A couple who invested £50,000 of their own savings into the pub they run will lose their livelihood and their home after being told to leave.
Adam and Matthew Oliver-Eaton said they had built the Cheshire Tavern, off West Road, Congleton, into a community pub, from where they have staged various fundraising events, and fed those isolating at home during the pandemic.
But last week they received a letter from its owners, Chester-based Admiral Taverns, telling them they will have to vacate the premises after the company “received and accepted a significant offer for the purchase of the freehold”.
The couple have been told to quit the Cheshire Tavern by November and 17 jobs are now at risk. Staff were in tears when they heard the news.
“It came out of the blue,” said Adam referring to the letter sent by Admiral.
“There had been rumours, but you don’t listen to rumours in the pub industry.
“We were thinking, where are we going to live? What do we do?”
Adam, (33) and 30-year-old Matthew, who run the Cheshire Tavern under the Doorbar Taverns name, have been there since February 2020, just as the pandemic was starting.
During the lockdown they cooked whatever food they had left and set up their own meals on wheels delivery service for the elderly.
Referring to the support they have had in the last two years from the nearby housing estate and many others, Adam said: “We’ve got good local support from the Woodlands estate. We’ve built the tavern into a community pub.
“We’ve supported local charities, Congleton Town FC and Congleton Pride. We’ve worked quite closely with all of them.
“We’ve had a message from Pride to say they’d heard the news and thanked us for our support over the years. We were Congleton Pride’s first official gold sponsor.
“On the back of the news the organisers of this year’s Congleton Pride festival in July have asked me and Matthew to cut the ribbon to officially open it.”
He described Admiral’s decision as “purely a business transaction”.
“The company was made such an offer that it was unable to refuse it,” he said.
He told the Chronicle that the pub had been sold to Paragon Group, which runs several restaurants in south Cheshire and Staffordshire although this has not been confirmed by either company.
Admiral Taverns said in a statement: “After careful consideration we felt that the Cheshire Tavern no longer aligned with our long-term strategic plan and are currently in negotiations to sell the pub. We have a strong and positive working relationship with the licensees and are working hard to find them a future Admiral pub in the local area.”
Paragon Group declined to comment.
“Regulars believe we have had the rug pulled from under us. Customers and the local community are not happy,” Adam added.
The Oliver-Eatons have put around £50,000 of their savings into the Tavern.
“I don’t know what we are going to do with 10 sets of garden furniture, the bars, coffee machine etc,” he said. “But we’re not bothered about that. The thing for us is that some of the staff have been with us from day one and we are a family, and we don’t want to break that up.
“Staff and regulars attended our wedding last year and we also had our stag party here. We’ve got 17 staff and all their jobs are at risk.”
He explained that most of the young staff go back to university in September and that usually the pub would recruit for replacements in August.
“It means I will have to recruit staff for just two months’ work until November. Nobody wants to take on a job for two months.
“The thing for us is safeguarding staff, to keep them in a job for as long as possible.”
He said there were tears during a staff meeting after they had been told that the lease would be up in November.
“We had a staff meeting on Wednesday – we all cried. The future was discussed and there are some staff who would follow us if we set something else up.”
He said the Tavern had three bookings after November that would have to be cancelled.
The couple had two and a half years left on a five-year lease and had planned to remain at the Tavern for another 10 years after that.
“We just want to thank everybody for their support,” Adam said.
Of their remaining time at the popular pub he said: “We will fight to offer the same level of service to the end.
“We thank customers for their support and are looking forward to seeing them at our leaving party.”
The Cheshire Tavern will continue to take bookings up to the end of September.
“We will be in touch with anyone with a booking after that date,” Adam explained.
Planned music nights that have already been booked will also go ahead.
“We are also asking all of our employees past and present to be here for the last day so that we all put the key in the door together for the final time,” Adam added.
Matthew’s mum Diane Eaton said: “Not only are they losing their livelihood, but they are also losing their home, because they live there.
“Matthew and Adam were born to do hospitality and they have proved that at the Cheshire Tavern.
“They’ve worked hard to provide good food – not any of that microwave rubbish – and used fresh, local produce to give back to the community. They’ve built the business up to the point that two years or so back it was nowhere near what it is today.
“During the pandemic they were providing free meals for the elderly and only last week hosted a charity event by the Bear Town Bikers club.”
Paragon Group recently offered a reward of £5,000 to the public in its bid to find suitable premises to open more pubs.
Phil Sharp, property director, said last month: “We know that there’s no-one better to show us those hidden gems than those who live in the local communities so we’re asking people to get in touch if they know a suitable venue for the next Paragon restaurant with a £5k reward for their efforts if it comes off.”
The company was seeking large destination, “drive-to” pub venues close to main roads with good visibility and large garden space. For the venue itself, the company was looking for a minimum of 100 covers and car parking for 70.