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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Meet Rich Hunter: The King Edward - IIderton, ON

Rich & Deb Hunter - The King Edward
Meet Rich Hunter, the publican at The King Edward in Ilderton, ON.

I have not yet been to The King Edward, but I hear nothing but good things from those that have, and most of those positive comments contain the phrase - great owners.

Hunter, along with his wife Deb, entered the pub industry back in 2005 and continue to love the business.

How long have you operated your establishment?
We bought it in May 2005 and opened it June 1st 2005. So about 5 and a half years.

How did you get into the hospitality industry?
Probably the easiest way to answer that is my professional career and Mississauga! I was in audio engineering since leaving university in '88 (in England) and it was through that I was seconded to Canada by a company in Mississauga. My next job was also in Mississauga, and I found it incredibly frustrating to live there (too much traffic, noisy, overcrowded...) so my wife Deb and I decided to escape to the country and find a nice little pub in a village. I cooked in a restaurant one summer during college and was very much immersed in the bars at university, serving and running outside events to earn some extra coin. Being a Northern university, real-ale was a big thing and I got a really good grounding in cellarmanship, which is very hard to come by over here. All these things combined with a love of food guided us to slowly shift our focus, Deb changed her job completely and worked her way through a few kitchens, bartended then into a servers job and ended up managing a fine-dining Italian place and I carried on with my job, looking all the time for the ideal spot to buy and move on. We found The King Edward in 2004 but the previous owner wanted too much money so we waited, he wasn't cutting it so he closed it and we stepped in just before the bank took it back. My boss wasn't too pleased when I quit, especially when I told him why! But we're both much happier here than we could ever be in the big city. I still pay my dues to keep my P.Eng license in the hope I find time to do some consulting one day, but the days aren't long enough for that right now.

What is the best part of operating a pub?
The people. 99.99% of the people. If you have fantastic kitchen staff creating great food, have great staff serving it in a nice atmosphere and back that all up with great beer and wine you build a really great clientele. They all tell their friends so every day you end up meeting someone new who comes in and just loves what we do. We try and meet as many new faces as possible, in fact many ask for us if we aren't around (which isn't often!). I also advertise on the radio, a British voice advertising a British pub works really well. Lots of people tell me that they heard our ad, both in the bar and out in public. Although we are a few miles north of London we've got a great following from the city and that's put us on the map, not only as a destination restaurant but as a couple we're very well known and whenever we go out in the town we are always well received by other bar owners and their customers as most have also visited us at some point in the past. It's very touching.

What is the worst?
The hours and the other 0.01% of the public. The King Edward is actually the old village general store, so our house is attached. There is no escape, we wake in the morning and go next door until we return to sleep. It's often 7 day a week, but I think that's part of our success. We monitor and maintain quality that way, as well as greeting our guests. So that aspect of the worst thing really, in truth, is what leads to the answer to 2) above. As for the 0.01% of the public we are fortunate that it's such a low percentage. This business can be rife with people who like to complain in order to get something for free or discounted (or not leave a tip for the server) but because of the way we run our business and our quality standards it's hard for them to find fault. Fortunately it's very rare but you always have to analyse and assess and take appropriate action whenever possible. It makes you and the business stronger. But it's a tough aspect of what we do.

How do you go about selecting the beer for your establishment?
We stock popular beers that everyone knows and loves such a Guinness, Harp, Strongbow and Coors Light. Coors Light still sells more than any other draught which personally I think is unfortunate but a lot of people really like that ultra-light taste, or lack of it. When we opened we had Rickard's Red on, because the tap was there. Wellington soon took over that tap with SPA which has converted many a Rickard's drinker. We have a Fuller's tap which switches through their beers such as London Pride, ESB and Porter in no particular order apart from Porter in the colder months only, which is just my preference for richer beers. Our Hacker Pschorr tap rotates similarly, no particular order apart from seasonal beers such as Oktoberfest. I put Tetley's on last month, it was always one of my dad's favourites and at 3.6% it's another option for those looking for a lower alcohol beer with taste behind it. Our rotating guest tap normally goes to one of our local breweries Neustadt) again in no particular order unless one of our regulars asks me to bring in something. If one of the brewers calls me with a seasonal ale then that will give them a bit of an edge too ;-) As for real ale, it's down to F&M, Wellington, Grand River and Neustadt in our area so I'll bring in a couple of casks if they are delivering something for the guest line or sometimes I'll just call them and ask them to drop of whatever they have in cask. We're the only cask pub in the area so you have to go with what you can get! Now, when Fuller's bring in casks, which they usually do either side of December, then I'll happily dedicate the real-ale pump to that, it's so nice to have a genuine English ale served from the cask. Just like back 'ome..................

Where did the name of your establishment come from?
It was called The King Edward when we bought it. Cash was tight, the sign was hanging (and they're not cheap) and there is a wonderful big etched mirror over the fireplace so it was a no-brainer to us. And I'm glad we stuck with it, some people use the full name, others "The Eddy" or simply "the pub".

What has been the biggest change in the beer industry since you started your business?
The 0.05% blood-alcohol law. We see many more people now not even having one beer. To address this we started carrying lower alcohol beers such as Tetley's and we also have a really good 0% alcohol bottled lager which tastes OK on it's own or we can make mixed drinks with it, say a pint made up with Tetley's which will come out around 1.6% alcohol but tastes great.

If you could change one thing about the industry (pub/bar/restaurant), what would it be?
Reducing government regulation of our industry. And I think every licensee would agree with that one! 'Nuff said.

What do you get up to when you're not at your establishment?
Mostly, sleep. Living right next door it's hard to "get away". I take care of marketing as one of my many roles and my office is right above the kitchen so I can hear if it gets busy and end up going back down. I also do the bulk of the maintenance in and around the building, which is 120 years old so there's lots to do. Deb takes care of the books in her office at the front of our house. Deb & I try and get away once a month, even if it's just a night in a hotel in London. Sometimes we'll take a 2-day trip to the Falls. Occasionally a few hours at the horse races. We don't tend to eat out much as we usually (at least one of us) ends up disappointed.

If you're not drinking at your own bar, where do you head to for a beer?
We're pretty choosy about where we go as a lot of bars don't clean their lines anywhere near often enough. We are one of the very few who clean our own lines so when you go from drinking clean, fresh beer from clean lines to drinking stale-tasting beer it's not enticing. There are a couple of bars in the north-end that we sometimes escape to for an hour and they have Guinness which is usually cleaned once a month by Diageo. Other than that we save it for our nights out in London. We like the Morrissey House and The Coates of Arms or anywhere that has Diageo taps for the same reason as above.

Name the last beer you consumed?
Grand River Plowman's Ale from the cask. Nectar.

The King Edward Restaurant & Pub
13239 Ilderton Road
Ilderton, N0M 2A0

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