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News from Milborne St Andrew and Dewlish

in co-operation with the Milborne St Andrew Reporter

Royal Oak re-opens “We’re in it for the long haul”


 29th August 2009  -  Ed Richards reports


THE doors of the rejuvenated Royal Oak pub will be thrown open to the public by new landlords Andy and Sarah Fox on Friday 4th September at 5.00pm.

The building has undergone an overhaul and the couple’s vision for a community-focused pub, serving good food, within an informal ambience looks set to ensure the Royal Oak’s future.
This follows a highly-publicised saga with former owners Hall & Woodhouse. The Blandford brewery removed the Royal Oak from the market just hours before the Fox’s were due to sign on the dotted line, causing outrage amongst Milborne residents.

Only weeks following this, Mr and Mrs Fox are now the licencees with a ‘tenancy-protected’ lease. This means, Andy Fox says, “that we can stay as long as we want to stay. They can’t throw us out – ever”.
The couple says that relations are “fine” with Hall & Woodhouse now – following the initial setback, Andy and Sarah have respect for the brewery in the way that they have compromised with them. Hall & Woodhouse have invested money in the redevelopments, yet the Fox’s retain control over the pub’s destiny. Their only tie is to have three Badger ales, “everything else is free trade”, Sarah says, “that gives us the chance to have autonomy to do what we want to here”.

Matt Kearsey, Tenanted Director of the brewery is “delighted that Andy and Sarah have become the new landlords – I know they have exciting plans for the business“. These plans include returning the pub to its original layout by re-installing the doorway that links the Sports bar with the main bar. Previously, drinkers would have had to venture onto the main road to get from one bar to the other. They hope to turn the pub ‘around’ completely, with the main entrances being from the car park and garden, although the door on Dorchester Hill would still remain. The restaurant area – segregated from the other bars – will also cease to be. As Sarah say, “we don’t want it to be stuffy like that”, diners can sit anywhere to eat.

Following this theme of informality, they aim to serve unpretentious, “good pub grub” with locally-produced foods being used as much as possible. Good coffee and tea and homemade cake will also be available throughout the day, which the Fox’s hope will bring in customers that Milborne hitherto hasn’t provided for.
The menu will include snacks such as doorstep sandwiches and jacket potatoes, starters such as West Country crab cakes and Stilton and leek tart to main courses such as cod and chips, Cajun chicken or Andy’s own recipe, homemade burgers. Vegetarian and children’s options will also be available – and this doesn’t mean just chicken nuggets for the kids. Having two young children, Lily and Ronnie, the Fox’s know the problems of eating out as a family. Sarah says, “We know what a nightmare it can be going out with young children”, so there will be an imaginative menu for them, “but not at a stupid price”.

Mini ploughman’s, cheese on toast and mini homemade burger will be on the menu, with desserts such as ‘build your own’ ice cream sundae to follow, which is sure to become a favourite. They also will provide books to help keep children entertained, as well as providing play equipment in the garden – now that the Royal Oak has a garden.

The mass of brambles, shrubs and trees of a month ago –  “a jungle” – is now a beautiful lawned and landscaped garden. The trees have been thinned out to provide a large, inviting area which can now be accessed from the main pub.

The biggest problem the couple has encountered in readying the pub for launch day has been “the mountain of junk from the last ten years” that has accumulated at the Royal Oak. They say that they completely underestimated the extent of this. Three skips gobbled up a lot of it, but a bonfire was necessary to dispose of timber materials. Andy and Sarah have offer profuse apologies for the nuisance this may have caused, especially to their nearest neighbours.

From within this junkpile, there have been some ‘finds’, most notably some “lovely pictures that probably haven’t seen the light of day for years”, Sarah says. These will be displayed in the bar. The two-legged china horse, found in a drawer in the skittles alley, probably will not be put on show.

The Royal Oak has seen a high turnover of landlords during recent years, all failing to make the pub a success. How do Andy and Sarah see themselves as bucking this trend? “We’re in it for the long haul and I think no one else that’s been here has had that incentive because of the terms of their lease”, they say. “Being involved in the village –and that we care. It’s our home and our children’s home”, they say, will contribute to the pub’s success. They have already expressed an interest in running a beer tent at next year’s May Fayre. Andy and Sarah also would like suggestions for a new name with village connections for one of the draught ales that they’ll serve, offering a £50 voucher for the winning suggestion.

They hope to provide a service that makes people want to return. Andy says, “I think if people try it, they’ll like it. It’s completely different to what it has been like”. But he is under no illusion. “It’s down to us to make people want to come back – hopefully, we’ll be able to do that”. Hall & Woodhouse are also very optimistic for the pub’s future. Matt Kearsey says that the brewery will work with the couple “to re-establish the pub as one that both the village and Hall & Woodhouse can really be proud of”.

‘Milborne Ale’ Competition
Win £50.00

HALL & Woodhouse have given permission to Andy and Sarah to re-badge the Sussex ale as a ‘house’ beer. A £50 voucher to be spent at the Royal Oak is up for grabs for the most apt suggestion, as picked by the Fox’s. It’s suggested that the new name will have some Milborne or local connection.
Sussex ale is a well-balanced beer with fruity, hoppy cereal and biscuity notes with an
alcohol content of 3.5% ABV.
Please post your entries with your name and telephone number in the Competition Box in the pub.

Closing date Monday 21st September .