Head for the hills

We visit The Bull’s Head, a country pub in the hills above Huddersfield, to discover how a new food offer and a new look has taken trade to the next level.

The Vision
Like many small villages in the Pennine Hills, Blackmoorfoot had a pub that was trading well below its full potential. Fortunately, new licensee Mark Oldfield, and his business partners Anthony Ribouton and Ricardo Victor, could see The Bull’s Head had a profitable future in food.

“When we took it on, The Bull’s Head was a nice pub but it looked tired and the cheap food simply didn’t attract enough customers. If you want people to seek you out, you have to make it worth their while and that means offering something a little bit special in the dining room.”

Mark, Anthony and Ricardo had already transformed a similar pub, The Golden Cock in the nearby village of Farnley Tyas, into a highly successful, food-led destination venue and last year they set about applying their winning formula to The Bull's Head.

They began by creating mouth-watering new menus that featured home cooked dishes in the modern British and Mediterranean styles.
They improved the wine list and added a range of first class cask ales to the bar but, whilst good food and drink are always at the heart of any dining experience, the pub’s surroundings had to match the quality of the new offer.

“People were raving about the food, the hospitality and the service but there was a mismatch between the quality of food and drink we were offering and the environment,” says Mark. “Customers would come and spend £15 a head on a meal but have to sit on old chairs at scratched tables and the toilets weren’t the best either!”

The Works
The new menus, and little touches like candles on tables, helped attract a loyal following that trebled takings, but soon it was time to consider more substantial improvements to the Bull’s Head.

“We sat down with Star Pubs & Bars, talked about what we wanted to achieve and what we could afford,” says Mark. “The result was a scheme that could refurbish the pub for only £82K.”

Despite the relatively low budget, the work included major changes to the pub’s layout, such as cutting back a wall to incorporate an old pool room into the main trade area, shortening the bar to allow more room for dining and reviving the underused upstairs function room. The work increased the pub’s capacity by 40%, providing plenty of space for both diners and locals who simply want to pop in for a pint.

“It looks a million dollars. We have a very good relationship with Star Pubs & Bars; we knew we could trust them to deliver on their promise to transform the pub - and deliver they did.”

The Food
The Bull’s Head now has two menus: one for casual dining and one for the restaurant. The bar meals include homemade British favourites, such as sausage rolls and scotch eggs whilst the a la carte dishes boast a continental twist that reflects the French and Portuguese heritage of Anthony and Ricardo.  In the restaurant, diners can now choose from French classics, such as Coq au Vin, or exotic Portuguese dishes, such as Francesinha (a hot sandwich) and Chicken Piri Piri. 

Besides the superb food, made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, Mark and his team drive weekday trade through regular promotions.  Monday is wine night, Tuesday offers 2-4-1 pies, Wednesday features Mediterranean dishes, Thursday is steak night and Friday’s menus offer fish & chips for £5.95 between 5pm and 7pm. 

The Response
The Anglo-French-Portuguese inspired menus have certainly helped The Bull’s Head to stand out from the competition. The pub is attracting new customers from all over West Yorkshire, locals are visiting more often and news of the new pub is spreading thanks to a state-of-the-art website: www.bullshead.uk.com. 

“The reaction from customers has been fabulous and people just can’t believe what we have achieved on such a limited budget,” says Mark.  “Local residents are happy because they’ve got a better bar and diners are happy because they’ve got a smart and welcoming place to eat. We’ve exceeded our initial targets and we’re now trading at levels seven times higher than when we took the pub on.”

The Future
Clearly the simple formula of giving customers a positive reason to ‘head for the hills’ is working a treat. So do Mark and his partners have any plans to expand their business?

“We’d love to do another pub but, if we did, I think we’d need a new partner to maintain our standards,” he says. “With Anthony being French and Ricardo being Portuguese, perhaps we should invite an Italian into our European Union!”