Couple who opened pub during Covid tell Ben Fogle how they survived


Couple who quit the rat race and poured their money into refurbishing a £244,000 derelict pub during Covid with no experience tell Ben Fogle how they survived by hiring MORE staff

  • Toni and Paul bought £244,000 pub in Kilmichael Glassary in Scotland in 2020
  • Sold  bungalow in Rochester for £322,000 and spent £30,000 on renovation 
  • First they decided to run bar and restaurant themselves with just five staff 
  • But managed to make a profit after hiring a chef and more help for waitressing 

A couple who left their job sto open a pub during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed how they managed to stay afloat on Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Country. 

Paul and Toni sold their £322,000 bungalow in Rochester in order to move to the remote Scottish village of Kilmichael Glassary with their daughter Harriet, where they took over an old and derelict pub called the Horseshoe Inn in 2020. 

They forked out £244,000 to buy the establishment, and a further £30,000 on refurbishing it, eventually opening their doors in August 2020, but were soon stretched thin by the demands of hundreds of food orders a night and the technicalities involved with running the pub. 

The couple told the Channel 5 show, which returns tomorrow night at 9pm, that they needed to make £100,000 to breakeven after their first year, however, they made more than trice that amount in spite of being closed for several months due to Covid-19 regulations enforced at the time. 

They told Ben that they took a massive gamble and hired more staff and a chef when the place reopened in July 2021 so they could accommodate even more orders, and the bet paid off, with a yearly turnover of £366,000. 

Paul and Toni, left, told Ben Fogle how they sold their £322,000 bungalow in Rochester in order to move to the remote Scottish village of Kilmichael Glassary with their daughter Harriet, where they took over an old and derelict pub called the Horseshoe Inn in 2020

Paul and Toni, left, told Ben Fogle how they sold their £322,000 bungalow in Rochester in order to move to the remote Scottish village of Kilmichael Glassary with their daughter Harriet, where they took over an old and derelict pub called the Horseshoe Inn in 2020

The couple forked out £244,000 to buy the establishment, and a further £30,000 on refurbishing it, eventually opening their doors in August 2020, first taking drinks only

The couple forked out £244,000 to buy the establishment, and a further £30,000 on refurbishing it, eventually opening their doors in August 2020, first taking drinks only

The couple decided to leave the rat race after growing disgruntled with their suburban life in Rochester. 

‘It was endurance. I was enduring what I was doing,’ Paul, who worked at a car dealership, said. 

‘The biggest resentment for me was the fact that all my family, all my time was stolen from me,’ he added. 

The father-of-one revealed the demands of his role meant he’d often be working up until 7 or 8pm, and would never see his wife and daughter. 

Then couple told the Channel 5 show, which returns tomorrow night at 9pm, that they needed to make £100,000 to breakeven after their first year, however, they made more than trice that amount in spite of the pub, pictured, being closed for several months due to Covid-19 regulations enforced at the time

Then couple told the Channel 5 show, which returns tomorrow night at 9pm, that they needed to make £100,000 to breakeven after their first year, however, they made more than trice that amount in spite of the pub, pictured, being closed for several months due to Covid-19 regulations enforced at the time 

Meanwhile, Toni, a career, also struggled with her 9-to-5.  

‘People raging in the supermarket, people raging about carparks and traffic,’ she said, adding it felt like she and Paul were ‘driven to the edge of what’s reasonable.’

The couple were motivated to follow their dreams when Paul’s mother passed away in 2019, saying: ‘if we don’t do it now, we’re never going to do it’

Even though they were excited by the prospect of running the pub, they were aware that restoring it and working at it would be a daunting task.  

‘It’s a complete foreign existence for us. A couple in their 40s and we’ve only known an area, we are the fish out of the water,’ Paul admitted. 

Toni and Paul decided to leave the rat race after growing disgruntled with their suburban life in Rochester and moved to KilMichael with their daughter Harriet, left

Toni and Paul decided to leave the rat race after growing disgruntled with their suburban life in Rochester and moved to KilMichael with their daughter Harriet, left 

The spent £30,000 and six weeks refurbishing the pub to turn it into a homely establishment ready to host locals

The spent £30,000 and six weeks refurbishing the pub to turn it into a homely establishment ready to host locals 

But Toni said in spite of the demanding refurbishing work, the couple were happy they got to spend time together.  

‘The whole process has been about us spending time together,’ she said. 

‘In our previous life, we were so stretched by time. And even though we’re super, super busy, it’s really nice that we’re doing this together,’ she added. 

The local population were excited about the pub reopening, but that put a lot of pressure on Paul and Toni to deliver.  

‘I’m worried we’re not going to be as good as what people expect us to be,’ Toni admitted. 

And the couple had big goals, as they needed to make £100,000 in their first year to make even, which would translate to making a minimum of £2,000 a week to survive. 

The pub opened its doors in August 2020, but was forced to close for several months due to Covid-19 regulations in January 2021

The pub opened its doors in August 2020, but was forced to close for several months due to Covid-19 regulations in January 2021 

‘That terrifies me, that’s a lot of money, it’s terrifying,’ Toni told Ben. 

The couple opened the pub in August, with no experience in running a pub. 

Paul ran the bar with two helpers, while Toni was charged with making the food.  

‘I love cooking but it’s a very different situation doing it in a commercial kitchen with very little experience,’ she admitted, saying she would learn as she went. 

As the pub prepared to open, it started to sink in for Toni how big a task she and Paul had taken on. 

The couple said looking after the pub tested their relationship and that they 'more than butted heads'

The couple said looking after the pub tested their relationship and that they ‘more than butted heads’ 

‘It’s a romantic notion, running a pub. It’s amazing, but a lot harder than I imagined.’

Ben himself, who visited the couple before their opening day, admitted he worried as to how long the couple would be able to sustain the energy and adrenaline necessary to run this huge undertaking.

With the bills piling up, Paul and Toni were reluctant to hire professionals, such as a plumber or plasterers, because they were afraid the cost would cripple them financially. 

The pub opening was a success, because all the locals came to support the pub, which ran as bar-only for two weeks. 

However, the following weeks were rockier for Toni, who bore the brunt of churning out hundreds of dishes in the kitchen every day. 

At first, Toni managed, with the help of Anne, a veteran pub worker who used to own the inn and offered to help until the couple found their feet.  

Father-of-one Paul, left, was determined to find the flexibility to have work-life balance after a year of looking after the pub

Father-of-one Paul, left, was determined to find the flexibility to have work-life balance after a year of looking after the pub 

Things took a turn for the worse when Anne left Toni to cope on her own, with the mother-of-one admitting she was ‘losing it’ and ‘s******* herself.’

Stress began to pile on the couple, who had to juggle all the aspects of running the pub, with the fear of not breaking even. 

Their personal life was suffering too, with the couple having no time to settle into their living quarters. 

‘We’re physically exhausted, we have no time, no money or inclination to do it,’ he said. 

As October 2020 brought on an new wave of Covid-19 cases, the couple had to adapt to the health regulations imposed by the Scottish governement and serve drinks outside only, with restricted hours to run their food service.  

By January 2021, they were forced to shut down the pub completely, for the length of the summer, uncertain they’d make it financially. 

However, as Spring rolled in, they were able to open again, having suffered losses of £20,000. 

Ben visited the couple a year on from his 2020 visit to see how they were getting on.  

He was pleased to see the Horseshoe Inn had a ‘fully booked’ side by its entrance. 

‘What a transformation,’ he told Paul and Toni, nothing how the pub felt ‘cosy and lived in, used, open.’ 

By that time, the pub had been opened for four months and was fully operational.  

‘It’s just too full on for one person, so we took a chef onboard,’ Paul revealed, admitting it was ‘a bit punt when you’ve got no money. 

The turned the pub into a gastropub, serving elevated version of pub classics.  

As money was very tight, they hired a chef to buy themselves some time while they made plans to sustain the pub. 

They decided to expand and to hire more staff so they could enjoy more work-life balance.  

‘We didn’t come here for us both to work a 50-hour week,’ Toni recounted. 

‘It was just like “something’s got to give”. That’s when we got the chef onboard,’ she explained. 

The couple revealed the pub was now open five days a week, serving 40 covers for lunch and 65 in the evening, with live music and entertainment available to locals as well, who were loving it. 

Paul revealed to Ben that they went from hiring five people in the pubs early days to hiring 20 more to cope with demand. 

The couple’s gamble worked out, though, as Paul revealed they were making a yearly turnover of £366,000, more than three times what they needed to break even. 

The father-of-one said he was ‘proud of that, grateful and blessed to a certain extent.

He admitted that he and Toni ‘more than butted heads’ as they tried to keep the pub afloat.  

‘We’ve argued, we’ve more than butted head. At one point it was a case of “the pub’s gotta go or we might go”,’ he revealed. 

‘We shut down in January, maybe for us that was a massive blessing to take stock, have a pause, give Toni a rest,’ he relativised. 

With the pub being a success, the family managed to make more time for themselves as well.  

‘We are still stuck and trapped in this pub vortex but we’re climbing our way out to enjoy things like this more often,’ he said as he took Ben and the family on a boat trip. 

‘The benefit that we;ve got now is that we’re on control of our destiny. We can control that flexibility,’ the dad-of-one added. 

Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Country airs tomorrow at 9pm on Channel 5.  

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