Team effort in East Lothian

Staff are the bedrock of operator’s business

Alan and Audrey Russell (left and right) with general managers Kevin Cockburn (Longniddry) and Michelle Graeme (Coronation).

ALAN Russell is not averse to rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in wherever necessary across his business.

In fact, the operator, who owns the Coronation Restaurant in Gorebridge, B&B Adniston Manor in Macmerry and The Longniddry Inn in Longniddry, had just finished a shift in the latter when SLTN caught up with him in Gorebridge.

But it should come as no surprise that Alan, whose time in the trade spans more than four decades, remains hands on – he held down as many as three jobs when his trade career was in its infancy.

And yet it’s a career that almost didn’t happen.

“What happened was, when I left school I got a job in the civil service,” Alan told SLTN.

“And, meantime, until I started, we stayed right beside a hotel that doesn’t exist anymore in Musselburgh, called The Pittencrief, and my mother said to me ‘get over there and work for a month’.”

It was then, aged 18, that Alan realised his passion for hospitality. Going on to start his job in the civil service, he stayed on at the hotel part-time – and took on shifts at a local Musselburgh pub too.

“I just had this inkling that there was something there that I wanted to do,” he said.

And it wasn’t long until Alan was itching to run his own place. In 1982, he quit his civil service job and, along with his then business partner, took on the lease of the Woodside Hotel in Musselburgh; and he’s not afraid to admit that there was a lot to learn.

“We took it on as very naïve guys, at 25, with not a penny to our names,” he said.

“In fact, we were so naïve when we took over the Woodside and the rep came to hand it over to us he said ‘right, have you got your float for the till?’ We had to borrow a £100 float from the brewery and they put it onto our first account; that’s how skint we were.”

But from there, the business, which was partially closed at the time of the takeover, flourished under Alan and wife Audrey’s 21-year tenure (his business partner stepped away from the venture after two years), during which time they took the bedrooms from seven to 12. In the time in-between, Alan also took on The Old Smiddy Inn in Pencaitland.

“I was ready to get somewhere else after being in the one place for so long,” said Alan, “but having two is not as easy as it might sound.”

Despite challenges, Alan had The Old Smiddy for a decade, selling it and the lease to the Woodside in 2003.

The plan was for he and Audrey to buy a B&B and go back to running one business; little did they know they would end up with three.

The purchase of Adniston Manor, in Macmerry, in 2004 and subsequent 16-month renovation to transform the country house into a B&B was followed by the acquisition of the Coronation Restaurant in 2005, and, three years later, The Longniddry Inn.

And unlike his earlier trade days, Alan was in a position to carry out full refurbishments – with the Coronation Restaurant and The Longniddry Inn benefitting from £135,000 and £90,000 revamps respectively in recent years.

“[Audrey’s] got a great eye for it,” he said. “She designs everything and keeps well to budgets; we work really well together.”

In fact, teamwork is the bedrock of the business, with Alan crediting his staff with the success of his restaurants. It was particularly notable, he said, when the Coronation Restaurant, which is managed by Michelle Graeme, was awarded Restaurant of the Year South East and overall Restaurant of the Year at the Food Awards Scotland 2018.

“We were ecstatic, especially for the staff,” said Alan.

“It just shows they have done a lot of good work and coped with a lot since we’ve got busier and busier.

“I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

While Alan admitted that a lot has changed in the trade – including the “bugbear” of business rates and increasing regulation – it remains a rewarding sector to work in, adding that he foresees at least another decade at the helm of his restaurants.

“I tend to forget what age I am, that’s the problem; I feel like I could go on forever, obviously you can’t,” he said.