The key to a good pub? Great food and beer, and a warm welcome
PUBLISHED: 12:33 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:34 10 April 2014
Publican David Hughes believes the future of the British pubs lies, not only in offering good food, but giving a warm welcome to those who just want a decent pint
Publican David Hughes is in the process of re-inventing the Great British Pub here in the heart of Cheshire at a time when many traditional hostelries are struggling to survive in the toughest economic conditions for generations.
The Plough at Whitegate, Robinsons, and The Badger at Church Minshull both feature busy restaurants offering a variety of dishes with ingredients supplied by local farms and producers. Diners enjoy their meals in traditional surroundings with a level of service that one would expect from an a la carte eaterie.
However, unlike the new breed of gastro pubs that are now a familiar sight across the county, David’s establishments continue to welcome those customers who don’t want to order a meal. That’s why both of his pubs feature a traditional tap room, where regulars can stand at the bar with a pint while they chat about the issues of the day.
‘We have growing bands of regulars in both pubs who appreciate the fact that they can still pop in for a pint and a snack and a chat with their mates,’ explained David, who took over the licence of The Plough 19 years ago. ‘We have bar staff that get to know the regulars and build a rapport with them.
‘We have a real community here which I believe is continuing the tradition of the Great British Pub. Yes pubs are closing all over the country; more people are buying their booze at supermarkets to save money. But folk in this part of Cheshire appreciate what we are offering.
‘We provide a pleasant meeting point for members of our community where they can discuss the issues of the day in comfortable surroundings. In fact we have recently attracted so many walkers to the Plough who have become regulars, that we now produce walking guides for them.
‘Our Tap Room is also a regular meeting point for three shooting societies, three football teams and a group of local fisherman. We also get visits from the new Whitegate Hunt. And let’s face it, that’s how it should be. That’s how pubs have worked for generations.’
And David should know having been raised by a family whose history in the pub trade goes back 173 years.
‘I believe it all started with George Bell, my great, great, great grandfather on my mother’s side,’ explained David. ‘In those early days he ran a small brewery which was called The Little Brewery and then in 1849 took over the Warren de Tabley Arms at Peover which was owned by the Lords of Tabley.
It was the arrival of the Bell family that led to it being known as The Bell’s of Peover – nothing to do with the church bells. But the pub prospered under George Bell and from that point in time members of the Bell family figured in the histories of a great many Cheshire pubs.
George’s brewery became so famous that in 1871 he was asked to attend Hillsborough Castle in Ireland on the occasion of the birth of the sixth Marquis of Downshire. On arrival he was asked to make a special brew that was to be tapped 21 years later for the 21st birthday of the young Marquis.
George returned to Ireland for the birthday celebration and is mentioned in a report of the event in an 1892 edition of the Lisburn Herald.
‘George’s success may have inspired other members of his family to try their hand in the brewing trade,’ added David.
In fact, The Red Lion at Pickmere, the Drover’s Arms at Lostock, The Bird in Hand at Mobberley and the Red Lion at Marston were just some of the Cheshire pubs that were at one time run by members of the Bell family.
‘Pub management is certainly in our blood,’ added David who took over running the Plough after four years working in the hotel industry in Austria. ‘I remember helping out by washing beer glasses as a kid.
My whole upbringing took place in pubs across Cheshire so I suppose it should be of no surprise that I ended up in the trade.’
David’s decades of experience in the business came into its own when he took over the Badger in Church Minshull in 2011.
‘The place was semi-derelict when we moved in and we set about transforming it into a state of the art restaurant with a comfortable tap room, of course, for those who didn’t want to eat. Happily it is now building up a regular clientele.’
The final word comes from Norman Hough, who has been visiting the Plough at Whitegate for more than half a century. The 68 year old enjoyed his first pint there at just 18. Now retired he believes he knows the reason for its success. ‘It’s the heartbeat of the village. It’s as simple as that,’ said Norman.