HOW DO YOU go from being a university lecturer and spare-time restorer and seller of old buses to the owner of a business that’s buying up and reviving old pubs even as others close all over the land?
Robert Thomas used to be best known for his ownership of the Prince George in Parkholme Road, a haven of warmth, tradition, a well-stocked jukebox, and good food and drink when Dalston meant dreary. Now his Remarkable Pubs groups owns 16, the latest acquisitions being the Holly Tree in Forest Gate and Boleyn, East Ham. He still lives in Dalston, and leaves media interviews to others.
Over lunch in the Virgin Queen, a recent buy in Haggerston, Remarkable Pubs managing director Elton Mouna told Loving Dalston the secret: “The culture of Remarkable Pubs gives our landlords and landladies autonomy to make decisions and to really be a part of the business and their local neighbourhood”
“All I ask is for everyone in our business to do their best”
“Like our beer ranges, our juke boxes are hand-curated. In a Remarkable Pub you can sip a pint of Five Points beer that was brewed but a stone’s throw away while listening to London’s Calling by the Clash followed by Dolly Parton and Jolene. Now that’s good.
“We do not serve ping-and-ding food, preferring to source good-quality, simple ingredients and cooking from scratch.”
A lot of pubs had closed, he said, “but some deserve to. You need constant change. It is a passion of Robert [Thomas] to bring old Victorian pubs back to life.”
The key was to change in a “constructive” fashion. “We provide a good environment — that does not change — but you have too evolve.”
Isn’t he then a gentrifier? Mouna said: “Gentrification has a negative connotation but I think we bring something different to our pubs.
He motioned towards Héloïse Noel-Johnson, who runs the Virgin Queen. Formerly known as the Albion, it was a haven for West Bromwich Albionsupporters when their team was in town.
A pub full of Midlands football fans does not seem the kind that would draw Hackney millennials and hipsters to Goldsmiths Row. “No, ”Noel-Johnson said, “we’ve let it grow organically. All of the Albion fans are back.
‘When you’re gentrifying an area, you can find a beautiful match.”
A factor, according to Mouna, is community involvement, eg, championing young local businesses such as the Hackney-based soda-maker Square Root, and charities such as Crisis and Hackney Quest, which supports families.
“I ran a day, he said, “when I introduced four young people to the hospitality industry. They were enthralled when they went down the cellar at the Prince George and then to Allpress, the coffee-roaster and café, in Dalston Lane — a great learning experience for them.
One of that party is now working for us, at the Barley Mow in Shoreditch.”
A growing pubco with a good property folio: whoah, sharks swimming towards you, careful!
The managing director said: “We will expand the group but we have no desire to grow like, say, Fuller’s (recently bought by a Japanese brewing giant).
“Robert and I are on exactly the same page — we’re not for sale.”
“A wonderful, enviable collection of iconic London pubs has been created by Robert and his late and dear wife, Jean, and I am privileged to now run the business.
David Altheer 180319
* The Virgin Queen is at 94 Goldsmiths Row E2 8QY (020 7739 0185)
* All pictures on this page © David.Altheer @ gmail.com, apart from Crisis pic. Most photographs are available, for sale, in bigger formats.
* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained. A link in no way expresses support for any site.