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Case study - Castle Hotel, Eynsford

“It isn’t as big a leap as you may think - you can do it, you can achieve it!” says long-serving Shepherd Neame licensee Sharon Thompson about running your own pub – and she should know.

She and husband Gordon, who met through hospitality more than 30 years ago, now run four of the independent family brewer and pub company’s sites, with the help of their grown-up children.

When they took on their first, The Castle Hotel in Eynsford, Sharon says: “We had a vision for what we wanted it to be and Shepherd Neame supported us all the way through.

“They will invest with you to create the dream you have. I would say do your research; get a good idea of what you would want to run and then speak to their team.”

Gordon is also keen to talk about the benefits of the partnership between Shepherd Neame and its licensees. “They will back you financially if they think your ideas are going to work. The fact that we have four pubs proves it works!” 

The couple consider themselves entrepreneurs but admit they couldn’t now run all four hotels and pubs with rooms without the help of their grown-up children.

They have had The Castle Hotel in Eynsford for 10 years and the Abbey Hotel in Battle for seven, while Gordon’s brother and his wife have been running The White Horse, Maldon, for them for over a year, and two of their daughters recently began running The Woolpack at Chilham.

Today, Gordon and Sharon run a tight ship, and each day is different, with them heading to whichever pub needs their input. They could be doing anything from painting or gardening, to working in the kitchen, and of course chatting to team members and customers.

Gordon says: “The main reason we go to the pub is to keep the standards high.”

The pair don’t shy away from the fact that being a licensee is hard work, but they’re also keen to emphasise its benefits too.

“It is very rewarding,” says Sharon. “You meet so many people and every day is different - my favourite bit is meeting people. We have been in this industry a long time and it is really enjoyable. You have to put your heart and soul into it.”

Gordon adds: “You have to remember this is a way of life - it’s not a 9-5. You’ve got to do whatever it takes to make sure your business succeeds.

“It is a big responsibility, but if you look after your team and treat them well they look after you,” with Sharon adding: “It’s great to be inspiring young staff, seeing them fulfilling their dreams. I love that part of the job.”

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