Original article from Kent Live
Hospitality has been one of the hardest hit industries throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
From Boris Johnson telling people to avoid pubs before the lockdown last year to becoming one of the last industries to reopen up in the summer, pubs and restaurants have felt the brunt of the new way of life.
The Kentish Hare, in the beautiful village of Bidborough near Tunbridge Wells, has faced the same challenges as others in the industry – cash reserves which had been saved up for seven years were due to be spent on outdoor catering and events but were instead spent on keeping the business safe.
Despite the setbacks, the pub has received numerous accolades over the past few weeks and months, including being named as one of the best gastropubs in the UK.
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Last week, Estrella Damm's ranked the west Kent pub as the 13th best in the country and third best in Kent.
It has also picked up two AA Rosettes and was awarded with a Bib Gourmand by the highly respected Michelin guide.
The Kentish Hare is perhaps best known for being run by Chris and James Tanner – brothers who have built up quite a reputation across Kent and Devon.
The pair opened their first restaurant in Plymouth in 1999 which proved to be the start of a thriving family enterprise. They later opened the "Barbican Kitchen" housed in the world famous Plymouth Gin distillery in 2006.
After success in the west country, the brothers turned their attention to west Kent when the Kentish Hare was born.
Alongside the Tanner brothers is general manager Paul Barber, who runs the pub.
The 36 year old spent two years in Tuscany before working at the Ritz in London.
He moved to the Kentish Hare when it opened in May 2014.
Speaking exclusively to KentLive he revealed how rewarding it was to still be winning awards despite everything that has happened in the last 12 months.
“It’s been a tough year for everyone and it’s good to see what we’re doing is still being recognised," he said.
"To see these things still being mentioned is great and it’s nice to see people are still talking about us after eight years.
“We were in a very lucky situation, I have to be honest. At the beginning of last year we were looking at potentially doing outside events, outside catering and launching various projects.
"They’ve had to go on hold which is hugely frustrating for us because it’s something we would have loved to have been able to do."
"But the pub will be fine because the money we had planned for the launching the secondary outside catering went in to looking after the pub.
“It took us seven years to get to that stage – we always spoke about it when we first opened the site.
"Seven years on we thought it was the right time. But very quickly it was obvious that all that hard work was going to be used on keeping the pub afloat – if it wasn’t for that then I don’t know where we would have gone to to be honest.”
Paul, known for his attention to detail, believes the experience on offer at the Kentish Hare is what makes it so successful.
“It’s the best of both worlds," he added.
"The knowledge the staff have on what goes in to the cooking is incredible – it is not just their job but they love doing it. There’s that buzz and energy and you get to know what people like and what people want.
'If this was my local I'd be in here everyday'
"You can come up here and have a leisurely stroll with a beer and chips or if you want to treat your nan to a lunch or evening meal up here then you can do that too.
"The question, are you a pub with a restaurant or are you a restaurant with a pub? has always been thrown around – but I think we’re fortunate that we have managed to balance it – if this was my local I’d be in here everyday.”
Usually, the pub opens from Wednesday through to Sunday to help keep consistency and balance among staff.
Even last year, when The Kentish Hare took up the offer of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, which ran from Monday to Wednesday throughout August, they decided to stick to the same opening days.
Instead of changing their opening times to co-ordinate with the scheme, the restaurant continued to stay open Wednesday through to Sunday.
Paul also credits the furlough scheme as a huge support to the pub during the pandemic.
He said: “We had a business plan that we had to look after and it wasn’t it until later down the road that the chancellor announced the furlough scheme, which was a massive boost for the industry because I don’t think we’d still be here if it wasn’t for that.”
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Looking ahead, The Kentish Hare will be offering takeaway services over the Easter weekend after a successful stint during Mother's Day which saw them do 130 roast dinners.
“We decided the best thing to do over winter was to keep the staff safe, shut the pub up and keep living off furloughs. We decided to do Mother’s Day weekend and this weekend we’re going to do the same for Easter.
"We’re doing Friday and Saturday night and we’re taking orders for both of those evenings. On Sunday we’re doing the Sunday roast dinner to go."
It's just shy of a dozen days before the pub can open up its outside space for dining.
Government guidelines state that outdoor hospitality can reopen on April 12 and The Kentish Hare is already taking bookings for their first day, April 14.
"Because we’re independently run we can make a decision quickly but we have decided just for the moment to open the lunches because we want to see how it goes.
"Don’t forget the guys in the kitchen haven’t cooked for six months so we want to get back in to the swing of things but we don’t want to run before we can walk. Potentially the last two weekends in April we might open up the diary.”
You can find out more about the Kentish Hare by pressing here.