Suffolk pub company Deben Inns celebrates 20th anniversary

Steve and Louise Lomas
at the Coach & Horses in Melton

Steve and Louise Lomas at the Coach & Horses in Melton

A Suffolk couple who have built up a chain of popular pub restaurants are marking their 20th year in the trade.

The Maybush at Waldringfield

The Maybush at Waldringfield - Credit: Archant

Deben Inns began in 1997 when Steve and Louise Lomas acquired the lease on the Maybush, which overlooks the River Deben at Waldringfield, near Woodbridge.

The success of the venture led them to add the tenancy of the Butt & Oyster at Pin Mill in 2001, followed another four years later by that of the Fox at Newbourne.

Today, Deben Inns also includes the Wilford Bridge at Melton, which Steve’s parents first acquired in 1992, the Coach & Horses, also in Melton, which was taken on in 2011, and the Swan at Westerfield, the latest addition in the summer of 2013.

The business involves a mix of ownership models. The Maybush and the Butt & Oyster are owned by Adnams, having been purchased by the Southwold brewer in 2009 from Punch Taverns, while the Coach & Horses and the Swan are owned by national pub company Enterprise Inns.

The Butt & Oyster at Pin Mill

The Butt & Oyster at Pin Mill - Credit: Archant

The Wilford Bridge and the Fox, however, are both owned as freehouses, the Fox having been acquired by the family directly from Punch following Adnams’ acquisition of the Maybush and the Butt & Oyster, at a time when Punch was battling to reduce debt.

In building up the chain, Steve says they have sought to retain the individual character of each pub. What all the sites have in common, however, is a commitment to good food (locally-sourced, where possible), good beer and wine, good service and, perhaps most vital of all, good value.

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“Food is a key part of running a pub successfully, but we definitely run pubs that serve food rather than restaurants which serve beer,” says Steve. “We still have stools at the bar for anyone who does just want a pint.”

Location certainly helps too, as the huge popularity of the Maybush and the Butt & Oyster, with their riverside positions, clearly shows, particularly in fine weather.

The chefs at all of Deben Inns sites are allowed freedom in developing their own menus

The chefs at all of Deben Inns sites are allowed freedom in developing their own menus - Credit: Archant

However, during a period which has seen the closure of so money pubs, including – or even particularly – many in rural areas, the Deben Inns approach is clearly working where others might have failed.

In fact, the Fox and the Coach & Horses had both been boarded up for several months before the family took them on and turned them into successful ventures too.

Steve and Louise Lomas attribute the success of their business to achieving the right combination of quality, service and value.

Food is a key element of their offer at each location, but with an emphasis on individuality, and all of the pubs also retain areas people can simply drop in for a pint and still fell welcome.

Food has been a key factor in the success of Deben Inns

Food has been a key factor in the success of Deben Inns - Credit: Archant

Nor is the people factor overlooked, with many recruits having worked their way up in to management positions.

“Our ethos at Deben Inns is to run each pub with the emphasis very much on providing great food, with friendly service, at good value,” says Steve. “We also believe it’s very important to keep the individuality of each pub intact.

“Each team of chefs are encouraged to incorporate their own ideas and style of cooking, under no constraints, and this means that, when visiting our inns, there is always a variety of choices,” he adds.