The Grapes Inn has been at the centre of Goosnargh for over 300 years, and in August 2021, still in the shadow of the pandemic, couple Nicola Denham, 45, and Mark Webster, 48, decided to give the closed pub another lease of live.
Originally from Manchester but living in Rossendale, the couple and their nine-year-old daughter Saffia, moved to the Grapes Inn within six months of selling their home in what was “all a bit of a whirlwind”.
Explaining why they took on the task of running the pub, Nicola said: “Mark’s a chef and I was in teaching, but we've always enjoyed going out to pubs and eating out, and discussing what we’d do with ours. Then I got made redundant in February ‘21, and I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with myself, it knocked my confidence. But I’d just been looking online at what you have to do to have your own pub, having a drive around and sizing up a few places, and the Grapes was one of the ones that was available. It was quite difficult to get into, having no experience, so we had to prove ourselves at the interview stage, that we were a viable option for the company to take a punt on us.”
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Although the couple are not from the area, Nicola says they soon found the community to be “really supportive”, with residents offering to varnish benches, cut the lawn and do other small tasks whilst the couple got to grips with learning the ropes.
Nicola explained: "I'd never run my own business before, never mind a pub, I’d not even pulled a pint so it was a huge learning curve for me, and Mark had never run a pub kitchen before, he's always been in contract or school catering, so it was a massive change for him. We were really busy trying to get it open, and everybody was very welcoming, although I think it took a while for a few people to realise that we were open!
"It's a lot tougher than we thought it was gonna be, especially with Covid, when it hit again in the winter, that was more of a struggle than we expected. Some days I feel brave, some days I feel like I had a moment of madness! You've got to be a very resilient, positive thinking person to keep going every day when you’re stood there with no customers and the bills are so high. So it's a tough one, but it's a beautiful pub, in an amazing village.”
Since officially opening at the end of August, the Grapes Inn has seen their clientelle growing, proving popular with familes, dog walkers, cyclists, local drinkers and even people from a far.
Part of the attraction is sure to be their “lovely” large big beer garden, and “fabulous cask ales”, whilst their extensive food menu includes pub classics, lunch bites, grazers to share, homemade pizzas and a full Sunday roast.
Nicola said: “We have our regulars, like our Friday night crew, our Sunday evening crew, and you do get to know everybody so it's a really nice community, plus people are starting to come from other places to visit us as well. We’re getting there, but I think we've still got a long way to go. It was closed when we took it over, and it changed hands quite a lot in the past couple of years, then obviously COVID as well, so people had lost a bit of faith in it, and started going to other places, so we're just doing our best day by day to win everybody back and obviously get some new customers in.”
As keen pub lovers themselves, Nicola is determined to make a success of the venture, and ensure the Grapes Inn is around for generations to come.
She explained: “It's such a pinnacle building within the heart of Goosnargh, a place where people come and spend time with friends, spend time with family.
“People have said I lost my wife and this pub was where we came, or such and such had their christening there. We had a funeral in a couple of months back, and the gentleman and his wife, whose funeral it was, had actually had their wedding reception here, so it's an important place in the village because it holds a lot of important memories.
“That’s what these places are here for but there's not enough around, there's so many country pubs like ours closing week on week, you only have to drive around villages like ours, and even in larger towns.
“It is a British institution, the pub, it needs to be kept alive because otherwise people will be sat at home, in front of a TV, and that’s not good for your mental health, you need to be out meeting people and enjoying yourself.
“You also want somewhere you can just show up to with the kids and the dogs and have a bite to eat and be able to walk home again, you don’t always want to pay for a taxi into town. That's the important part of these kind of places, that they are on your doorstep.”
As well as serving food Wednesday to Sunday, The Grapes Inn offers live music at least once a month, usually on a Saturday, as well as a pub quiz, comedy nights, and a function space for all occasions.
Nicola added: “There's a lot going on, I'd like to think I'm trying to create a real community vibe, obviously, if anybody's got any suggestions of how we can make it better, that's aways welcome but we are working our socks off, so people just need to come and try us really!”