Where tradition meets novelty

Respect for staff and guests alike has accompanied McMullen & Sons on its nearly two-century journey that has seen the company emerge as one of Britain’s leading regional breweries and pub operators

For a great many companies, getting hold of a property that will serve them for 50-60 years would be a no-brainer. Not for McMullen & Sons, though. The family-owned brewery and pub operator has been in the game long enough to develop a sense for what is valuable and sustainable in running a business. Founded in 1827 by Peter McMullen, the company has been under the custody of the McMullen family for seven generations now, with each and every one of its leaders understanding and embracing their historical task of preserving and developing a business that future generations can depend on.

“When we started looking at timber frame structures for our new build pubs, we initially thought it was a good idea. Once we found out that their lifespan does not exceed 60 years, however, we gave up on it, simply because we want to build properties that will last for 100-150 years,” explains Matt Cotter, Operations Manager at McMullen.

Its pubs scattered predominantly across London and the home counties (including Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamsire, Essex and Bedforshire), the company has grown a portfolio of over 125 locations, in addition to its main brewery in Hertford. Discussing their continued success, Matt does not think twice about the main reason for McMullen’s consistently high performance: “It is without doubt down to our people. We work very hard to create the best possible working environment for our teams and help them fulfil their potential. We regard it as a responsibility of ours to constantly evolve and improve as an employer, so that we provide the best training and development opportunities for our employees.

“By doing this, we can ensure that we have teams of passionate people who are not only knowledgeable, but also fully engaged with the business,” he continues. “Consequently, taking pride in your own work and in representing the company manifests itself in the way you serve the guests. There is a lot of competition out there at the moment, so you have got to have naturally hospitable and affable front of house people to distinguish yourself in your service offering. Great pub experiences start with how staff treat the guests. Then, you need to create a pleasant atmosphere that includes the right lighting, the right music, and the right temperature, to mention but a few factors. We regularly train our managers to pay attention to every detail in our clients’ behaviour and understand their body language, so they can get an idea of how our guests perceive the environment they are in.”

Originally, brewing beer was the bread and butter for McMullen and, to this day, the brewery’s broad range of ales and lagers remains the most well-known part of the brand. The company maintains two different brewing lines – for keg beer and for cask-conditioned ale. “Due to the decline of cask ale consumption, about four years ago, we decided to diversify our production and introduce keg brewing through a sub-brewery of a kind, which we called Rivertown,” Matt remembers.

Releasing a range that was wittily named ‘Untitled’, McMullen successfully addressed consumers’ newly-developed penchant for craft beers and unexplored flavours. The brews were at first available only in a select number of High Street pubs, whose managers were keen on growing in the craft market. “The feedback we got, was pivotal in developing the Rivertown brand, which is gaining a lot of traction at the moment. We have also had great success in brewing cask-conditioned ales under the Rivertown banner,” Matt points out.

‘Seriously relaxed’
For McMullen, the strategy to expand its network of pubs has always been based on the acquisition of well-situated freehold properties. As of late, the company has found it easier to purchase plots of land and engage in creating new builds – an enterprise that met with success, as demonstrated by the popularity of its Prince George pub in Milton Keynes (opened in 2014) and the Princess Charlotte in Colchester (opened in 2018).

“There is another exciting, ongoing development that we are looking forward to opening,” Matt comments, “which is a superb plot of land at Campbell Wharf in Milton Keynes. The two-storey pub will boast a glorious view over the Grand Union Canal and the new marina. It will be the latest ‘seriously relaxed’ member of our Destination Inns group that specialises in ‘seriously relaxed dining’! Hopefully, it will open in mid-2020.

Several more acquisitions and developments in London have contributed to the encouraging start to the year for McMullen. “We took over the iconic Old Bank of England pub on 35Fleet Street and we are planning to invest in the site further early next year. We have also seen phenomenal results from The White Swan in Pimlico. In addition, we are shortly taking control of one of our tenanted locations – The Kings Arms in Fitzrovia,” Matt reveals.

Healthy eating trends
As an Operations Manager looking after the pub side of the business, he and his team are also closely monitoring developing trends in food preferences. “On the one hand, it is important that we focus on perfecting our best-selling products, like our burgers and fish and chips, but on the other hand, veganism is becoming a major factor in our menu considerations,” Matt says. “We have come to understand how important our vegetarian guests are to the business, so we have worked really hard to develop vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free meals. The next step is developing separate vegetarian and vegan menus in all of our food sites. What is more, we intend on creating such a vegan proposition that will enable our guests to have complete three-course vegan meals.

“Clearly, the world has changed so much in the last ten or 15 years with the advent of technology and the entry into the market place of Gen Z, that we have to constantly evolve with the times, and this is one of our main tasks for the future,” he reasons. “We have to understand the ways, in which the youths of today look at the 37world. For example, they tend to drink less and eat healthily, therefore, we need to improve our soft drinks range and our healthy food offering. What is important for me, is that in ten years’ time, we are truly up-to-date with reigning trends and delivering on the expectations of our guests and team members alike. Other than that, we just want to continue buying new pubs, developing our people, and growing in a sustainable manner.

“To cap it all off, it needs to be established that we are really passionate about driving the pub industry and making sure that the institution the Great British local pub is, remains strong in the years to come. At the very core of our estates are great community ‘locals’ and we will do everything in our power to preserve their wonderful traditions,” Matt concludes.