Family reveals all about the daily challenge of running a rural pub

Wendy (left), Steve (second right) and Zara (right) enjoy a drink with a couple of locals
Wendy (left), Steve (second right) and Zara (right) enjoy a drink with a couple of locals

It’s Friday night at the Sebastopol Inn in Minting.

A lot of people will be putting their feet up at the end of the working week.

They’ll probably be downing supermarket booze and relishing the takeaway that will be delivered right to their door.

Unfortunately, there’s no time for the Hughes family to relax.

Dad Steve is behind the bar, mum Wendy is talking to regulars and taking food orders while daughter Zara is hard at work in the kitchen.

It’s more than a year since the family took over the popular inn.

The Sebastopol had been threatened with closure. Villagers were worried about losing their ‘local.’

A community buy-out was launched but struggled to raise the funds to meet the asking price.

Rumours of new homes were rife – until Steve and Wendy stepped in.

They’d run a pub in Cornwall earlier in their careers before eventually moving to the Market Rasen area.

However, the couple wanted a new challenge and looked at several pubs before settling on the Sebastopol.

According to government figures, there were 42,450 pubs in the UK at the beginning of 2018 – but 914 fewer by the end of the year. That’s a rate of 76 closures a month.

Another 235 ‘vanished’ during the first half of this year, or nearly 40 a month.

The majority are in rural areas – just like the Lincolnshire countryside....just like Minting.

Little wonder when the Hughes family moved into Minting, close friends questioned their sanity.

A year or so on and the couple have no regrets.

Wendy explains: “Running a pub is hard work and we’ve had our ups and downs but there are no regrets.

“The pub is a home from home – a part of the community.”

Apart from the pub, Wendy is a member of the church choir and a parish councillor.

And she has some strong words for some villagers.

She explained: “When the pub looked like closing, everyone in the parish – there must be around 300 – were up in arms . No-one wanted it to close.

“When we first opened, we saw a lot of them.

“Now, I’d say about 20 of them could be described as regulars. The rest we never see.

“They are happy to gossip .

“People come up to us and say: ‘We’ve heard you’re closing’ or ‘you’ve stopped selling food’.

“None of it is true but that sort of thing can do a lot of damage.

“Why don’t these people come and see what we are all about?”

The Hughes’s have worked hard to boost trade.

Zara’s food enjoys five star reviews and attracts customers from far and wide.

A series of special events have also proved popular - from a cowboy night to a classic car rally, a medieval banquet and carols around a Christmas tree.

Wendy says: “We even held the Sebastopol Olympics - rounders, archery and tug-of-war.

“That was a brilliant!”

The latest review on Trip Advisor says: ‘Great hosts Wendy & Steve, welcoming lounge and friendly locals. Food was outstanding! A little off the beaten track but oh so worth it. Will definitely be back!”

The writer lives in Livingstone in Scotland.

The food, in particular, earns high praise. Wendy says: “Zara is a great cook and I’m not just saying that because she is my daughter.

“I’d say it’s bistro type menu with a modern twist.

“We strongly believe in using local suppliers – like the butchers in Wragby,”

Despite all that effort – and all those positive reviews - the pub is now closed on a Monday and Tuesday– and weekday lunchtimes. T he restaurant opening hours are also restricted.

Food is served on a Sunday but traditional roasts are off the menu. “We never knew how many people were coming,” explains Wendy, “and you can’t afford to throw food away.

“We’d happily open at lunchtimes but there just isn’t the trade.

“It’s a problem for a lot of country pubs, not just us.

“People don’t have the time to drive from Horncastle or Market Rasen on their lunch hour.”

The Sebastopol has a ’luxury’ holiday let which has proved popular during the summer.

There are plans to open a function room for corporate events and parties.

The pub has made it through to the final stages of three countywide competitions.

The family is optimistic about the future. As Wendy says: “It’s hard work but it’s rewarding, especially when people say they love the place.”