The co-owners of the Norwich and District CAMRA Pub of the Year are optimistic they can survive the next few months, despite new restrictions coming into force tomorrow and the fact their micro bar is somewhat on the small side
Nigel Davies sounds fairly upbeat about the next six months, given that the Government announced new restrictions on the pub trade last night.
As co-owner of the award-winning Hop In micro bar in North Walsham he has the certified proof that there is still some good news to come out of the pubs trade at the moment.
The Hop In has been awarded Pub of the Year 2020 by Norwich and District CAMRA, just days before the Prime Minister announced new restrictions, affecting the pubs industry.
The Hop In is a valued welcome to the local community and visitors of the market town. One of the best local transformations, this rare Norfolk micro bar offers a relaxed, friendly place to enjoy a good range of real ales on gravity, bottled and foreign beers and real ciders.
The team already knew the Hop In had won the Branch Rural Pub of the Year, but this latest announcement came as quite a surprise. When Branch Chairman Ian Stamp paid them a visit last week and presented them with their Pub of the Year certificate, Nigel recalls: ‘We didn’t even realise. We were very pleased.’
It’s been a team effort over the past four years, but with Richard Cornwall and Sue Squires deciding to take early retirement in July, Nigel and his partner Jane Edrupt (pictured at the serving hatch, above) are now the co-owners. And they are joined by Julie and Adrian Hillier.
Has it been difficult for them this year? ‘Somewhat,’ says Nigel. ‘Fortunately we have quite a lot of loyal customers in North Walsham. There’s quite a lot of retired people who enjoy cask ale. It was a bit of a gamble when we set up. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be trading, to be honest.’
In some respects Nigel already feels ‘ahead of the curve’ given the new restrictions, which include table service only in hospitality venues. Seating in the pub is restricted (‘we can only get six people in there’) and there is additional seating outside. ‘We’ve got a big paved area outside and have been doing table service, taking orders, delivering beer and taking away the empty glasses.’
As for pubs and restaurants closing at 10pm, ‘we’ve been on restricted hours, as there hasn’t been enough trade,’ says Nigel. ‘This year has been very quiet. We’ve only been doing Thursday to Sunday, five hours a day, to keep things ticking over.’ He makes the point: ‘Small places like ours are on restricted hours anyway.’
The only big new change will be preparing for the new NHS Covid-19 app, which launches tomorrow and involves QR check-in at venues, to aid NHS Test and Trace.
Looking ahead, he says: ‘We’ve got to find some way of serving people when it gets cold and wet and dark. We’ve been fortunate up until now as it’s only rained a couple of times.’
To that end, Nigel has been in contact with North Norfolk District Council on the subject of weatherproofing the outdoors space in some way, and is also planning to apply for a Temporary Event Notice as he’s been in discussions with a local businessman about utilising nearby empty premises during the Christmas period. ‘We’ve got different irons in the fire,’ says Nigel.
‘At worst we will have to do off-sales only and open a few half days for people to get their rations.’ The takeaway service has already been proving popular. ‘We will see what happens. We know that we can face it out, even if we just do off-sales. We will survive and we should be OK – eventually things will get back to normal.’