Creating the right environment is the key to success at The Fleece
Despite scooping awards in the two pubs they have run together, Karen Mcgeoch and Rod Undy deny having a ‘winning streak’, putting their success down to something far more fundamental.
“It’s just sheer hard work and a will to get things right,” says Karen. “That and a desire to create an environment that customers want and enjoy.”
Karen and Rod took over The Fleece at Hillesley in September 2016 and after just 20 months, they won Gloucestershire pub of the year from CAMRA.
They won the equivalent regional award when they ran Mumbles Ale House in Wales, and these two accolades are all the more impressive considering the fact the couple have only been running pubs for less than four years.
Prior to working in the pub industry, Rod was an engineer and worked in sales for motor parts. Karen’s background is in graphics and video production as well as being a qualified fitness instructor and personal trainer.
“Rod and I had a multitude of related and transferrable skills that have been invaluable in taking on this business but the thing that really convinced me to move into the industry was Rod’s passion for ale, it’s contagious!”
The Fleece is a community-owned pub, which means the shareholders - essentially the villagers - own the building and Karen and Rod have the lease and own the business.
Karen says they were initially a little worried by the fact the locals owned the pub but the demarcation lines are clear so both parties know how the boundaries lie.
As well as Hillesley residents, the pub
attracts cycling and walking groups, as well as regulars who live in nearby villages and towns.
Because of their CAMRA awards, they also attract a number of real ale fans and that’s where Rod’s passion for beer has paid dividends.
“We’ve deliberately increased our range of ales to attract beer enthusiasts and now have up to seven handpumps for ale, as well as an increased range of cider.
“Our regular ales include Wye Valley Butty Bach and our guest ales change on a weekly basis but include ales from awardwinning breweries such as Arbor Ales in Bristol and Tiny Rebel in Newport.”
The recent arrival of chef Steve Mcquigg has also seen the introduction of new food menus, although the owners don’t want it to become a gastropub as such.
“Food is important and it’s got to be of a high standard, but what Rod and I have a big bugbear about is that so many ex-pubs have become restaurants, where the emphasis is totally on food and not about the ambience of the pub environment.”
“We try our best to keep prices down so our homemade burgers are £10.95, beerbattered cod and chips is £10.50 and sirloin steak is £14.95. We also do a kids’ menu for £5.50 to encourage families.”
With long-term plans of perhaps adding accommodation to the pub, Karen and Rod have plenty of ambitions for The Fleece but they say its success is down to offering customers what they want, from well-kept beer and good value to regular coffee mornings and open mic nights.
“A lot of our customers comment on the great atmosphere when they walk in to our pub and I think the recipe for any success is the fact we engage with our community, serve the best products possible and make sure the customers enjoy themselves.”