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Case study - Bucks Head, Godden Green

The first few days after getting the keys to their pub can be a daunting time for all first-time licensees, but not many have also fitted in having their first child at the same time.

So when James Dench, 32 and his wife, Hope, 30, say that for them, “it was a busy week” it’s something of an understatement, as Hope gave birth to their first child three days after they were handed the keys to the Bucks Head at Godden Green, near Sevenoaks!
The pair had their hearts set on running a pub, after returning from two years of travelling, and had viewed several before hearing that the pub where they liked to walk their dog was available.

“It is about the right pub for you,” says Hope. “We had wanted to do this for a long time. This was the right pub for us and we didn’t want to let this pub go. We didn’t want to sit by and watch someone else run the pub that we wanted.”

“Don’t be scared if you see one you like – just go for it!” adds James. “We thought ‘Let’s put our name in the hat and see how far we get’.” 

The couple were reassured at working with family-run Shepherd Neame, and also spoke to the outgoing licensee, whose family had run the pub for 19 years.

“It was quite daunting at first,” says Hope. “I remember sitting down that evening and thinking ‘I cannot believe we have done this!’ But we knew we could work together and we had the right people around us.”

“Shepherd Neame don’t want to see the pub fail, of course, so they are going to give you a push in the right direction,” adds James.

The pair received support on a range of areas from the brewery’s tenanted team especially in their first few weeks, and have since also received ongoing support and training for themselves and their team members in a range of areas.

The couple had family experience of running pubs as Hope’s Grandad had run Ye Olde Leather Bottle. Both sides of the family also pitched in, with James’s Dad also rejuvenating the garden, which now also has a pizza oven.

And having their newborn daughter, Nora, while running their new business has not fazed them. In fact, they see it as a benefit as James, who is also Head Chef of the pub, can see his daughter throughout the day when he gets a break, rather than not seeing her during the work day.

Holly says: “She is part of the pub. It feels like the pub has raised her - everyone chips in!”

Looking back over their first 18 months, hosting one of their regulars’ weddings was a major highlight. “There are moments where you step back. You get quite stuck in with day to day things, but when we hosted the wedding it felt so good because they trusted us to do that for them,” says Holly. 

“It felt like such an honour to be able to do that and give them the best day. You felt like ‘We have done this and we have created this’ - you step back sometimes and you go we have done this and we have created this pub. They love it here and they are part of our family now. The pub was heaving and everyone was happy.”

The couple have also introduced a new pub-inspired menu, which varies with the seasons, but always includes the all-important burger and a mouthwatering homemade pie.

Click here to find out more about the Buck Head: