I heard some interesting news this week that will have a potentially big impact on some of Gloucester’s most historic pubs*: the Chapman Group has been acquired by Dominion Hospitality.
The Chapman Group owns The New Inn, Dick Whittington and Station Hotel.
Actually, this news isn’t as new as I first thought; the press release announcing the acquisition came out on 2 November 2016, but I’m guessing that it is still far too early for anyone to sensibly assess what the impact will be.
The Gloucester pubs are just three of the 28 pubs and hotels that the Chapman Group owns and manages in the south of England.
According to Neil Morgan, Managing Director of Pubs & Restaurants at Christie & Co, who brokered the acquisition:
“Since entering the pub trade in 1977, the Chapman family has continually sought to acquire sites which have been neglected and are then redeveloped to create presentable and profitable businesses.”
The Chapman Group have owned the New Inn since 1998 and the Station Hotel since 2001. I don’t have a record of when they took ownership of the Dick Whittington. During their ownership they deserve credit for keep the pubs open and continuing to operate them as traditional pubs rather than turning them into restaurants or hotels unwelcoming to drinkers.
However, to the interested bystander it does not seem that they have been responsible for a great deal of redevelopment.
The New Inn in particular calls out for a great deal of work to turn it into the jewel in Gloucester’s crown that it should be. This fifteenth century inn, which has been described as the finest example of a medieval galleried inn to be found in Britain today, looks decidedly shabby. Being a Grade I listed building it will obviously take a lot of money to restore it to the glory it deserves, so let’s hope Dominion have deep pockets.
But even without that, there is much that can be done through better staffing and management. It has three businesses, all which need looking after properly: a hotel, a restaurant and a pub. It is a lot to ask for a single manager to run all of that to a high standard. Perhaps it is little wonder that it suffers a high turn-over of management.
I can only really speak for the pub – and don’t get me wrong, I like the New Inn – but the staff are generally not the most engaging and the quality of the beer often leaves a lot to be desired.
Likewise the Dick Whittington occupies a Grade I listed fifteenth century building. It too has suffered from quite a turnover of managers over the years, although it is now in the safe hands of Martyn Penn, formerly of the Pig in the City. Martyn does his best, and has great plans – when he first took over he talked of having a micro-brewery installed – but there has never been the financial support needed to even keep the building in good order.
In comparison to the other two, the Station is a positive youngster, with the building dating from only 1880. Nonetheless, being situated right next to the railway station (as the name suggests) and just over the road from the Bus Station, which is in the process of a major re-vamp, a little investment could see this as a top destination for visitors to the city.
So will Dominion deliver? According to the press release:
“Dominion Hospitality is an affiliate of Stellex Capital Management, a private equity group that invests in middle market companies in North America and Europe. The acquisition is focused on providing growth capital and resources to expand Dominion’s presence in the U.K.”
Billy Buchanan, chief executive of LT Management Services, who have been appointed to provide the front and back office support, said, “with the right investment and resources, the Chapman Group represents a significant growth opportunity in the coming years.” So that sounds promising.
However, time will tell and perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. Much as I would like to see money invested in these fine hostelries, I would hate to see them turned into restaurants, gastro-pubs or pretentious wine bars.
Here’s hoping they get the balance right.
* I am cautious in using the term historic pubs, because really only two** of them fit that description. The Dick Whittington is not an historic pub, it is a pub in an historic building – it only became a pub in the early 1980s. This may seem like a pedantic distinction but I think it is an important one – and one missed by whoever devised this year’s Gloucester Civic Trust calendar.
** The use of the word ‘pub’ may also be questioned for the other two as one is an inn and the other an hotel, but since they have (to the best of my knowledge) always had a bar open to the public, I think it is reasonable to describe them as pubs.