A couple have called his bar after losing a quarter of a million pounds on two business ventures in Stoke-on-Trent. Ray and Sandra Dobson drank their last pints at The Old Post Office in Fenton on Sunday as they were offered a new opportunity to run a pub in Alsager.
They opened the Christchurch Street venue in Fenton’s former post office in April 2019 after spending £80,000 on a refurbishment. Trade was good before the pandemic hit, but things have calmed down since.
The couple previously ran The Brindley’s Lock in Packmoor and Piccadilly Brasserie in Hanley and a restaurant in Cyprus. They estimate they lost £70,000 at Fenton bar after losing £180,000 at Piccadilly Brasserie, which forced them to sell their house.
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But now they’re hoping to turn things around after being made an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Ray, 63, told StokeonTrentLive: “We were fine before lockdown. Things have calmed down since then, but the custom is gradually returning. The problem is our age. We’re too old to wait. We only have five or six years of working life and that’s when our health strikes. We’ve had Covid twice.
“We reopened last June and it wasn’t quite the same. A friend has offered us a job and we will start in a pub in Alsager later this summer.
“We were trying to resell this bar and we’ve had a few people show interest. We could stay here as long as we want. The landlord was very good. It’s just that this opportunity got us thinking.
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“We’ve invested £80,000 to get it back in order. When we came back to reopen there was a big flood which cost us more money.
“We’ve had some good times here. We’ve made some good friends. It was an emotional last weekend.”
Ray said the couple lost around £180,000 running Piccadilly Brasserie in Hanley. He said: “The Council would not help at all. We’re walking out of here, £70,000 less.
“We went to Cyprus and came back with some good money. We’ve run out of savings. We’ve invested everything we can.
“We lost a house with Piccadilly Brasserie, we don’t want to lose our home in Hartshill.”
Ray said he has not had any problems at any of the premises he has operated. He said: “We’ve taken Brindley’s Lock from £500 a week to £15,000. We were renters, rents went up, beer went up all the time, they just got greedy.
“I think any pub that has problems are management problems. In every pub we’ve had we’ve never had a problem. If they are banned, they are banned for life. I won’t let them back in. In a short time the locals get to know the standards and rules.
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“The idea behind this bar was to try to give the area something comfortable and nice for the older clientele. First they reacted. We’ve said many times that we should have walked the Hartshill mile.
“It was a real mess when we got it. It had a great flood and mushrooms were growing in it. It was absolutely soaked.
“We thought we were doing the right thing. It was the wrong decision. The right idea in the wrong place.
“But we will miss it. There are a few who have supported us as much as they could and we really thank them. They’ve been really, really good to us.
“We don’t have a pension, we cashed it in to try and save Piccadilly Brasserie. We can’t just tick off and pay the bills. We have some savings to sort through.
“We will miss this bar. We put our heart and soul into her and we love her.
“I think England has changed. We moved to Cyprus six or seven years, had a restaurant out there and made an absolute fortune. If I were younger I would do the same thing again.
“But I also think this profession is dying. We would not tell our grandchildren to become self-employed in this profession. It’s a lot harder than people think. It’s a lifestyle, not a job. You love it or hate it.
“We’d stay here, but the offer we received just made us realize it’s better to let go of the threads of self-employment.”
In a social media post to customers, Ray and Sandra said: “This weekend is our last weekend so we can say a big thank you to all the very special customers and now friends who have supported us over the past three years.
“We have a new company to look forward to. It’s one we never thought could happen at our age, but hard work and persistence, along with high standards to keep our customers safe and happy, always pays off. That is why we are now taking a position that demands this.
“We love this little gem and will miss it. To all the great nights we had. We will miss you all.”
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First class! Take a look around this Stoke-on-Trent former post office, now a stylish bar