Micropubs are springing up all over the country, providing a much-needed alternative for punters weary of poor quality boozers. In the second in a series of Q&As with those who have taken the plunge and decided to run their own such establishment, Mark Robson of the JUST REPROACH in the historic Kent town of Deal, answers the InnSpectre’s key questions…
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Tell us a bit about your journey in the pub industry… I have been in the pub business for five years, ever since I opened The Just Reproach with my daughter. It was a career change for the both of us; she was at university and I was a headteacher at a special school for pupils with autism. I visited the Butcher’s Arms in Herne, the first micropub, and fell in love with the concept and decided that this was the sort of challenge I would like to take on.
Who/what inspired you to run a pub? Martyn Hillier, whose idea the micropub is.
What hurdles did you encounter in getting started? Planning was the most challenging aspect, in part I feel because the micropub was an unknown quantity. I think it’s been more straightforward for those that followed.
What’s the best thing about running the Just Reproach? Customers; lifestyle; discovering new beers; no need for a ‘mission statement’ or ‘measurable outcomes’ any of the other rubbish that clutters so many other walks of life!
What’s in the name? It’s from a poem by Daniel Defoe that summarises his book, The Storm. I used to live in Tooting where there is a strong Daniel Defoe connection so that also seemed fitting. In the poem, Defoe writes that unless the town of Deal is wiped off the face of the earth it will stand as ‘a just reproach to all the land’; it was a phrase that stuck as we looked through a host of historic material about the town to find a suitable name.
What do you think attracts people to your pub? Good beer, cider and wine. Conversation. No music; no mobile phone conversations; no fruit machines.
What are your customers like? Customers are predominately local but people come from far and wide too, especially at weekends, as Deal is a very popular town. People from all walks of life frequent the pub and enjoy the refuge and anonymity.
What’s the feedback been like from customers? Feedback is very good (see Trip Advisor for examples) but the majority of our customers are returners and that speaks volumes.
Do you think micropubs are doing their bit to fill the void made by the closure of more traditional pubs? I’m not sure what a traditional pub is anymore. I am not sure pubs know whether they are! Are they restaurants, music venues, comedy clubs or drinking establishments?
A micropub has its own place. At different times people want different things and a micropub provides another option.
As to why pubs are closing I’d look at the way they are run – from corporate management to the individual landlord. It often seems the wrong people are in the wrong job; if you don’t like people a pub may not be the best working environment for you!
Perhaps Careers Advisors need to be better trained to guide these people away from the hospitality trade. That said I would not like the challenge of rural pub without a Lottery win to back the business up. It can be done and there are some excellent rural pubs but they must be amongst the most challenging.
Has the micropub community been supportive? Very. We were in the first wave and we spoke with the few other owners at the time and they all offered constructive advice and support. We’ve tried to do the same to prospective owners who’ve approached us.
Could you recommend another micropub? Obviously the Butcher’s Arms but they all offer something individual and are worth visiting for that reason.
What do you think of the state of the pub industry in the UK? Pretty poor. I avoid pubs now. Good micropubs serve great beers in good condition, often local, and I resent paying over the odds in a pub for a pint of standardised pap that I’m supposed to believe is made with passion and care when in reality it’s made to a recipe dictated by an accountant.
What is the pub scene like in Kent? Have any closed down? Generally poor and probably reflective of the wider pub scene. Several have closed.
Any local breweries near you we should keep an eye on? I don’t think there’s a small brewery in Kent that I wouldn’t recommend but Time and Tide are producing fabulous beers that stand out. I’m looking forward to the Breakwater Brewery beginning production in Dover and to see Phil Lowry’s knowledge and experience put to good use too.
What are your top three favourite beers, and why? I want different beers at different times of the day or year so I find it difficult to answer a question such as this. However, if I walked into a pub and saw a beer from Oakham Brewery, the Kent Brewery, Thornbridge, Brewsters, Long Man, Arbor, I would be excited. Eddie Gadd, brewer of great beers in Kent, said his favourite beer is “the one I have in my hand at that moment”! Wise words.
…and your top three pubs, wherever they may be? Having said that I avoid pubs (and leaving aside the Steamworks Brewery in Vancouver and the Ginger Man in New York as I can’t just pop to them) I would always go to The Bluebell in York, The Trafalgar in South Wimbledon and The Carpenter’s Arms in Coldred.
Any other news/info about your pub you want to share? The Just Reproach has become firmly established as part of the Deal community and it has been wonderful to see friendships formed between people who only met because we are in existence. We do a considerable amount of fundraising and we’re extremely pleased of raising over £12,000 for the Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury. In total we’ve raised over £20,000 for good causes. For a pub that can only comfortably accommodate about 25 people that’s pretty good going in five years!
What are your plans for the future? Keep on doing what we’re doing; it seems to be working well!
What are your top tips for those looking to run their own micropub? Visit the Butcher’s Arms and understand the ethos and philosophy. Stick to those principles and you won’t go far wrong. Remember that a micropub is so much more than a small pub.
What are your contact details and opening hours? Contact and opening hours are all on Facebook.