Andrew from The Bridge in Ashbourne, Derbyshire smiling

The Hospitality Manager Who Took the Plunge and Became a Publican

The Bridge in Ashbourne, Derbyshire“It takes a strong character to do this,” says Andrew Ward, former hospitality manager and now a self-employed publican at The Bridge in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. “Someone who’s an entrepreneur, creative and committed. It’s not something that can be taught. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.”

The hospitality sector could be said to be split into two distinct groups of people—those for whom it’s a great career and those for whom it’s their whole life. Andrew clearly sits in that latter camp. Not content with the structured career development that many hospitality specialists crave, he wanted to go out there and do it for himself. A Marston’s Pillar Partnership finally gave him the self-employed opportunity he’d been looking for.

The Pillar Partnership is a new type of pub agreement that gives publicans the freedom to develop their own food menu without ties to the pub company. Plus, the chance to programme their own entertainment calendar, yet all with a relatively low investment that would usually be more akin to a much more restrictive pub partnership deal.

The Bridge in Ashbourne, DerbyshireThe Pillar Partnership is a new type of pub agreement that gives publicans the freedom to develop their own food menu

“I’d looked at other agreements,” Andrew says. “And I knew I was good at running pubs from having done it as a manager. But the entry costs had been too high to allow me to run one of my own. When the Pillar Partnership was announced, though, I looked into it, realised I’d get a great percentage of the profits and that the entry costs would be lower than if I’d wanted similar conditions elsewhere—so I went for it.”

Having worked in hospitality since his teens, Andrew was already familiar with the Marston’s brand and suggests the company was a natural choice of partner for his self-employed venture. “I had a history with them and had come to trust them,” he says. Now that trust is paying off as he enjoys the fruits of an entrepreneurial life, but with all the support of a big-name brand behind him.

The menu at The Bridge is something to behold and, understandably, a point of pride for Andrew. From high-end twists on pub classics, like the grilled gammon with eggs, seared pineapple and twice-fried beef dripping chips, to culinary creations, like the roast chicken fillet with bacon, Hartlington stilton sauce, potatoes, spinach and mushrooms, it offers a bit of something for everyone. And it never comes out of a freezer bag.

“You can basically go and see any one of our suppliers within a one-minute walk of our front door.”

“Our menu is all fresh and locally sourced,” says Andrew. “You can basically go and see any one of our suppliers within a one-minute walk of our front door. Plus, our chef is absolutely superb. He’s the most passionate chef I’ve ever worked with and I honestly think he’s in it just to feed the people. That’s what the Pillar Partnership has allowed us to do—add value to our menu and enabled our chef to show flair. You want to get some ‘wow’ factor in and I think we have—the people coming in have never seen pub food like it.”

There’s a balance to Andrew’s character that he describes as, “cat-like—caring and chilled out on the one hand, agile and aggressive on the other.” It’s this ability to straddle two distinct approaches to life that he believes is the key to his success as a publican. It allows him to motivate his team by showing them that he has their interests at heart. It allows him to entice guests by showing how important their experience is to him. And it allows him to work relentlessly to achieve those results while retaining his own sense of contentment.

Andrew from The Bridge in Ashbourne, Derbyshire“You’ve got to be a good frontperson.”

You only need to look at The Bridge’s Facebook page to see the drive, passion and tirelessness that goes into the running of the pub. Andrew is, in fact, an avid user of social media and, as well as listening to podcasts and watching inspirational YouTube films to get business tips, thinks that they’re an essential component in today’s marketing of a self-run pub. The old-fashioned way of opening the pub doors and waiting for the regulars to come pouring through is not for him. He’s all about pursuing new ideas and approaches and driving footfall by demonstrating his passion in everything he does.

“You’ve got to be a good frontperson,” he says. “A good communicator both with your guests and with your team. I’m very organised and I’m a motivator and try to get the best out of people to create a strong team. Ultimately, I believe I’ve got to where I am because of who I am. My family tell me I work too hard and need to take a day off but that’s not who I am. Everything in my life today has brought me to this moment and it’s a big thing for me. I’m my own boss—I have Marston’s as a business partner, but I work for myself. That’s what I’ve always wanted.”

And now he’s got it.

Looking for something else to read? Take a look at our interview with the former assistant headteachers who changed career to become publicans.

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