Glasses raised as first 'new' Oakman Group gastropubs reopen
Drinks are being clinked and food is being devoured as the first two eateries in the new life of the former Seafood Pub Company opened their doors this week after a tumultuous 12 months.
The lifting of the second stage of Covid restrictions, which began on Monday for indoor hospitality, also marks the first chapter in a new life for the celebrated chain of Lancashire and Yorkshire gastropubs which went into administration at the beginning of the pandemic last year.
Six of the former Seafood Pub Company's properties - the Forest, Fence, The Fleece, Addingham, the Farmers Arms, Great Eccleston, The Derby Arms, Longridge, The Alma Inn, Colne, and The Fenwick, at Claughton, near Lancaster, have come under the ownership of the Oakman Group.
The Forest at Fence and the Fleece at Addingham were the frst to welcome drinkers and diners back this week, much to the relief of proprietor Joycelyn Neve who speak to us about the next stage.
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"It's been a tough year but we're finally seeing some light now," she said.
"We've had a really, really strong start at the re-opening of our first two venues and we expect to be incredibly busy for the next few weeks. The weather hasn't been kind but I think our customers have appreciated the new heated covered terrace we've installed at the Forest.
"Hopefully the weather should get warmer soon so our customers will still have the option of eating and drinking outside. The Forest has a lot of loyal fans who have returned and we've manged to retain a lot of the local staff who are very popular, including Sean Price, our deputy general manager, and head chef Lee Unthank."
Indeed, such has been the scrmable to book tables ahead of all the pubs reopening, Joycelyn said the company's original plan of re-hiring 150 staff had soon shot up to 220.
This depsite the well-publicised recent struggles the hospitality industry across the country in recruiting staff.
"In a weird way, as a new company, we almost had a head start on others," Joycelyn explained.
"Existing businesses would have had staff on furlough who perhaps decided to leave the industry. I'm also proud of the effort we put into training our staff through personal development plans.
"We're heavily invested in each person who may see it as a long-term career, plus we can tailor hours to suit their wishes."
Joycelyn explained that the staggered opening dates for the different pubs had also allowed them to be flexible with staffing.
Up next will be the Farmers Arms and Derby Arms on May 31st, and the Alma Inn and Fenwick on June 14th.