Opportunities beckon in East Anglia as pubs market ‘rights itself’

Inside a Chestnut Group pub filled with customers

Could opportunities be beckoning in East Anglia as pubs market 'rights itself'? - Credit: Chestnut Group

Pubs require a lot of dedication and investment from those willing to take the plunge and become a licensee, says Chestnut pub group founder Philip Turner.

But they can be rewarding for those willing to take on the complexities of running a pub, he adds.

The Chestnut Group now operates a string of hospitality venues across East Anglia - 16 in total and counting. The business began with the ex-banker’s local at Moulton, near Newmarket, a former Greene King pub which became The Packhorse, and grew from there.

For some operators it will be a lifestyle choice which draws them to the trade and for those entering it, having living accommodation as part of the package can be an advantage, he says.

When he is looking at pubs, he looks at where they are – he wants scenic and attractive locations – and at whether there is room to expand and invest. 

“We are perpetually in negotiation,” he says. His group spends money on the buildings to bring them up to scratch, sometimes adding accommodation or other aspects in order to make them attractive for customers or improve how they function.

“It’s time-intensive,” he says. “Your work is your life and your life is your work.”

But there are huge opportunities for those willing to work at it – and huge demand from people who want to go out and enjoy themselves, he says.

“People need to go into it for the right reasons,” he cautions. “There are a lot of people who have come into this business thinking it’s easy.

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“They thought it was a nice lifestyle. They are complicated businesses to run because there are a lot of moving parts.”

One of the main barriers to entry is capital, but if buying or leasing a pub, it does open up the possibility of acquiring your living accommodation at a cheaper price, he points out. 

“A big problem is the banks,” he explains. “The banks still view hospitality as a high risk sector.”

You also have to understand your customer base. For owner-occupiers and leaseholders, running a pub comes with the risk that customers will vote with their feet so you have to provide a product that they want, he says.

But he adds: “There’s plenty of opportunity to extrapolate a good living.”

And for those brave enough to enter it, there are opportunities in a sector where there are now fewer pubs to cater for the demand.

“There is an opportunity because we know the demand is there because we have seen it. When I bought the King’s Head at Moulton in 2012 there were 55,000 pubs and (there’s now) about 40,000,” he says.

Many restaurants have closed as a result of the pandemic and high street footfall has plummeted as the working population develops new workplace norms. 

For those willing to cope with long and anti-social working hours, there are rewards, he says. And he believes the industry is on the up as the market rights itself following the pandemic downturn.