When a long shot pays off
With 23 years of experience in successfully owning and operating some of London’s most unique businesses, Longshot has used its accumulated capital and expertise to take on larger challenges in the leisure and property sectors
Formed in 1994 to acquire a pub in London’s Fulham Road, Longshot went on to acquire an enviable portfolio of unique businesses in the capital. Having successfully opened and operated London’s first 24-hour restaurant, Vingt-Quatre, London’s leading health and fitness club, The Third Space, and London’s most established media club, The Groucho Club Longshot sold all of the companies and assets by July 2007.
Joel Cadbury and Ollie Vigors decided to continue with their exciting and diverse track record of starting, scaling and exiting successful and unique businesses and returned to the entrepreneurial world alongside Hector Ross with the establishment of Longshot Country Inns. “In 2010 there was an opportunity to buy a little business called Bel & the Dragon, which was four country pubs that came with demotivated teams and a lot of debt in the company. The reason we wanted to buy Bel & the Dragon, despite these challenges, was because we saw potential in these market towns outside London, where you can’t get good value for money and the menu never changes. We wanted to provide consumers with chefs that can do amazing things with good food in lovely surroundings that are complimented by a good wine list,” says Hector Ross, Chief Operating Officer at Longshot Country Inns.
“Having acquired these sites, we decided we wanted to provide home cooked foods from scratch, which meant filleting our own fish and cutting our own potatoes as well as looking at what produce to grow on site. We got that up and running at our beautiful site in Cookham, which was the first ever gastro pub, and then progressed to Godalming, then Windsor and Reading,” he adds. “Today we have little market gardens at all of our sites, which enables us to cook our own produce for guests, educate our employees and also deliver the concept of Root to Table so the story of where our produce comes from is clear.” The company also works in conjunction with the local primary school at its Kingsclere site, who then look after the produce in the gardens and learn all about it.
Since these early days, Longshot Country Inns has grown significantly and today has seven sites in charming towns and villages across the South of England following the purchase of sites in Churt (2013), Kingsclere (2015) and Odiham (2014). Key to this growth was the company’s strategic decision to provide accommodation to guests as well as employees upon realising it had too much employee accommodation in Cookham. “We had 15 team bedrooms, so we converted five into guest rooms with the plan of charging no more than £100 for a night. We were suddenly full, which meant on a Sunday and Monday we had an extra ten diners; following the success of this we acquired a historic coaching inn in Churt that had 14 bedrooms, as well as Odiham, which has 15 bedrooms, then Kingsclere, which has nine bedrooms. We then converted some rooms with the intention of hiring more local employees and also built more rooms in Churt and Odiham. Today we have 47 bedrooms across seven sites and have a turnover of £10 million,” highlights Hector.
While the sites are all unique characterful country inns with a strong history and heritage, the level of service provided by Longshot Country Inns is innovative and forward-thinking, as Hector explains: “We rip up our menus and change the whole thing every month, which may be surprising but we feed approximately 4500 people a week and know the average Bel & the Dragon guest will dine with us twice a month. We think they return because they know there is always something different on our menu. Of course there are always staple products such as Sirloin Steak, which comes from our wonderful butchers Thatchams in Newbury; we have our own purpose-built chiller in their butchery, which ages our heritage beef for 65 days. We also work with our supplier Pugh Piglets, based in Lancashire, the furthest away product for us, however we couldn’t think of a nicer supplier to work with. We sold just over 550,000 portions of Rotisserie Roasted Suckling Pig in 2016.”
Other items on the menus include seared Lyme Bay Scallops, Cornish Lemon Sole and Duck Shepherd’s Pie. Complementing Bel & the Dragon’s delicious food is its extensive wine menu, with wines coming directly from locations such as France, Spain, Italy, New Zealand and Canada.
Keen to have close relationships with suppliers and thus ensure high quality produce, Longshot Country Inns regularly goes on trips with suppliers to develop close bonds and educate its team as they progress up the corporate ladder. “In our seven years of ownership we have taken three kitchen porters to Senior Chef level,” says Hector. “We have also grown to 260 employees, which will go up to 300 in December 2017; team retention is critical as we want our employees to grow with us.”
Recently announced the winner of the Best Premium Food Offer Award at 2017’s prestigious Publican Awards, Bel & the Dragon anticipates further growth and success in the future thanks to its strong reputation for delivering an innovative twist to hospitality. With Longshot Country Inns also recently securing £1 million funding to expand its accommodation offer from 47 to 61 rooms, the company will be delighted to have more visitors coming through its doors over the coming years.