'Astonishing support' sees villagers rally round to save pub near Leighton Buzzard

Newly refurbished The Stag in Mentmore will be opening its doors to customers on June 21

By Joanna Gravett
Monday, 7th June 2021, 2:01 pm
Updated Monday, 7th June 2021, 2:16 pm

The Stag pub in Mentmore is delighted to be relaunching this month after the community rallied round to save its future.

The newly-refurbished business will be opening its doors to customers on June 21, as its owners hope that it will continue to be a special hub at the heart of the village.

The 174-year-old pub was bought from Charles Wells Brewery by residents in March 2020, who were determined that it wouldn't be sold into the wrong hands and turned into housing.

The Stag; the meeting in July 2019. Photos: The Stag.

Adam Goran, co-director of The Stag, said: "It's been a labour of love and Covid gave us the chance to re-imagine it slightly.

"In the morning we will be open for brunch and coffee, followed by lunch and light snacks, and then it will pivot and become a bar and restaurant in a very contemporary but informal setting.

"We've tried to hang on to the historical elements and everybody says it's lovely; one elderly couple in the village who invested said they they were 'just astonished' and 'blown away'.

"The support has been astonishing - more than anything we'd imagined."

The Stag. Photo: The Stag.

Rewind back to October 2018, and the future looked uncertain for the pub, as the couple who ran it had decided to leave.

Shortly after this, Adam and fellow villager Peter Brazier bumped into one another outside the pub and quickly the conversation turned to the possibilities of reopening The Stag and making it a successful business at the heart of the community.

Adam told the LBO: "I was standing outside thinking what a tragedy that it's shut, and wouldn't it be an even greater tragedy if it's turned into housing. I had a fleeting thought that it could be so much more and a few of us got together to discuss 'what if...'"

Peter quickly contacted Charles Wells (who had owned the freehold of The Stag since the 1940s) to discuss the possibility of taking it on, but upon reading the business plan template, the "onerous" operating conditions, and overheads, Peter and Adam decided that it wouldn’t be commercially viable.

The Stag. Photo: The Stag.

However, after a few months, the duo heard on the grapevine that the freehold for The Stag was on the market.

At this point, "honorary Mentmorian" Bob Ager came on board, bringing with him several years of marketing experience, and the team started to look seriously at how they would go about rallying the community and raising funds to buy the pub.

In July 2019, the team presented their vision and formally made an offer to the brewery to purchase the freehold of The Stag including all its contents.

Adam said: "We then worked on getting the community on board, leafleting in Mentmore, Crafton, Ledburn, and anywhere else in reach. The leaflet invited everybody to a meeting in the village hall on the 22nd of July, 2019. We set out about 20 chairs and prepared a short presentation, not really knowing what to expect or even if anyone would show up.

The Stag. Photo: The Stag.

"But people did show up! The village hall was full with standing room only, and others were outside literally hanging in through the windows to hear the presentation and the plan to buy The Stag.

"But before a word was even said, there was a rapturous round of applause. The support from the community was overwhelming. The game was on!"

Soon after the meeting, villagers Caroline Gates and Nick Walters were brought on board, bringing with them much needed experience in hospitality and finance, and a board of directors of 'The Stag at Mentmore Ltd' was put in place.

After much regular chasing, and another visit to the agent in person, the Mentmore community offer was accepted by the board of Charles Wells, and in January 2020 the contract was signed.

Adam said: "The Stag at Mentmore was up and running with thanks to 42 generous investors!"

Contracts were formally exchanged and completed in March 2020 - but no-one was prepared for what was about to happen next.

The Stag. Photos: The Stag.

Adam explained: "The original plan was to partner with a seasoned pub operator who would complete the refurbishment quickly, get a management team in place, and get The Stag ready and open in just a couple of months. Of course, Covid changed all that, but as it turned out the lockdown worked in The Stag’s favour."

The team overhauled the building front to back, giving work to struggling local traders wherever possible, and made the building and garden accessible to all.

The pub now has a disabled toilet and ramps to the garden making access step free, while they have opened up the building to make The Stag brighter and more modern.

There is now direct access from the bar to the garden, a dedicated cycle hub, and even somewhere for horse-riders to hitch their horse.

The Stag at Mentmore Ltd would also like to give a warm welcome to Annette Voller, general manager, and Eddy McLean-Hall, the head chef, who began his career at The Stag ten years ago when he was a kitchen porter.

Adam concluded: "We're next door to the village hall, so we hope to be a coffee and cake destination, where people can come and spend some time after their community groups have finished.

"We're also finalising our menus, with brunch and lunch quite informal, and dinner more substantial. It's really interesting food and really interesting flavours cooked in a modern way.

"And hopefully we'll be a destination for non-villagers, too. Come and drive out to Mentmore. We're all go for 21st June!"

Adam would like to thank the community, investors, and his fellow directors Bob, Caroline, Nick and Peter, for all their support, especially as all the directors, inclusing himself, have full time jobs and had to focus on the project in their spare time.