Lucy Townsend: Publican
Despite only opening in its current form in March 2013, The Greyhound on the Test has already won Michelin Pub of the Year 2014.
Boasting seven bedrooms for those who can’t face the journey home after overindulging, the pub has proven popular not only with fishing enthusiasts but also with foodies from afar clamouring to sample the modern British cuisine. My Little Black Book caught up with owner, Lucy Townsend, to find out the secret to her success.
My Little Black Book: Congratulations on winning Michelin Pub of the Year, Lucy! Tell us how you came to be involved in the pub industry.
Lucy Townsend: I was interested in food from an early stage as I fancied a boy in my Home Economics class! I then really enjoyed cooking and went to catering college, later winning a scholarship to specialise in pastry and entering the world of work as a pastry chef.
I was a pastry chef in London for many years and worked with Marco Pierre White and Hotel Du Vin Winchester. My partner and I were both chefs at the time and we decided that it didn’t make economic sense for us both to be in the kitchen, so I began focusing on front of house instead. After a spell as Operating Officer for Millers Collection (a company operating period inns and luxury hotels), I decided to take some time to have a family and work on other smaller projects. In 2013, the former Greyhound came on the market and I saw it as a great opportunity. It was a site that I always loved due to location and being situated on the River Test.
MyLBB: It sounds like The Greyhound was an opportunity too good to miss, especially with a setting so perfect for al fresco dining. What else did you love about The Greyhound and how have you stamped your mark?
LT: I bought The Greyhound in December 2012 then closed it for a four-month renovation period. The Greyhound is an amazing 600 year old building and, during our overhaul, I felt we needed to make the most of the pub’s quirky features whilst being sympathetic to its natural charm. Quirky features that make The Greyhound distinctive include an honesty bar for the bedrooms, a luxury fishing hut and our own fishing beat.
During the renovation we tried to use local businesses within the Stockbridge area where possible and this helped to make our premises truly unique. The décor is now light and airy and flows through the whole building, coupled with carefully chosen furnishings to ensure that our guests are comfortable during their visit. I think we have managed to match our restaurant offerings with the décor and feel of the building, with a menu focusing on provenance and British favourites.
MyLBB: A transformation in four months must have been immensely difficult; many owners take a whole year to renovate premises so extensively! What has been your biggest challenge since reopening The Greyhound?
LT: Finding a balance between work and home life has been very tough at times. Running a public house/restaurant/hotel is a 24/7 job and there is no time to wind down and relax. I have a very hands on role and spend a significant amount time on the floor with guests, as in this industry it’s vital to know your clientele and their requirements.
My partner was hit with a disease last year, which has left him a quadruple amputee. This, coupled with looking after a 3 year old son as well as the business, has resulted in some testing times.
I believe a major accomplishment this year has been running my business as well as spending time with and looking after my family. The work/life balance has seemed impossible at times but I’ve found ways to make it achievable.
MyLBB: It’s immensely impressive that you’ve managed to balance everything in such challenging circumstances, Lucy. Maintaining a work/life balance is a common problem for our readers and it’s inspiring to hear you’ve made it possible. Do you have any advice for women keen to set up a business of their own?
LT: It is important to be confident and believe in yourself and what you are able to do. Make sure you research your business and know what you are offering; don’t run before you can walk. Keep a daily eye on your cash flow, too!
Investing in a very good team/support network is also essential, especially if you are a woman with a family.
MyLBB: We agree that a robust support team is vital. How receptive is the pub world to women? Have you ever suffered any prejudice because of your gender/age?
LT: I have honestly never had any prejudice in the pub world. I think you have to come across strong – especially when alcohol is involved – regardless of your client.
MyLBB: And finally, what are your plans for the future of The Greyhound on the Test and the Lucy Townsend empire?
LT: I have so many plans for the future! I have invested in an additional property to crete more bedroom space due to the demand for rooms in Stockbridge.
We have also launched WILDS, a bespoke catering operation caters for events offsite, and this has been a lot more successful than we ever thought it would be!
As well as these projects, I am continually looking to invest in local and likeminded businesses that compliment or work in unison with what we are trying to achieve with our unique product at The Greyhound.
Good luck with the new venture and we look forward to seeing more awards for The Greyhound on the Test in the future!