For Ben Kay and wife Laura taking on a pub wasn’t just a normal challenge. But with a burning ambition to transform their lives, they decided to move 4,000 miles in 2010 to take on The Wheatsheaf in Duxford, such was their drive to fulfil a lifelong ambition – to become the proud licensees of a proper English pub.
Until March, the couple were living in North Carolina in the United States. Ben was a marketing director tied to his desk at a publishing company he part owned while Laura struggled to find a new role in HR after being made redundant from her previous job. The couple were both quickly losing patience with the corporate world. So after 14 years living the American dream, they decided to ditch their desks and move back to the UK, Ben’s home country. And it was all in the name of pursuing their lifelong ambition of owning a pub in the English countryside.
“I was tired of the rat race and we really wanted to see more of each other by working together” says Ben. “Unfortunately my wife was made redundant following the US economic downturn and had been unemployed for a little while. We knew 2010 was the year we had to take control and change our lives for the better.”
He adds; “We love entertaining, are keen to get into the food industry together and wanted to be closer to our family in the UK. So we started to look for opportunities in the pub industry. When we spotted that The Wheatsheaf was available, owned by Greene King and located in a beautiful Cambridgeshire village, it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up.”
So in June, Ben and Laura became the proud licensees of The Wheatsheaf in Duxford. “In my opinion, 2010 has been the best time to start a new venture.” Ben comments. “If you can make your business successful now, when the good times come rolling back, you’re on to a winner.”
For two people with corporate, office backgrounds, taking on the running and management of a pub posed a completely new direction. But it was a challenge they both relished. And with the support of Greene King’s Go for Growth programme behind them, they were given all the training and advice needed to get up and running, before they even set foot behind the bar.
“There is an awful lot to do when you take on a pub. And the last few months have been crazy, but exciting!” In May, Greene King put them on the Go for Growth programme, a mandatory training course for all licensees wanting to take a pub with them. The programme gives new licensees a complete induction to the pub industry, giving them the best possible start. And Ben and Laura were two such licensees to benefit from it.
“Through Greene King’s Go for Growth, we received training in finance, marketing and staff development among other things. From a newcomer’s perspective, it was a very thorough introduction to the industry.
“We both have business brains, so training in things like profit and loss was a refresher for us. But the hands-on training to equip us with the skills to run a proper pub and serve an excellent pint to our customers was extremely valuable. Between us we had experience of waiting tables and bar work, but running a pub is a whole new way of life. The training helped us make the career change and reinvent ourselves. Our mindset has shifted and thanks to the training we now think like pub owners instead of corporate office workers.”
At the end of a year which has seen them move countries and adopt a completely new lifestyle, Ben and Laura are confident it was the best move they ever made. And trade is going well.
Laura comments: “The Wheatsheaf is the hub of the local community. Our customers come from all walks of life. Business people, football fans, families, people stopping for a quick drink after work, you name it, they use it. It’s a local proper pub, and that’s the way we intend to keep it.
“It was through Greene King’s training that we received reassurance and confidence that there is always going to be business for our pub. It’s the same as any other business. If you give it your best effort, and provide excellent service, you will always do well. Put in the hard work and you will get out what you put in.”
The couple are now happily living their dream. “For me personally, the best part of my new career has been learning how to manage my cellar and serve a great pint” says Ben. “That is, after all, what a pub is all about. And the training must have sunk in as we always get lots of compliments about our beer.
“And without doubt, the most rewarding part of our new life is seeing a pub packed full of people having a great time. The first few months have been hard work. There is no denying that. But it has already started to pay dividends. Every day we’re pleased we took the pub on in 2010, changing our lives for the better.”