John Hoskins MW sells iconic Old Bridge

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The Old Bridge Hotel and its wine shop has been bought by hospitality company Chestnut.

John Hoskins MW and his wife Julia bought the inn, on the banks of the river Ouse in Huntingdon, back in 1994 and added the iconic wine shop a decade later.

Chestnut also recently bought the wholesaler Peter Graham Wines and says the acquisition of Old Bridge will give it the opportunity to develop the wine side of its business, with a view to expand the retail element beyond its current East Anglian heartland.

Philip Turner, founder and managing director of Chestnut, is immensely mindful of the shoes he has to fill at The Old Bridge. “I’ve always had a huge respect for what John and Julia built,” he says.

“When somebody has run a business with as much attention to detail and diligence as Julia and John have, legacy is incredibly important, and respecting that legacy is something that we take very seriously.

“The connecting factor is Nick Adams MW who taught John through his Master of Wine. Nick is also a consultant MW to Peter Graham Wines and he lives in Huntingdon. Nick has been able to help Old Bridge Wines go through the transition.”

Turner explains that Peter Graham Wines was established by his sister, Louisa Turner, and has been aligned with Chestnut since the latter’s inception 10 years ago, when he looked to her for advice with his business plan.

At home with bronchitis, Turner heard that his local pub was for sale. “I was bored and armed with a laptop, so I sort of wrote a financial plan for what a pub could look like,” he says.

With a background in financial services, that part was easy, but he called his sister for advice on margins and naturally, as it all took off, Peter Graham Wines became the sole supplier of wine to the rapidly expanding business.

Today, Chestnut has a collection of 17 high-end “pubs with rooms,” and with that comes a valuable database of customers, most of whom have an interest in wine.
Despite the size of the group, all the destinations are distinctly different and retain their individuality.

“We veer violently away from being a chain,” says Turner. “We actively encourage local produce and creativity amongst our chefs. It’s difficult enough recruiting chefs, so to recruit chefs and tell them what to cook is not a great strategy for us.”

Turner lists a number of reasons for buying Peter Graham Wines. “We suddenly got to the stage whereby there was a new element of business risk,” he says. “In other words, we were a big customer of theirs, and if something went wrong in their business that would have an impact on us, and I didn’t really like that.

“Secondly, we have a database of nearly 200,000 people now across our business who know us for food, wine and accommodation. Peter Graham Wines has no retail customers, and as we’ve got a lot of data on what people drink, we thought we should be using that. So it’s a huge opportunity to sell wine.”

As a wholesaler, Peter Graham Wines also has a well-oiled logistics machine, something that Turner, with his growing portfolio, identifies as key.

“We’ve been able to secure our supply chain, monetise our database, and get hold of a logistics business, which is part of our future plan,” he says. “My sister built that business over 25 years, and she wants to go do something different in her life now, and I felt good that I was able to give her that opportunity.”

Will we see further bricks-and-mortar retail growth from Chestnut? “We now have a retail presence at The Old Bridge and, while Huntingdon will remain the central operation for that, we’ve got a couple of other opportunities for pop-up retail spaces within our existing portfolio,” says Turner.

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