Running successful pubs ‘isn’t hard’, says London licensee

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Maria Larsen and Scott Hunter own three food-led pubs in London
Maria Larsen and Scott Hunter own three food-led pubs in London
The owner of the Princess of Shoreditch pub in East London has claimed that running a pub in the current climate isn’t difficult, and that the reason so many pubs are closing across the UK is because they’re being run by people that ‘don’t know what they’re doing’.

Scott Hunter, who now runs three food-led pubs in the capital with his wife Maria Larsen, says the reason behind the pair’s quick successes was simply ‘hard work, determination and a passion for the industry’.

“It was a big learning curve for us both and we’ve had to work so hard, but if we could do it I don’t see why anyone else couldn’t,” Hunter told BigHospitality. “We initially took over a dilapidated Shoreditch boozer (in 2008) which wasn’t making money and the glamour of having our own business disappeared within a week - we were working from 8am until midnight every day.”

The couple, who met while working at a Pitcher & Piano bar together, took over the Princess of Shoreditch and doubled sales in less than a year. They then acquired the Lady Ottoline in Bloomsbury in 2011, followed by the Pig & Butcher in Islington last year.

Proactive approach

“This first pub was turning over hundreds of pound a week -, it was dead,” Hunter added. “But the most important thing for us was that we had an idea of what we wanted to achieve there.

Lady-Ottoline
Hunter and Larsen took over the Lady Ottoline in Bloomsbury in 2011

“The reason that other pubs are closing left, right and centre is because they’re run by people that don’t know what they’re doing and have got no passion, they’ve fallen into the industry and they don’t want to learn.

“If you’re a pub that doesn’t serve food then you’re going to have to accept not having that extra revenue stream. The likes of the smoking ban and the effects of beer tax have of course affected things, but if you’re just going to sit there and wallow then your companies going to go bust.

“You’ve got to be proactive; you can’t just sit and wait for your pub to die."

'Cash flow is everything'

Hunter went on to admit that there have been difficulties along the way, claiming ‘the biggest challenge was in having no other support’.

“Maria and I went from working at fairly large pub companies to having to do everything from marketing to payroll to purchasing and maintaining equipment. Managing staff was difficult - finding good people and dealing with chefs can be very stressful.

“Before I put our business plan together I thought I knew what I was doing in all of these regards, but when I read the plan back I realised I still had so much to learn. I discovered that cash flow is everything - it doesn’t matter how profitable your business is, if you haven’t got enough money in the bank to pay your bills, you’re going to go bust.

“In reality, though, it’s just not that hard, getting initial funding can be tough but you don’t need a lot of money to open a pub, you just need to keep looking for the right site – I spent nearly a year looking at every single pub on the market in London until I found the one that was right for us.”

After a successful trading period January, Hunter concluded that the pair don’t have any plans to continue expanding the business, but wouldn’t rule out acquiring more pubs if the right offer came their way.

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5 comments

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Wow....impressed

Posted by Tom Gavaghan,

Let's do a mystery visit and see what it's all about. Maybe Mum and Dad needs to see the cash flow and standards. Serious stuff. Very interested. I am challenged now.

I respect the views from above but.....a big But. Let's get down and see and feel this great success. I will, I promise and may learn either way.I will vote and judge then and only then. But the comments on the article do read a tad cocky.....but in saying this, maybe this is what our beautiful industry needs in this present climate. Still....I will keep you posted. Kind regards to all. Tom G x

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Ah the arrogance of living in a bubble

Posted by Adrian Close,

Ah the arrogance of living in a bubble, that comes from working for managed houses. It’s not easy running any retail outlet at the moment especially a pub and restaurant (look at the high street) and their all moving to online sales, try doing that with a pint Mr and Mrs Hunter.

There are hundreds of hard working licensees out there who are dedicated and passionate about their businesses. The problem, as someone has already mentioned, is the shocking relationship between the pub companies and their licensees and the lack of acknowledgement and real proactive support from MP’s.

I have now finished running pubs, restaurants and hotels in favour of a more sociable and rewarding life delivering very affordable industry related training courses (food hygiene, first aid, wine tasting etc.) and advertising pubs, restaurants and hotels for sale or lease re-assignments without charging commission on the sale.

Another part of our service is to develop licensees (as we were developed) rather than slagging them off. I wish Mr and Mrs Hunter all the best, but don’t be surprised when your arrogance comes round a dark corner and bites you in the behind one day.

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Alarm Bells

Posted by J Mark Dodds,

There's not enough information in the article to know whether this is a display of business acumen or of youthful enthusiasm.

He's right obviously - and to some extent Cash is King - you can pay bills if you have cash in the bank. But it's also very possible to live out of cash flow without realising that your cash in the bank is not your profit - it's your suppliers, and HMRC's money.

Cash flow is vanity. Profit is sanity.

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