A different challenge at a jewel of a country pub

Abergavenny Arms 2

After more than 50 years in the jewellery trade, one of Tunbridge Wells’ most successful and well-known businessmen has taken the plunge into an altogether different venture.

Richard Burrell, best known for the Royal Victoria Place jewellers which bears his name, fulfilled a lifelong ambition when he bought the Abergavenny Arms in Frant earlier this year.

Although much of his early life was spent in a pub owned by his parents, the industry has moved almost beyond recognition since then.

Mr Burrell believes for pubs to survive, and differentiate themselves, they are having to move beyond serving ‘pub grub’ and cater for a more discerning clientele.

He said: “Pub dining is going the way of being higher class, but we are also trying to serve food which is a bit different.”

But Mr Burrell admits that, unlike his time as a jeweller, he does not yet possess the ability to instinctively price food to get the best margins, a skill he defers to his manager Digby Harvey.

He said: “Some dishes do not make the margins they should because we want to get people in.

“Because of this, we are very busy in the evenings, but we have recently launched a lunch menu too
because we realised fine dining is not what everyone wants.

“I do rely quite a lot on the experience of the staff for the running of the place.”

Although he entered the trade with his eyes open, and is therefore prepared to run at a loss, there are some expenses he did not have to take into account when running his stores.

Mr Burrell said: “I have never had to deal with such high overheads before. Unlike with the jewellers, the pub runs seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

“You have to be prepared to run at a loss for the first year.”

On top of this, there have been initial start-up costs, including a £60,000 investment in the kitchen and a complete refurbishment of the pub.

Mr Burrell is aware his previous success and sale of his jewellery business made it possible, admitting that anyone setting up in the trade without a decent amount of financial flexibility would find it ‘tough.’

But although he left the jewellery business looking for new challenges, Mr Burrell said he still gets nostalgic, and would never rule out jumping back in.

He said: “After being in the business for 50 years, it eventually became like groundhog day – the alarm would ring in the morning and it would start all over again.

“I do miss it though. Part of the contract I signed when I sold Burrell’s two years ago was not to open another jewellers in Tunbridge Wells.

“But that expires in April. And I have not ruled out re-entering the trade, although at the moment I do have my hands full.”

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