IN THE FRAME: Sue Robson
Why did you decide to run a pub?
The first answer that comes to mind is Ďbecause it was thereí. Bob and I have always enjoyed change in our lives. Bob was commuting to London daily and not really enjoying it. I was teaching in the winter and running a holiday business in the summer but we both felt running the pub would be an exciting new challenge. Most peopleís reactions were very positive, but one comment about how brave we were and how it could all go terribly wrong worried me.
If you had known then what you know now, would you have bought The Red Lion?
Yes, although if you had asked me that question four years ago the answer would have been very different! I am thrilled at how the pub has turned out. My vision was that it would be an important part of the community where everyone would feel comfortable whether drinking, eating or just having a cup of coffee, and that is how it is now.
What have been your happiest times in the pub?
Busy sessions when the place is full and buzzing. I only occasionally stop and notice, but itís a great feeling. I really appreciate it when people take the time to write about the quality of the food and how they have enjoyed themselves. Of course I love BrightFest - and getting two CAMRA awards for the best pub in South Oxfordshire in 2009 and 2012 was pretty exciting.
And the most challenging times?
The first year was a huge learning curve. I was very lucky to have my daughter Ellie with me as Bob was still working in London. Several peopleís expectations werenít being met and there was quite a bit of criticism. Some people thought I would change The Red Lion to a gastro pub and were disappointed when this didnít happen. But I had to go with my instincts, the strengths of the staff and listening to customers. Most people were keen to have an old-fashioned pub with proper home cooked food and thatís what we do best. I am so lucky that our cooks are very talented and have been with us for a long time. We get a lot of very positive comments to the effect that there arenít many pubs like ours left.
Has a customer ever made you cry?
During the first year we made mistakes and I took every comment personally. One memorable night we had an unfortunate incident when a chair broke as a lady sat on it. She didnít fall and wasnít hurt, but her partner was very angry. He lifted a chair leg and threatened me with it, then bashed the bar with it while shouting loudly. The pub went very quiet! We laugh about it now and call it the Ďchair leg incidentí but it was not pleasant at the time.
What advice would you give to a future owner of The Red Lion?
As most people know now, Ellie is taking over the reins in June, with me in a supporting role. My advice would be Ďif it ainít broke donít fix ití. The community feel is very popular and if people feel ownership of the pub they are likely to visit more often. One of the things I learned on my ĎHow to be a Publicanícourse was that a warm goodbye is just as important as a friendly welcome. I have found this to be the case. I have been known to chase people down the road to say goodbye Ė maybe this is going a bit too far!
What will you miss most when you leave?
Iíll miss the many regular customers who have become friends. Iíve met so many interesting people who I would not normally have got to know. I recently had a phone call from a customer who used to bring his mother for Saturday lunches from the other side of Oxford. He told me that his mother had just died. I so appreciated that he wanted to let us know as occasionally we donít see people who used to come regularly and we always wonder if they are OK. Iíve enjoyed being at the hub of the village. Itís such a great place to live. Iím pleased I am not moving away but I am looking forward to doing some gardening and having the odd night off!