A Marriage Made in Heaven-ly Food Venues – Lucy and ben Cuthbert
Lucy and Ben Cuthbert are the proud parents of two beautiful children, and 5 hugely successful food venues in Folkestone. They have contributed so much to Folkestone’s name as a foody town. You can eat a wealth of delicious dishes; from fresh fish to slow-roast pork; vegan pancakes and home-made pizza thanks to these two. The Guardian has recently picked The Pullman as one of the best pub gardens on the South coast too. What’s more; employing 85 local people across their restaurants, supporting the local economy plays a huge role in what they do. Folkelife is no stranger to any of their venues, so picked Market Square to meet the family.
L+B The History
“Lucy and I met 8 years ago; I was living in Folkestone, and Lucy was in Canterbury. I had a job where I was travelling a lot and was looking for something different. Lucy was doing an MA in Fine Arts at the time. A friend told us about The Pullman and what can I say? We ummed and aahhhed! If we were going to take it on, it would be a huge risk. We’d both have to leave our jobs, and invest in it, do it up and make it work. I have a background in hospitality, having run quite a few bars in a previous life.”
“At that time, there weren’t any pubs in Folkestone that we would go to. But there was a really big food scene emerging, pioneered by Mark Sargeant at Rocksalt. Blooms was blooming! There were other restaurants doing well proving that Folkestone had a food movement going on.”
“I can remember sitting in traffic coming up to the Blackwall tunnel and feeling totally fed up. We’d been talking about taking on The Pullman, and had made a business plan. Lucy rang me and said ‘I’ve just gone into the bank and got my Post-grad loan, I really think we should go for this pub. Match the funds, and let’s do it!”
At this point, Ben and Lucy had been together a number of months. They were both living in Folkestone and just wanted to be doing something local, and together. So, their bid went in on the Friday and were told they were too late! Someone had beaten them to it.
“We were gutted! We got a bottle of wine, and sat down that night and took the approach of ‘whatever will be, will be’. And do you know what? On the Monday morning, he called us back and said ‘I’m going to take a punt on you two!’ So we took over the lease and that’s where it started!”
The owner thought the two were mad, to say the least! The pub didn’t have a good reputation, it was derelict, had no furniture and their budget was very tight.
“We kept track of our budget by writing everything we spent up on the chalk board above the bar. I was still working at my old job, so Lucy was in there every day painting. All the blue you see now, was painted by her fair hands.” Lucy chimes in “I never want to see Sienna Blue again in my life!”
true kentish pub
Ben continues “We did the classic thing of inviting everyone we knew over for a beer and a barbecue to get the garden sorted. With our budget being small, we had to be realistic about what we could do. We only ever opened the front restaurant. There was a point when we were still in our painting scrubs, and the next minute we were open! We realised that we hadn’t had time to write up the menu, so one of us scribbled down what we were serving, and we photocopied it! Seat of the pants stuff but it worked!”
The Pullman opened to great excitement. There was a real buzz around the town now there was a good choice of food venues to eat at. Folkestone was starting to connect together and offer more variety. Lucy and Ben got married in the pub the following year, and then decided that, maybe, they’d take on a new venture.
Another run down venue was up for grabs in the town. Ben came home to a now-pregnant Lucy, to tell her he’d got the lease on what was to become Lubens. The success of The Pullman had made Lubens a possibility. They wanted to make pizza, and so built a bread oven and then worked out how to use it!
“Each time we open somewhere new we are challenging ourselves. It did get to the point where I said to Lucy – ‘We’ve got a pizza oven and we don’t know how to use it! What have we done?’ But we learned pretty quickly! We have a wonderful supplier for all our Italian goods for Lubens and we asked him one day what sort of flour we should be using. He said it depends on what you want to do. We didn’t really know! So he sent us a whole palette of ingredients and we had a field day working out our own sauce, and dough and everything else. It was great fun, and you work it out!”
the Harbour Inn
Lucy and Ben sat back for a bit – that’s if you can running a pub, a pizza restaurant and have a young child… until someone told them about The Harbour Inn. Nestled overlooking the inner harbour in Folkestone, this pub had been a bit neglected and was up for sale. They went down for Sunday lunch, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“The view from upstairs is stunning.” Lucy says. “We were eating our Sunday roast and thought ‘how can we not take on this pub, with this view?'” Ben continues “Lucy sat there for 20 minutes and saw the potential in the building, and so we thought we’d do it!”
The two have a mental checklist: Can we do something with this place? Can we make it accessible to a wider audience in Folkestone? If the answer is yes, then off they go!
Bringing life to different parts of the town
“If you look at it now, The Harbour Inn is full of families at the weekend. It’s got the dog walkers who come in, it’s got a real life to it. And that’s what we get a kick out of. Can we turn this on its head and make it a success? Yes, let’s try!”
It’s true to say, that which ever of Lucy and Ben’s restaurants you go in to, it won’t be long before either of them will pop in to see how things are going. “We like to be involved. It drives Lucy up the wall that I’m often coming home after food service! But I like to keep in contact with all the staff, and our customers. I genuinely get a kick out of seeing people in our restaurants, enjoying themselves. It’s also good to do proper shifts in all of them. I get to see how it works on a day-to-day basis and this helps us support our staff.”
All hands on deck
Lucy works shifts in the restaurants when Ben has charge of the kids. They now employ over 85 people in their venues. Sitting opposite Lubens, their next venue to open was Market Square, which offers a healthy option. There are breakfast and brunch options with smashed avocado, seeds and salads. There are also stacks of pancakes too!
“This restaurant feels really different to everything else. But what we also want to do is renovate downstairs. It’s a cellar, and it’s there for us to use. We’d really like to see lots of different people selling local produce here. If we can offer really low rates for people to have a stall and sell their food, it means that more people get that opportunity. If they don’t like selling their products, then they haven’t spent a huge amount of money seeing if it works.”
Investing in folkestone
Lucy and Ben thought, after the opening of Market Square, they’d hang fire for a while – in the sense of not opening up another venue. Then the global pandemic hit. The plans for the Market Square Food Hall turned into a store for staff and locals to buy produce that was not available in the shops. This was the food and supplies they had left over due to the closing of all their restaurants. Then, there was a lull. While everyone was tucked up in their homes, contemplating lockdown, Lucy and Ben were not still for long.
Tin and Tap
In the cluster of Lubens and Market Square there was another venue that was available. The couple took it over while all was quiet and when the restaurants were ready to open up in the summer of 2020, Tin and Tap opened its doors too. With the Feast app to order your food from your table, the couple had decided to add a Brewery, Distillery and (another) Kitchen to their list. Tin and Tap sells craft beers, loaded fries and buttermilk fried chicken (plus burgers and… the list goes on!), it’s another success to their bow.
The L+B loyalty app is also available for customers to gain points in each restaurant. And their focus is on training their staff. Building a workforce with training and qualifications helps the food industry in Folkestone just get better and better.
“That’s our aim! But there are only so many hours in the day!” Somehow, I think, these two will make a success of it!