Interview with Stephen Naylor, Owner, The Thatched Tavern, Maidencombe, Devon
The Thatched Tavern in Maidencombe, Torquay, Devon is one of the finalists for this year’s prestigious Pub of the Year awards from Devon Tourism. Owner and landlord Stephen Naylor is understandably proud of his pub’s nomination, but he’s keen to keep things in perspective. “We’re up against some stiff competition,” says Stephen. “All the finalists are amazing pubs, so we’re just really grateful to be in the running.” I caught up with Stephen to ask him a few questions about his pub and its journey to becoming an award finalist.
Pubs have had a rough ride during the pandemic; how does it feel to have been named as a finalist?
Well, it’s an honour to have been recognised for the work we’ve done and what we’ve achieved over the last few years. Especially considering literally before we even opened, the government announced the first lockdown. So, I think in those circumstances we’re humbled that what we have been doing has been recognised. When you compare us to other public venues that have been set up for a long time, we’re amazed that we’ve achieved that sort of recognition. We try and do as much with local suppliers as we can, and it’s nice to see Bays Brewery, one of our local companies here in Torbay sponsoring the Pub of the Year award category.
In terms of the pandemic, we try to be as positive about the situation as we can be, there’s nothing we can do about it; it’s nationwide, so all pubs are in the same boat. You’re all under similar trading conditions nationwide. So, there’s nothing special about our COVID-19 experience, other than we’ve taken a positive attitude and turned all of these challenges into opportunities.
We’ve done as much as we can during lockdowns to take advantage of the time where we’ve been closed, to refurbish and improve the pub gardens, and the elevated decking that now boasts a stunning view. We’ve also refurbished public parking, the nearby public convenience, and even funded the defibrillator at Maidencombe beach. We tried to stay positive, and used the time given to our advantage when possible.
We have a long-term plan for the business, and we’re really pleased with what we’ve achieved in the two years with the pandemic.
We are seeing some sense of normality again as Covid restrictions continue to ease; how do you feel about the future of pubs?
I think the future is positive, really, we’re starting to see people returning to their old lifestyle and wanting to go out and appreciate everything that they can do again, after not being able to for the last two years. I think people appreciate what they’ve got a lot more in venues like ours that have managed to survive. I think the future is bright! People still want to go out and want to go somewhere for a nice meal.
Our pub is a community hub; we are an essential part of the main village, in fact, we hosted the Maidencombe Residents Association meeting just yesterday. We are in the heart of the village, and that’s where people meet, catch up and have a chat and a drink.
Pubs are a community-based resource, and as people come together in the future, they’re going to be thinking about and using their pubs more frequently. I think people appreciate having their local pub more now than they did before, with the realisation that it could very easily have disappeared forever. There was so much at risk during the pandemic, and the fact that you survived that risk, and you’ve come out of it stronger. It’s a real testament to your establishment.
What do you like most about the pub’s new look?
I like the way that we’ve been able to marry the traditional look of the pub with the modern touches and atmosphere. The pub was already very characterful, but now it’s also clean, modern, and fresh. It is a nice balance between the old and the new and I love all the little touches that are kind of nods to what you are achieving – for example, the professional photographs of local suppliers with their produce, and the woodland and farmyard characters on the menus and printed materials.
They are classic and modern at the same time, charming and clever. We’re really grateful to Mark Green and the team at Fruition Design for their skill in achieving this balance.
Everything from our menus, the high-quality fixtures and fittings, to the custom wallpaper, and the rich jewel tones of the wall coverings and soft furnishings lift the atmosphere. It’s all been carefully thought about and placed where we believe it should be, so functionally as a pub, it’s perfect, and aesthetically and from a comfort standpoint for our customers, the pub is incredibly warm and welcoming.
The refurbishment has been finished in such a coherent way that we don’t take anything away from the character. We’ve bought an already characterful pub and then enhanced it even more. It’s taken an experienced design team to make our vision a reality, and we’re grateful that Fruition Design, and Mark Green have the skill and experience to deliver our vision for The Thatched Tavern.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy the interaction with local customers; being a listening ear for them. I like that if there’s something in particular they would like, we have flexibility to be able to get that in for them. We bring in products and the customers try them and feed back to us what they like; after all, it’s their local! When tourists are here, I love the buzz of the place — it’s nonstop and your day goes pretty quickly.
I enjoy being able to give back to our local community; we recently sponsored a defibrillator for the beach. We’ve cut back all the edging foliage at the carpark, and filled in the potholes, providing free use for customers. We’ve just refurbished the public toilets in the car park as well, painted and with daffodils and flower baskets, so visitors and locals can have decent facilities when they visit the beach. We’re just doing what we can to invigorate and invest in the future of the village by improving the facilities and local assets.
We invest in apprenticeships, skills training, and work experience for our colleagues; and all staff can take their career from starting positions all the way to management level.
It’s nice to be able to give something back because obviously local customers and tourists provide us a living and we provide somewhere for them to enjoy amazing food and drink, so it’s nice to be able to give back.
How would you describe the pub in three words?
Quality: the quality of our furniture, fixtures and fittings, the quality of the food we serve, the quality of the products that we buy, and in the high-quality experience our colleagues provide to each customer.
Characterful: Everything we do, and everyone we know – from the designs of our menus, through the people that serve customers, to the local community itself. It’s full of character here at The Thatched Tavern.
Honest: We genuinely care about every pint we pull, and every meal we serve, and every customer experience. Our journey hasn’t been an easy one, but what we feel shines through is our authentic desire to serve the local area and attract tourism and commerce for the success of our own business and for the success of the village. We are invested for long term, and our intentions for The Thatched Tavern are to continue to support local producers in Devon and create the ultimate Devon country pub experience for all customers.
Anything you’d like to add?
We’re grateful to be named as finalists for the Devon Pub of the Year Award, and thankful for the wonderful local produce supplied by all the amazing local suppliers – they’ve made it possible for us to achieve the highest quality food and drink for our customers and help us to provide an exceptional pub experience for all.
Stephen Naylor, Owner, The Thatched Tavern, Maidencombe, Devon
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