Nick Stafford, Manager of The Hare & Hounds
Nick Stafford, Manager of The Hare & Hounds in Claygate, has gone from being an aspiring squash coach to running one of the most popular pubs in Claygate. Find out how he made it to one of Elmbridge’s best villages and why he thinks 0% draft lager will revolutionise everyone’s drinking habits via our latest instalment of Elmbridge Icons.
I grew up in Horsham, where I always wanted to be a squash coach. I was too young and naive to make it work, so I ended up working as a Quality Control Assistant in an aerosol factory.
It eventually went bust, so I got a job at the local pub to tide me over. The manager at the time must have seen potential in me, as he took me with him when he went to manage the bar at Mannings Heath Golf Club.
It was great. I started playing golf, and was managing to play before and after work. I even got to play with the professionals during this time, too. After a while, my manager decided to move on and before I knew it, I had become the manager – a move that paved the way for a career in this sector and ultimately got me to where I am now.
I did that for five years before moving to Black Jug in Horsham then The Telegraph on Putney Heath, which was owned by Peter - the owner of a pub group that had once included many pubs in its portfolio. However, the financial crash – and the decision to ban indoor smoking – had a devastating impact and his portfolio went down to seven, one of which was The Hare & Hounds. When Peter asked me to take it on, I jumped at the chance.
At the time, it wasn’t doing as well it as it should – or as well as the locals wanted it to be. I immediately carried out a refresh, fixed the overgrown garden and brought a chef I knew along with me. The pub’s restaurant at the time was French-themed, which worked, but we wanted to make the entire pub more accessible; somewhere we you could be just as comfortable eating a bowl of chips in the bar as haute cuisine next door. With the help of a restaurant manager, now my deputy - the charming Veronique - this was a big success and we’ve continued to invest ever since. This started with the current terraced area, which has gone down very well. Our ascent coincided with the decision taken by neighbouring pub, The Foley, to close and refurbish – the result of which meant that we picked up their family clientele when we created a family garden.
I absolutely love Claygate. Myself, my son, Rory and dog, Branston, are a big part of the local community. The fact that we sponsor local schools, Claygate Cricket Club and the Claygate Royals football teams has helped build this, too. Rory, who’s 9-years-old, plays for them. Funnily enough, each team is named after a pub. Ironically, he’s in The Foleys!
Lockdown was tough. Had it not been for the furlough scheme we may not have been here today. Luckily, the group that owns this pub had just secured investment so it wasn’t ready to walk away.
People often ask me, ‘is it hard to not drink as a publican?’. The truth is, I’m a real ale fan and love wine full stop. However, after being part of so many social events, most – if not all – of which involve alcohol, I decided to quit drinking. As a 47-year-old who’s drank regularly since the age of 21, I came to the conclusion that I’ve drunk enough beer. I don’t know how many publicans are teetotal, but I imagine that there aren’t many.
Heineken’s 0% lager is fantastic. It’s probably the best non-alcoholic lager on the market. When it appears on draft, it will change things. More people will drink less, as the treat factor of being served a cold pint will remain – but next day’s fogginess won’t. I expect people will alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic lager, too, just to make the following day that much better.
We’ll see what happens there. In the meantime, my priority is continuing to build the pub’s presence in the community, hosting as many charity events as we can and spending as much time with my son as possible before he starts wanting to spend more time with friends – and probably on the other side of the bar!
The Hare & Hounds. The Green, Claygate, Esher KT10 0JL