Repton is a village that is dominated by its Independent fee-paying school and, as such, has a lot of boozers trying to entice its 3,000 permanent residents to part with their cash.
There are four in the village along with a British Legion and licensed Indian restaurant and many more within close proximity so; in order to survive you need to find which slice of the pie is yours.
It’s an ongoing challenge for 98 – The Red Lion DE65 6FLas it tries to retain its place as a ‘local’ for the villagers.
Dave, the gaffer has been here for 18 months and is one of the friendliest blokes you could wish to meet.
The place had a smell of paint as it was being given a refurb and the front now looks a ‘bit more Repton’ and he was brutally candid about life at The Red Lion.
Friday afternoon at 1pm should be prime time in the land of plenty as there is an abundance of disposable income either permanently in the village or travelling through at weekends and, on an Exeat weekend, this is the perfect time to pack ‘em in.
However, there was just me, my daughter and her friend and when you are competing against The Bulls Head and The Boot then you need to find your market.
Both of the aforementioned boozers are slick food operations although The Boot does brew its own beer and is slightly more ‘pubby’ but the lure of pizzas and gastro food generally attracts people paying northwards of 25k per year for their children’s education.
And, at the other end of the market, you have The Mount Pleasant Inn which opens for a couple of hours every night and is rammed full of punters looking for cheap and cheerful pub grub.
Which leaves a niche, or not, for the Red Lion to fill. Maybe as a sports pub you would think but, as Dave freely admits, they can only afford BT Sports as opposed to SKY and therefore do show live sport…but not all of it.
They started selling food four weeks ago and the girls had two very nice bowls of chunky chips (you’d be surprised how badly some pubs CAN go wrong with just chips) and the prices are very reasonable.
However, Dave told me that whilst Sunday lunches were booming so much he needed two sittings and the evening trade for food was good lunchtimes were slow so he may adjust serving times.
He admitted some days were fantastic and others weren’t and that it has been a hard slog for the 18 months he has had the boozer but, it looks as smart now as it’s ever done.
Reputation is everything in the pub world and if your local community aren’t convinced then it can take a long time to turn that ship around. Dave said they inherited a ‘reputation’ that wasn’t conducive to attracting people in around rumours of substances, late-drinking (I stress just rumours) and that he is slowly wining the trust of local people.
They have meetings for the local water polo team, skittles team, AGM’s of local groups and there is also live music in a bid to keep punters coming through the doors so they are reaching out.
He was positive about a party on Saturday night that was bringing in 95 people in the back room along with 60 people eating and it would be great to see this place succeed as it is the closest pub to a school that can count CB Fry amongst its alumni.
Roald Dahl, Jeremy Clarkson and Will Hughes (ex Derby, now Watford) were also educated at Repton but Fry is quite extraordinary.
Not only did he represent England at both cricket (scoring test centuries against Australia and South Africa) and football as well as making an FA Cup Final appearance for Southampton he also managed to equal the then world record for Long Jump.
Aside from his sporting prowess he also turned down the opportunity to become king of Albania (reportedly), stood as a Liberal candidate for the Brighton constituency, and was an all-round general raconteur. He also taught at Charterhouse School, worked for the League of Nations in Geneva but, most impressively of all was his party trick.
Apparently, at the age of 70 he could leap backwards from a stationery position onto a mantelpiece. I am pretty sure if he was doing this in the Red Lion most nights it would be packed to the rafters!
He was on the ball and showed me their new menus, talked to the girls and made us feel really welcome and shook my hand on leaving asked me to come back again. I had a decent pint of Pie In The Sky (Jennings) and there was also Pedigree on and he spoke about not wanting to put any more beers on due to footfall and turnover of ale (sensible chap).
The Red Lion does have possibly the world’s smallest beer garden (!) but there is a gaffer who genuinely cares and is working long hours in a Marston’s tied house to earn a crust.
Let’s hope it succeeds and my daughter was that impressed with Dave that she cheered as she saw three people walking in as we departed! Is there enough of the pie to go round four pubs in Repton?