Running a micropub in Scotland can provide it’s own set of challenges. So, it’s just as well there is a trailblazer who has not only given it a go but also trains those keen to follow their lead. Here, RUTHERFORDS OF KELSO – the first micropub to establish itself north of the border – is placed under the InnSpectre’s spotlight. Owner Simon Rutherford answers the questions…
Tell us a bit about your journey in the pub industry… Having always worked for myself in the past, I was never really comfortable working for other people. After a particularly bad experience with a large company, I decided it was time to set up my own business. My dad, who has spent his entire career in brewing, distilling and the trade (being awarded an OBE for his services to the whisky industry), mentioned the micropub philosophy to me, and I was instantly attracted. I visited as many as I could, and wondered why there wasn’t one in Scotland. That fact just fired me up all the more. I really wanted to be the first. One and a half years’ on – we’re still the only one in Scotland.
Who/what inspired you to run a pub? I have a real interest in real ale and unusual drinks, as well as interesting surroundings and people. The pubs my wife Debbie and I visited in Europe – particularly Berlin – really inspired us. Most of these were tiny, tucked away and utterly unique. Whilst the micropubs I had visited really focused on the basic, we really saw no reason not to allow our imaginations to develop a place that we’d want to visit and drink in. Our background had been design and property development, so the look and feel of the place was important to us. We think the ambience of the place is really welcoming, but also interesting for people. It’s a great place for a first date as there are plenty of ‘discussion points’ in the pub.
What major challenges did you face in getting the pub up and running? Once we explained what a micropub actually was, and how it would benefit Kelso, we had nothing but total support from the Scottish Borders Council. They really could not have been more helpful. The challenge we had, which was not one we were prepared for at all, was suppliers. We had originally planned to use a distribution company for ease, but a couple of them were very obtrusive and refused to deliver to Kelso. However, that worked out in our favour in the end, as we now have great relationships directly with the suppliers, and it’s so much better to be dealing direct.
What’s the best thing about running your micropub? I have met lifelong friends. Really amazing people who have all been so supportive. I’d say we all feel proud of what we’ve achieved. Rutherfords isn’t just a ‘pub’. It’s the people who really make the place, so I literally couldn’t have done it without our customers.
What’s in the name? Rutherford is my surname. It’s also a great Borders name, so it just fitted.
What do you think attracts people to your pub? I have asked my customers this and they have said “It’s an absolute oasis. It stands out from all the other pubs – not only are you guaranteed a perfectly kept pint, but the fact there is no music or gaming machines means you can actually hear and be heard! Also.. gin… from a microscope… Where else are your going to get that?!” customers have also said they like the fact our beers change constantly, and that it is an ‘honest’ gravity feed system out front. They can see everything and they know it’s always fresh.
What kind of customers do you have? Anyone famous been to your pub? We have a real mix of people. Many locals, but we have also had lots of visitors from very far away as well as people who have travelled 40 miles by bike! Steve Berry (ex Top Gear) spent a long afternoon in our pub, and we’ve also had visits from The Blow Monkeys and Anthony Booth.
What’s the feedback been like from customers? The feedback has been incredibly positive. We do still get questions about our opening hours (the latest we’re open is 10pm), but I suppose that’s just because people want to stay longer, so it’s not a bad thing. However, one of the rules of the micropub is that they keep shorter hours, so 10pm is late enough for us.
Any regular events? We have a great folk music night the last Tuesday of every month with our House Band – The Folk ‘n Tuesdays. It’s always a great night. We do have other events throughout the year, such as Burns Night, Gin nights, Cheese and Wine, and we’ll be having a St Andrew’s night too. We always have food on those nights and they sell out really quickly.
Do you think micropubs are doing their bit to fill the void made by the closure of more traditional pubs? Absolutely. It’s really sad that so many pubs are closing, but it’s not hard to see why. Their hands are very tied. I also think people want something different now. There’s still room for pubs with big sports screens, chips and cheap lager, but it’s just not a micropub.
Has the micropub community been supportive? It has been, yes. We joined the micropub association when we first started thinking about opening ours, but the advice on there is all in relation to England, which is quite different. We really had to start our research from scratch. We now offer training to people hoping to open in Scotland. In fact, we’re training two more people in a couple of weeks, so let’s hope there’s a second micropub in Scotland soon.
Could you recommend another micropub? The Curfew in Berwick-upon-Tweed was an inspiration for us, and Gemma and David are really helpful and friendly. They have a lovely outside seating area too, which is a nice little sun trap.
What do you think of the state of the pub industry in the UK? I think it’s really sad that so many pubs are being needlessly closed down and people’s livelihoods are lost, not to mention the decline of the heart of the community. However, I do see the ‘quiet revolution’ of the micropub gaining pace, and that can only be a good thing.
What is the pub scene like in your part of the world? Like everywhere in the UK, some pubs have closed down but Kelso is pretty well served with a good mix of hostelries.
What are your top three favourite beers, and why? The best thing about having the pub is being able to constantly try new beers, so I’m always finding new favourites!
What are your favourite pubs, wherever they may be? Prinzipal Kreuzberg and Primitiv – both in Berlin. Funky, tiny and very underground with the friendliest staff and most amazing cocktails and entertainment!
Any other news/info about your pub you want to share? The pub appeared in GQ in December, the feature specifically for Kelso! We also support the local community, which I think is really important. We provide locally made dog snacks to our four-legged visitors with the donation going to the local animal rescue centre.
What are your plans for the future? People keep asking if we plan to expand the micropub or open a second, but we never will. The whole point of a micropub is that it is small and also totally unique, so extending or opening another would go totally against the ethos. Our next plan is related, but totally new. We plan to open a very unusual micro gin-distillery, the first in the Borders, and it promises to be every bit as unique as Rutherfords.
What are your top tips for those looking to run their own micropub? Get your local council on side early and keep them informed and updated. Be prepared to work hard and build an excellent, reliable staff team round you who actually care about what you do. Have fun and let your own personality shine through. It’s the only job I’ve ever had where I can honestly be exactly who I am. We also run training courses which are aimed specifically at Scottish micropub entrepeneurs.