From a single down-at-heel boozer in 2002, Lee Cash’s Peach group has ripened to 10 gastropubs with a growing reputation. Richard Woodard finds out how he’s succeeded where so many have failed
Suddenly I have this feeling I’m not commanding 100% of Lee Cash’s attention. Head cocked and frowning, the founder of Peach Pubs is clearly bothered by something, and momentarily breaks off our interview to have a word at the bar.
‘It’s this track,’ he explains, jerking his thumb at a nearby speaker. ‘It’s the live version and it gets all loud and clangy in a minute. It’s a bit off-putting and I’ve been meaning to get it taken off.’
Bad news for die-hard Counting Crows fans, but for Cash this kind of attention to detail is vital to the success of pubs like the one we’re sitting in: The Embankment, a mock-Tudor, late Victorian former carvery in a lovely spot alongside the River Great Ouse in Bedford, and now reborn as a tastefully relaxed gastropub with rooms.
‘Hours and hours and hours go into it,’ Cash continues, warming to his musical theme. ‘We sit quietly, iTuning away, creating playlists. I don’t care if you don’t like everything, but hopefully something, at some point, will bring back a great time you once had.’
THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
It’s part of what Cash calls ‘environmental management’, and a lot of thought goes into it. Is the pub too warm? Too cold? Is the music too loud or too soft? ‘And whatever you do, when the place gets busy don’t turn the music up,’ he warns. ‘It just makes people get louder and then we have this crazy situation where we can’t hold a proper conversation.’
Engaging, opinionated and relaxed in equal measure, Cash is big on smart thinking couched in apparently grand concepts: apart from ‘environmental management’, the phrases ‘service wheel’, ‘Peachy vision’ and ‘20 moments of truth’ crop up during our conversation.
This could easily be dismissed as management speak gobbledygook, but Cash is adept at putting practical meat on the bones.
The ‘20 moments of truth’ (part of the ‘service wheel’) are inspired by Danny Meyer, chief executive of New York’s Union Square Hospitality Group. He believes that while service is something that happens to you, hospitality is something that happens for you. And the ‘moments of truth’ are the points at which you interact with the guest.
’Recommendation is nine-tenths of marketing in this business’
‘Let’s say you tell me there’s this great new place I should try,’ explains Cash. ‘So I phone up and someone answers – and they either add to that feeling of confidence or they start to detract from it. All these things are opportunities: when I walk in, does the person behind the bar greet me and make eye contact, or do they just carry on chatting to their mate?
‘Recommendation is nine-tenths of marketing in this business. Most of the people in here have come back because they had a good experience, or they’re here because they’ve had a recommendation. Wondering how that experience is built is pretty bloody important. I can go out and spend £100,000 on advertising, but it won’t have the same effect.’
DAILY DINNER PARTY
What about the ‘Peachy vision’ of a daily dinner party’? What’s that about?
‘What do you do if you’re organising a great dinner party? You go to your local butcher and get a nice piece of lamb, say. You spend an extra couple of pounds on a bottle of something. You get out your best CDs. You put fresh flowers on the table and make sure there’s an extra toilet roll.
‘If you do those things, it’s a good dinner party. You work with enthusiasm and it’s not just about having a nice time; it’s a balance of fun and success.’
It’s an approach that has delivered a much-lauded business, built mostly on taking over under-achieving boozers and turning them around. It started with the Rose & Crown in Warwick in May 2002 and now there are 10 Peach pubs across the Home Counties and south Midlands. The most recent is The Almanack, built in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. Another new-build Almanack will become the 11th outlet this November in Leicester.
Cash was 28 when Peach came into being, but he knew he wanted his own business from the age of 10 – ‘that was just my wiring’. He spent eight years as a restaurateur and manager to gain experience and financial capital.
He’d got as far as writing a business plan when he was introduced to Hamish Stoddart, a management all-rounder with an accountancy background who was looking for a role as a non-executive mentor. ‘We met and we got on like a house on fire, and more importantly we identified some shared ethics,’ recalls Cash.
‘I was looking for a business partner, and not another restaurateur. I was looking for someone with a
different skill set. I think that’s one of the great failings of the industry… Great teams are made up of people with very different skills, who understand each other and don’t stand on each others’ toes all the time.’
Thus, as Peach has expanded, that team has grown to include Jo Eames, a former lawyer with additional expertise in interior design and wine; and, most recently, ex-Barracuda Group Paul Cutsforth as operations director.
Cash and Stoddart both invested their own money in Peach, but added £120,000 from private investors, plus a bank loan. ‘We made sure that we raised enough facility to do the first two pubs,’ Cash says. ‘If we had got the first pub wrong and had to sell it, at least we could have another go. But it was a great success and we quickly got onto our second and third site, and bought out some of our investors.’
’We’re trying to keep the business in tight community groups’
Stoddart’s background as a wholesaler and accountant helped build relationships with financiers, but also instilled in Peach a disciplined, organised team training system alongside Cash’s more intuit
ive approach. Even as we speak, Andrew Coath, The Embankment’s owner-operator, is across the room giving a new member of staff their obligatory induction into the Peach philosophy.
Coath, ex-Grand Hotel in Brighton and Malmaison, is another example of Peachy vision in practice. The business model is built around a growing roster of joint venture owner-operators who invest their own money and time in up to three pubs in a local area.
‘The guys who are in this business and are good at it are into being the host and dealing with people,’ Cash says. ‘I’ve never met a happy area manager – suddenly they’ve got the laptop and the company car and they’re stuck on the M1. So we’re trying to keep the business in tight community groups.’
BEHIND THE BAR
Future expansion of the Peach empire appears guaranteed. The newest joint venture partner is eyeing sites from London to Southampton, and Cash reckons anywhere within two hours of the company’s base in Peach Barns, Oxfordshire, is fair game.
‘We’ll keep growing because the guys we work with are ambitious, a bunch of enthusiasts,’ he says. ‘It would be wrong to stop now, because what Peach has done is a catalyst and it has a life of its own.
‘I’m excited about the business for a different reason now than I was with the Rose & Crown. I loved my pub, being in there, serving everyone, seeing the smiles. Now I love meeting an operator who wants to be a champion of their own place, helping them achieve their first, second, third place. It’s awesome – really exciting.’
On the Hotspot
Imbibe: How do you feel about the term ‘gastropub’?
Cash: I hated that word and I’ve been trying to think of something else for seven years, but I’ve given up now because it’s understood by everybody. It’s overused, but the guests are intelligent beings and they sniff out the places they like and the places that do it well for them.
Imbibe: Do more pub closures give you more opportunities?
Cash: Apart from thinking ‘this is scary’, that’s definitely what we thought would happen as the recession bore down. Great sites are not going wrong. There’s a lot of whingeing and whining about the number of pubs shutting down, but if more effort was put into making them work they wouldn’t be closing.
Imbibe: How do you feel about the anti-alcohol backlash?
Cash: By and large, we’re not where the binge-drinking problems lie. It was the government’s policy to push all the booze premises together, rather than putting them in communities. Now they don’t like the monster. Pubs on corners in towns will annoy the occasional resident, but that’s life in a community.
Imbibe: Anything else you’d like to add on the subject?
Cash: I’ve got some dickhead standing outside with a sound monitor because Mrs Miggins down the road has complained. Or they’re sending underage kids into our pubs to try to buy drinks. Can you believe it? As a barperson, you’re treated as a criminal almost from the beginning.
Lee Cash’s seven pillars of gastropub wisdom
Do what you can do well on your busiest shift. If it ain’t going to work at 8.30pm on a Saturday night, don’t do it.
Don’t try to pull the wool over people’s eyes. It doesn’t matter how cleverly you price things, people can add up.
You need a ruthless system. It’s about going wild because there are three fag butts in an ashtray when there should never ever be more than two.
Get rid of anyone in your team who doesn’t willingly live your values – swiftly and without remorse.
Serve the good stuff. Don’t scrimp on product.
It’s not a quick buck industry. Only do it if you want to spend five years or more at it. The rewards come, but not that quickly.
And have fun. Have fun with your guests, your team and your suppliers. People go out to feel good, not to worship some culinary creation.
Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November / December 2009