Pub group owner toasts ‘massive’ win at awards event

Philip Turner, founder of the Chestnut Group

Philip Turner of the Chestnut Group is delighted that that brand has won a top hospitality accolade at the Publican Awards - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

An East Anglian pub group is toasting a national accolade after beating back competition from national hospitality brands to scoop an industry accolade.

The Chestnut Group – which has 16 pubs across Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire – took the Best Pub Brand/Concept title at the prestigious Publican Awards. The event, organised by the Morning Advertiser, took place in Battersea on Wednesday (March 30) and was attended by around 1500 people from across the hospitality sector.

Founder Philip Turner expressed his delight at the exposure it gave the group, which launched just eight years ago. It was “massive” for the business, he said.

“It’s a national recognition of our brand and obviously being an East Anglian business and based where we are we are feeling on the basis that our business has been recognised on a national platform is fantastic,” he added.

“It’s a huge endorsement by peers in the industry that what we are doing stands out. It’s going to help us recruit people because people are going to see us as a brand that’s growing.” 

The £20m turnover business employs around 500 people and is currently developing two of its newly-acquired properties – including The Maltings at Weybourne in north Norfolk. The Carpenter’s Arms is due to open on April 11.

Judges carried out site visits and interviews as part of a rigorous process, he said.

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Among the panel’s comments were that it was a “truly formidable brand”, “a force to be reckoned with” and “a network of impressive sites with a strong and loyal following”.

“We firmly believed we had done a really good job but we are obviously very cognisant of the fact there are people who aren’t aware of what we do. None of the judges are from East Anglia and they came to visit and saw what we did,” he explained.

“It’s great for the team we have hired, that have decided to join the business. It’s confirmation to them they have joined the right business.

“We are a pub business based in East Anglia which sets out to celebrate the place in which we operate. We wanted to do something to show the rest of the UK we are proud of what we have here.”

Tori Dexter, growth manager at the Chestnut Group

Tori Dexter, growth manager at the Chestnut Group, celebrating the Publican Awards win at Evolution in Battersea - Credit: Chestnut Group

The business now has its sights set on two further acquisitions – one in Norfolk and one in Suffolk – on which it has signed heads of terms.

“It’s nowhere near the end of the journey but it’s interesting we as a business are based here in sleepy Suffolk,” he said.

The business has been hit by inflation like all of the industry, he said, but was adapting to its situation. It already had a very strong focus on local food and therefore price increases had been less severe on that front. However, utility bills were rising. “The impact of utilities is the one you feel most immediately,” he said. VAT has also risen to 20% following a temporary reduction to 12.5%.

Although it was mainly focused on food and beverages (about 75% - 80%) it was also building its accommodation offer where inflationary pressures were lower, he said. It had around 200 bedrooms across the portfolio and planning permission for more at the Weeping Willow at Barrow, Bury St Edmunds. It is also looking at adding more at The Crown at Stoke-by-Nayland.

Business in January, February and March had all been ahead of budget following a “dreadful” December (following the rise of the Omicron variant), he said.

“We have people who want to go out,” he said.

The sunshine in the last full week of March meant sales on Monday to Friday were up 28%, he added.