I was already responsible for quite a lot at the Jolly Anchor, but I wasn’t really prepared for how different being the manager would be. For one thing, I had moved into the upstairs flat, so I was always on the premises, and even when I had time off I was still on call. After the initial shock, however, I got at first to like the job, then really love it.
It felt really like the pub was mine, and that I was the center of everything. The arrangement with George was perfect, and, even though come in weekly to check up on me after only a few weeks his visits started to become more like a chat with a friend than an inspection by my boss.
A month after I took over 2 of the bar staff left, and I found myself for the first time being the person who decided on who to employ. Although George said he wanted to be involved, he decided he’d leave it to me to choose whom I wanted. It turned out to be really easy because the local grapevine meant that no sooner had the bar staff handed in their notice than I had a dozen people looking for work. I took on a young student who was known as Malcy, and a woman about my age called Judy.
In no time at all, it seemed, it was as if I’d always been running the place. I was up early most mornings to let deliveries in, then opened up the bar and left it in the hands of the midday staff, while I relaxed for a few hours. I would generally come back down in the afternoon around the time we were due to close to make sure all was well, and then had a couple of hours to do any chores I might want to. Next, it was evening opening, and I served alone until the staff came in, then relaxed the other side of the bar until it got busy.
Back when the Jolly Anchor had been a hotel, they had served meals to the guests, and there was a large kitchen behind the bar, not particularly modern, but functional. We used it only occasionally, mainly when someone hired the Saloon for a party and wanted somewhere to prepare food.
One relatively quiet evening Malcy was serving, and his girlfriend Karen came in and joined me at the bar. Karen was a student too, taking a catering course at the local college. The 3 of us got talking about food, and suddenly Karen said “Why don’t you serve food here? I’m sure there would be a demand for homemade meals on Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes.” “Well, for one reason, because I can’t cook!” I smiled. “If only I knew of someone who was looking to gain experience in the catering trade.”
We carried on talking and soon we had agreed that we would open the kitchen again. I remembered the arrangement when I did the food truck, so suggested that we wouldn’t pay Karen, but the pub would buy the groceries, and we would split the profits 80/20. Malcy would come in on the weekends and would take orders and serve the food as well as being behind the bar.
We put out notices about the new food offering to start the next weekend, and Karen and Malcy spent the rest of the week cleaning up the kitchen and making sure everything worked OK. That first weekend we had only a few diners, but I told myself it was early days, and for once I had a proper Sunday roast lunch, something I’d not had for many years.
We carried on for a few weeks like this, but we were only just breaking even, and there was hardly any profit to share. Karen, in particular, was getting depressed with the situation. She was still living at home with her parents and told me that she had hoped that this sideline and Malcy wages would earn them enough to get a place together.
That comment started a train of thought in my head, but before saying anything, I thought I’d better run it past George, as the official landlord. I went and saw him in his cottage, noticing as I did that Maggie’s cottage was shut up again. He didn’t have any objection to my idea, so the next time the guys were in I asked them if I could have a quiet word with them in the kitchen. Karen looked nervous, and as soon as we were alone, she said she was sure that when word got around things would get better in the kitchen. I wasn’t so sure, but that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.
“I know you two were looking for somewhere to live, is that right?”
“Sure,” Malcy replied, “but with so little money coming in we don’t know how we could manage it.”
“OK so here’s the thing,” I told them, “I’ve talked this over with George, and you know all those rooms on the second floor that we don’t use? Well, we’d be willing to offer one of them to you two to rent. Mind you,” I added before they could reply, “they are in a pretty dirty state, and we’d expect you to clean it out and then keep it that way. Also, we could use some extra help with the cleaning of the whole place, so if you were willing to do that, we could look at keeping the rent really cheap.”
I could see that they were staring at each other with looks of hope and fear at the same time, so I left them to talk it over and went back to the bar. In only a few minutes, they came out to say that the idea sounded great, so we shock on it, and they started making plans to move in.