The Captain Cook sets sail for success

The Captain cook sets sail for success

How did the Captain Cook’s £500,000 capex project come about?

Karl and I [Chris is one half of multiple pub operator Whiskey Whiskey Tango, which he owns with business partner Karl Tisch] negotiated a mutually beneficial deal with Star Pubs & Bars that saw us raise £200,000 to fund the renovation of a hotel above the pub and Star provide £300,000 of funding for the capex project in the bar. By splitting the cost, we were able to agree a rent deal that both parties were very happy with.

What was the concept behind the re-launch?

Before we took on the lease, the pub was called the Wilton Arms. We used to have a pub in Putney called the Captain Cook, which has since been turned into flats, and we wanted to take the name with us. We already had the website domain and branding, and it was a very successful outlet not far from here. This choice informed much of our design, which is based around a sailing theme. We have map wallpaper and the bar is inspired by a ship: it has glossy blue tiles and wooden planks, as well as spotlights along the bottom.

Captain Cook was the 18th-century British explorer who founded Australia and New Zealand. He’s a British guy and this is a British pub, but he has an antipodean link, just like us [Chris and Carl hail from New Zealand]. What’s more, there are very few Captain Cook pubs in London. In fact, we’re now the only one, so if you search for ‘Captain Cook London’ online, we’re on the first page of Google.

What did you change about the pub?

The entire place was gutted. It was originally a two-room bar and we opened it up completely, so now we have one, long bar in a big, airy space. It didn’t have a kitchen, so we had an open kitchen designed and installed. We renovated the bathrooms, and added one near the front of the pub that’s accessible and has a baby change station. It took around 12 weeks to get the bar ready to re-open.

The first floor was renovated after this and we recently opened the eight-bedroom boutique hotel in early June. We’re working on the marketing and branding for the hotel now.

What’s your food offer like?

We have an executive chef called David Brogan who comes from an extensive fine dining background. He oversees the menus at our other two pubs and is the head chef at the Captain Cook. All the food is cooked from fresh and is excellent quality.

Sharers are certainly a hot trend at the moment and our mixed sharer platter, nacho sharers and cheese boards are big sellers. As well as offering dishes that are a little bit different [see the full menu here], it’s important to offer some traditional food too: fish and chips, steaks and burgers will always be popular pub meals.

Our wet/dry split is around 65%/35%, which is the biggest food percentage of any of our pubs.

And the drinks?

We always have two cask ales on, including Captain’s Ale 1769, which is our house ale; it’s Caledonian’s Edinburgh Castle but re-branded for our pub. We’re also one of the few pubs in London to stock Theakston’s Peculier IPA, which is a keg IPA. It’s a really good drop and goes down very well – people love it. With the trend for craft beer still rising, it’s important to offer something like this on tap.

We have a great cocktail menu and offer 2 for 1 cocktails on a Thursday night, which tends to work well for us. We also have around 20 different varieties of craft gin, as well as various premium tonics; posh G&Ts are going to be a big focus this summer.

Does the Captain Cook cater for all the family?

Yes, families and children are very welcome here. We have special children’s dishes and kids are invited in all day. We host functions at the back of the bar for family events such as christenings and wakes, as well as birthday parties.

We currently open from 4pm to 11pm on weekdays and all day at weekends. We’re planning to start offering weekend brunch soon, as it’s become such a popular dining-out occasion.

Does the pub serve coffee?

It’s absolutely essential to offer proper coffee in pubs these days. We have a Kimbo coffee machine, which we pay a reasonable rental rate for, and it serves excellent coffee. You can’t run the type of operation we’re trying to run without having proper coffee; it’s not enough to just serve instant any more.

I’d also stress that good tea is important. Customers are asking for more and more different flavours of tea, and they look out for quality too. I think every pub’s complete hot drinks offering needs to be good.

What kinds of events do you host?

We have live music every Saturday night, which is popular, and a quiz every Sunday night, which goes down well after the Sunday roasts. We’re going to be pushing Wimbledon, as we have pull-down projector screens, and we’ll certainly focus on upselling jugs of Pimm’s and bowls of strawberries and cream.

However, our big focus throughout summer will be the Rugby World Cup (RWC). Our whole team is rugby crazy and it’s a huge deal for Heineken too. We’ve got big plans for all our pubs: the strategy is to be New Zealand supporter hubs. One of our managers has connections with the New Zealand World Cup campaign so we’re in the process of planning ex-player events at the pubs to tie in with the matches. We know there are a lot of New Zealanders in London, so we want to become the go-to pubs for them.

The whole country will be abuzz for the RWC and we’ll be hoping England do well too. It was a difficult time when England went out of the football World Cup early last year, so we’re hoping the RWC will be much better for them!

What different marketing tools do you use?

We use an online app called SQUAWKBOX, which ties all of our various social media strands together and means that if you publish something once, it goes live on all your different feeds. Now we’re a multiple operator, we have an employee called Mike who looks after the marketing of our three pubs, as well as working behind the bar occasionally.

Social media is cost-effective and targeted marketing, so it works really well for pubs. We’ve just started pushing the posts on Facebook for the Captain Cook, which means that we can get our marketing in front of the people that we’re targeting. Social media is the number-one form of marketing for us.

How has Star Pubs & Bars helped your business?

The team at Star were very supportive with the capex project and have continued to be since then. When we opened, they provided us with staff training, which was really helpful, and we have a great relationship with our Business Development Manager too. Also, they use us for team meetings and dinners, which is really encouraging. They genuinely want to support us and are passionate about their pubs.