Work is currently underway constructing a new outdoor seating/dining area at The Lock Keeper, The £100,000 renovations at the canal side bar and restaurant follows on from modernisation and upgrading of the interior , completed earlier this year.
“We took over in August 2020 with the aim of turning the pub around.” says General Manager James Gilyeat. ” We stuck it out until January 2021 when we had the first phase of our refurb done, that was the inside area and expansion of the kitchen. Phase 2 is the outside area with 2 levels of raised decking. “
The Lock Keeper and sister pub The Rake and Pikel, (Huntington) are both owned by Stuey Hope and Simon Burgess. Friend of the owners, Gary O Reilly of CH1 Hospitality Consultancy says that the new vision for the pub is “nice drinks, nice people doing nice things, that’s the concept and we are going to get it right.”
“We are upgrading everything, we’ve turned into a fresh food pub, the only things we buy in frozen now are peas and ice cream. We could have laid back and done it easily and banged out the same food as everyone else. We are offering social dining, 3 nibbles for £15, food that people wanted to get back into post Covid, meeting up with your mates. Our new executive chef Damian used to work for the Mayor of London. Cocktail trained bar tenders will serve up 2 for £10 premium cocktails (all day Friday) ” says manager James. The Lock Keeper is one of the few places in Chester to drink Spanish lager, Madri. “We installed it in February when we reopened and people have loved it. We are one of the only places in Chester that do have it and they are limiting where they out it, they only want it in higher end establishments.” Other attractions include a weekly quiz on Thursdays “Its a different concept to regular quizzes, ten seconds to answer a question and more chances to interact with other teams”
With he business keen to attract new customers, James says that anti social behaviour based around the bench, until recently located on Cow Lane Bridge affected the pub “massively”. With social media split on the response to the removal of the controversial bench, Gary says that “our stance was whilst we were truly sympathetic with the guys and the challenge they have, solely from a business perspective and operational point of view its a nightmare. Its not an attraction or drive to a business when people are jumping in the canal. ”
Reflecting on last weeks races, James says : “We did Ok. I used to be the restaurant manager at the Abode for eight and a half years, and I’ve seen every crazy race day. I think a lot of Cestrian dont come out for the races, you get a hit before the races and a hit after the races. To an extent its a bit of a nightmare, but its so important for the business that comes into the city. “We find it easier to manage on race days. If your pub is filled with 200 people and everyone is paying and ordering separately, when races come and big firms bring 50 people , one round of drinks, one payment done. It makes life easier. At the Abode, we had one bar facing the racecourse , rammed from 1o in the morning, so constant chaos! We also had a restaurant with fine dining, but both are manageable, theres nothing in this industry that scares me operationally!” A diplomatic Gary comments that :
“If you’re in the hospitality sector you love the races, if you’re a resident you dislike the races. People do like to complain about the impact , but if its a negative effect on your business, and customers make a conscious choice to stay out of the city, there is an argument on both sides. ”
The canal side area in Boughton has massively improved in recent years with the addition of Waitrose, Hotel Moxy and the Shot Tower housing development. Gary feels that the town end of the canal has equal potential, but says that” in our beautiful city, things do roll slowly.” With hospitality venues facing some challenges post Covid, including the cost of living crisis, Gary says that fortunes have varied across the sector. “If you speak to BID everything is rosy and brilliant, but if you’re a single operator, working for a brewery hand to mouth its a different conversation. It depends who you ask, but here in our world we are ticking over.. We truly believe in it, we aren’t throwing 100 grand at something for it not to work.”
With building work on target for completion on 27th July , a grand reopening will take place on Friday 5th August with live entertainment from Chris Fletcher.