a rubbish year but you've all been absolutely brilliant, reliable and eager to learn and we are so proud of you. We were also chuffed to give you a little party on August Bank Holiday Monday, to show our appreciation and congratulate you on your achievements before starting your new college/university lives. We and our customers are going to miss all your smiling faces so much, but we look forward to hopefully seeing you again at Christmas time.
So, looking back, I think we have all done pretty well to meet all the challenges thrown at us - covid, staff shortages, stock shortages, grumpy owners, grumpy customers etc, but we are a resilient lot and we've come through it surprisingly well. But what for the coming months and the future? Well, at the moment understandably we are a few staff members short and we are recruiting for both the pub, kitchen and tea room/bakery, so if you know of anyone suitable, please give us a shout out. But once fully staffed again, we are ready to go!
We can once again host some exciting events and we've already had some great live music nights under the Canopy with more planned in the coming weeks. Of course Christmas is now on our minds (sorry, but it takes a lot of planning!), and the team already has some interesting ideas!
I think, like everyone else, we are just looking forward to resuming normal family life again, meeting up and giving each other a hug. It's been a tough 18 months, but we notice peoples' confidence growing again and although we still encourage caution with several safety measures in place at the pub, we love seeing people enjoying themselves, because that's what we are all in it for!"
Claire Bryers (joint owner Of The Black Horse, Foxton) was talking with Simon Perry at The Bestof Market Harborough - Aug 31st 2021).
The Black Horse
Tel: 01858 545250
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