Scott Hunter & Maria Larsen: Career Profile

pub & bar

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Public house, Hotel, Money

Maria Larsen and Scott Hunter own three food-led pubs in London
Maria Larsen and Scott Hunter own three food-led pubs in London
This young husband and wife are a pub success story, with a knack of reinvigorating dilapidated London boozers into profitable gastropubs. The pair took over the Princess of Shoreditch in 2008, doubling sales in less than a year. They then acquired the Lady Ottoline in Bloomsbury in 2011, and the Pig & Butcher in Islington last year. 

How we got to where we are today:

Maria: “Scott and I met when we worked for Pitcher and Piano, so we worked together before we were a couple for quite a few years."

Scott: “I left Pitcher & Piano to open a bar and then poached Maria to come and work for me at Young’s. I moved on from Young’s fairly quickly and then worked for a private company. But it was when I left there we started ‘seeing each other’.

“Maria eventually left Young’s and worked for Corney & Barrow and I took a year out to try and find some funding and potential sites.”

Our first business venture:

Scott: “Having my own pub or pubs is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while - I always wanted to have a small group and the plan was always to see how the first one would go.

“So we took over a run-down Shoreditch pub which just wasn’t making a lot of money - it was a mess.

“It was turning over hundreds of pound a week, but the most important thing for us was that we had an idea of what we wanted to achieve.

“We almost doubled sales within a year through hard work and determination. Then we shut for four weeks and spent every single penny that we’d made in that year and maxed out credit cards and all sorts. We then reopened a month later as the Princess of Shoreditch, got a 5-star review from timout, then we won gastropub of the year and since then the Princess just hasn’t looked back.”

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

Maria: “There wasn’t anything there that we wanted to stick with, nothing was done particularly well. It was fun but it took time for us.

“It was a huge learning curve – we’d been managers before but we’d never been business owners. The biggest hurdle was to actually still do those 15-hour days front-of-house but still find time to do bookkeeping and pay the bills.

“At that point I don’t think I would ever have imagined having a second pub.”

Working as a married couple:

Maria: “I think it’s actually worked really well. We took my background of Michelin-starred restaurants in Denmark (she began working at Ira Ora in Copenhagen) and Scott’s knowledge of bars, and we implement them into a pub.

“When you first start out you’ve got bags of energy and everything is brand new, it was enjoyable. But it can become a bit of a strain. We get on really well though and if we didn’t work together we wouldn’t see each other.

Scott: “As the businesses developed, we’ve been able to divide our time up a bit more, we will go for days without seeing each other but we do enjoy each other’s company.

Maria: “And we’ve always wanted to be a family run company. We’ve got no dreams of becoming the next pitcher and piano at all.”

Our biggest challenge:

Scott: The biggest challenge we faced 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, fining good people and dealing with chefs can be very stressful.

“Before I put the 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.”

What we love about pubs:

Scott: “There’s a buzz that you get from nailing a busy service and when I stop having that buzz I think it’s time to throw in the towel.

Maria: “So many interesting things are happening in the industry at the moment - the craft beer movement and the changes in food - everything allows you to constantly learn and you get to meet some of the most interesting people along the way.

Scott: “We get some great customers as well. If you worked 9-5 in an office you wouldn’t meet any of these people, I think that keeps us young as well. “

Advice for other publicans:

Scott: “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 has of course affected things, but if you’re just going to sit there and wallow then you’re companies either going to go bust or you’re going to go out and get in a proper chef or teach yourself how to cook.

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

“It can be really demoralising along the way constantly being told ‘no’. But I just say, keep your head down, keep learning, and put yourself through courses.

“Finally, 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.”

What’s next…

Scott: “Our plans now are to make these three pubs as good as we can possibly make them. Growing from one to three was really hard.

“We want to just consolidate. We’re not in a rush to grow but if the right sites become available, we’d like to move into restaurants and perhaps open a small, boutique hotel one day. A country pub with rooms in London would be perfect.

“We had thoughts of going to Copenhagen, it’s an amazing place. But London at the moment has so much attention.

Maria: “And we’re going to have a honeymoon. We opened the Pig & Butcher two weeks before we got married, so we haven’t had any time off to relax!” 

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