Exclusive: See the plans for the new-look Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
- Credit: Archant
One of England’s oldest and one of St Albans’ most beloved pubs faces a grim future unless a major £1m refurbishment plan receives the green light.
In designs seen by the Herts Advertiser, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks wants to introduce new dining pavilions, proper disabled facilities and a home brewery, all based around the existing 16th century building, which will remain in place.
But landlord Christo Tofalli warned that unless they can make a profit by accommodating the increasing number of customers flooding into the lakeside restaurant every year, the business is unlikely to survive in its current state.
He told the Herts Ad: “We have been trying to save this pub for the last six years and it is just a wide open gap: the pub needs to be more accessible and sustainable or it simply will not be.
“If we don’t do this, then the pub won’t remain the way it is forever. It will end up being a managed house with microwaves in the kitchen. Essentially the oldest pub in England will be lost, gone, that’s it.
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“I’m not being melodramatic because not long before we bought it it was closed for nine months, and that was no joke. It was finished.
“I’m not talking about looking after it for me now but for the future; I’m just a custodian, although my plan from the beginning was to make it one of the best pubs in the country. The whole world told me I was mad, I was buying a derelict pub, what was I doing?
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“Nothing has changed, there’s nothing new on the agenda, it just so happens that after six years we’ve doubled our turnover but we’ve doubled our costs too. The only way of putting money back into the business would be quite simply to reduce the quality that we’ve maintained. But that’s not why I took on the pub, and if I can’t deliver a pub the way I want to and leading the way a local asset like this should be doing, then someone else is going to do it and they won’t do it like me.
“Even the brewery said I’m the only person in the last 50 years to put anything into it, and you know what I’ve put into it? Everything. And we’re still putting everything into it.”
He explained why it was vital to prepare for the long-term: “We took a hit on business rates, and we have got no pensions to take the money out of or shares to sell. We do a million other things, but our only income is food and drink.
“I have people look at the business in loads of different ways and there is a big argument about cutting staff and buying a lot of microwaves.
“There are some really good microwaves, and we could live off that and earn more money than I have ever dreamed of.
“But that’s not why I took the pub on. We’ve established ourselves as a quality business but until we have put ourselves on the map, it offers nothing to St Albans.
“This is another step to securing the pub’s future.”
Last month the plans were changed to provide more space for the disabled toilet for a bench and hoist following a national campaign by mother Sarah Brisdion, who had to lie her disabled son on urine-soaked restaurant floors to change him.
Christo said: “Having an older building is not an excuse. Opening the business up every day and seeing our inadequacies in serving people is a crisis.”
Despite the extent of the new buildings, it is hoped the development will have minimal impact on the scene, with trees and hedges planted along the perimeter to conceal all but the highest parts of the building.
With the added space, including room for a new kitchen, the older parts of the building will be readapted: for example the old kitchen will be turned into a new dining area.
The plans were due to be submitted to St Albans district council this week.