On 24 November this year, Ollie Hunter and Lauren Bransby will celebrate two years of running The Wheatsheaf in Chilton Foliat. During that time they’ve not only revitalised this historical village-centre pub but also won several awards. Currently the pub is on the shortlists for a couple of prizes from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, the competition for which comes from all over the world.
Penny Post dropped in to have a chat with them about what they’ve achieved so far, what it takes to be sustainable and their plans for the future.
Penny Post: You two have been running The Wheatsheaf for nearly two years now. What are the main things that have changed in that time?
Ollie: Hopefully, none of the good things! It’s still a pub for everyone where people can sit, eat, drink, relax, talk and do all those things they did in the good old days.
Lauren: There was a lot we had to do. We’ve restored the Grade II listed building to its former glory, revealing all the historic brick walls, arches and beautiful wooden beams, added a new oak lobby and created extra space over the old brewery.
Ollie: We’ve made all our food and drink organic, local or sustainable (and preferably all three) and working with the seasons. Most of our suppliers are within 15 miles. We also do breakfast on Saturday mornings, we have our own wood-fired oven for pizzas all the time. We host cookery classes and have opened a vintage shop…
Lauren: …and, of course, there’s our live music nights every month – we get musicians from London, Bristol, Brighton, Leeds and the local area. The most important thing as landlords is to respect the building whilst we are here…we hope we have restored the building and the pub.
Penny Post: You’ve recently been shortlisted for an award by the Sustainable Restaurants Association – “Top 20 most sustainable food service businesses in the world.” What have you had to do to get considered for this kind of accolade?
Lauren: Probably more than anything else, we have to care about what we’re doing. We’re not here for the money. It’s about creating a special place for people, knowing that all the boring difficult decisions about sustainability, organic and what’s best for the customer and the world are all taken into consideration. Things like, using the best seasonal and organic produce within 15 miles, organising six different types of recycling bins, sustainable building materials, energy efficient equipment, using renewable energy suppliers. We do this because we care not because it’s a brand or something to sell.
Penny Post: ‘Sustainability’ is a word we hear a lot at present. How do you define it with regards to your business?
Ollie: Waste is the largest problem we have in our industry, so it’s about reducing that as much as possible with the aim of becoming zero-waste. We would love to produce our own energy or build a bore-hole for our own water – it would be brilliant if we could do it for the village as well. We want to reduce packaging, food miles and energy consumption and to source truly seasonal produce, meat and fish. I think everyone now agrees that it’s possible to provide food which is healthy, delicious and reasonably priced. In fairness, a lot of people are doing that, or trying to. To us, sustainability is equally important.
Lauren: We see the whole combination as something that’s…’ethical’ is probably the best word. Everyone running a business has or ought to have something that they aspire to. We want to do do it right, in all the ways that means these days. Having an ethical and sustainable attitude is very much part of that.
Penny Post: Does following the sustainability route involve making any compromises with regard to anything else – price, say?
Lauren: If we wanted to create a great pub and make lots of money, then sustainability is not the answer, sadly – or it isn’t at the moment. Times may change. There are lots of cheaper and easier options and less stressful decisions involved if you run a business in what you might call the ‘conventional’ way. As we said, we are passionate and we care that we are doing something for the future and for the better.
Ollie: Take our pizzas for example – we use Doves’ organic flour from up the road whereas everyone else uses Caputo, a special flour from Naples with lots of air miles attached to it because it makes great pizzas and has a really high protein and gluten content. We have had to come up with our own recipe to adapt Doves flour, which took time and money, but we’re there now. We hope to show to other people that the suppliers we use, the decisions we have made and the systems we have put in place do make for a better place and make a profit. We always try to price our dishes at the same or less than that of the local competition.
Penny Post: What are your plans for the next two years at The Wheatsheaf?
Ollie: Take our heads out of the ostrich hole and enjoy running the business…
Lauren: …and finish the art gallery/cinema, host a festival, build eight completely sustainable rooms…
Ollie: Yes, you’re right – they’re on the list, no question. But now the place is established and we’ve got customers who think we’re going in the right direction it’s becoming easier to enjoy the ride. And once those things are done there’ll always be something else – create sustainable energy for the village, perhaps?
For more information about The Wheatsheaf (and Ollie and Lauren’s other activities, which include art and songwriting) please click here.