The Kings Arms ready to reign again

Timing was not in their favour but the operators of the Fenwick pub have made the best of a challenging situation

Gareth Kelly and Mikey Lennon took on The Kings Arms in Fenwick at the beginning of March 2020.

THE timing, as it turned out, was far from ideal.

Just 18 days after Mikey Lennon and Gareth Kelly took over The Kings Arms in the Ayrshire village of Fenwick, all premises were ordered to close as COVID-19 took hold in the UK.

It obviously wasn’t the start the pair had envisaged.

But they were determined to keep their vision for The Kings Arms alive.

It had, after all, been a long time in the making for Mikey and Gareth.

The pair, who are from Kilmarnock and previously ran Bakers nightclub in the town, had always wanted to open a pub together.

And a near two-year search for the right opportunity brought them to The Kings Arms – a Star Pubs & Bars leasehold property which had been on their radar from the beginning and in which they saw potential to bring their concept to life.

After their 18 days of trading before the closure order, Mikey and Gareth opted to try and make the best of a challenging situation, and spent the first lockdown upgrading the kitchen and working with head chef Stefan McKnight and sous chef Morgan Swan to develop the gastropub food offer.

They also ploughed their energy into the pub’s outdoor area, transforming the space into a large beer garden with decking which can sit 120 with social distancing.

And both developments paid dividends when pubs were allowed to reopen outdoors on 6th July last year.

“We got a massive turn from the outdoor area when we could reopen,” Mikey told SLTN.

“It was fantastic. I think we underestimated how busy it would be.

“The work that we had done to the beer garden during the first lockdown really paid off.

“We had also spent a lot of the first lockdown developing the food offer.

“We had already made changes to the interior of the pub before we started in March, and food was a big part of the plan.

“We wanted to really bring something different to Ayrshire when it came to the food – that was our vision from the start – and we needed someone who could think outside the box and push the boundaries, and Stefan does that; he has so much ambition.”

Honing the food offer was to pay dividends when the area was then put under level three restrictions late last year, followed by the current ongoing lockdown.

Mikey and Gareth had introduced a brunch offer in the pub (level three restrictions permitted trading until 6pm) and developed a takeaway offer, initially based around the pub’s menu, which then evolved into a banquet-style offer giving the operators greater control over food costs.

The Kings @ Home banquet offers a set price (typically £34 to £40 for two people) set menu on Friday and Saturday nights, with a different concept each week; themes have included an American Feast for Thanksgiving, a Taste of Punjabi banquet, and special Christmas and New Year menus. The team does 100 to 120 covers (50 to 60 banquets) every Friday and Saturday night and has been sold out every weekend since it launched.

“It has been incredible,” said Mikey.

“By doing the takeaway banquet style it’s given us greater control.

“We’re using quality ingredients and premium packaging, so it looks good too.

“And it’s keeping us in people’s minds. We only got 18 days trade in March and it was really busy then; we had live music on those two weekends and the place was rammed, and then everything was shut down. We could have easily faded away so we knew we had to do something to keep the name out there and keep relevant, and the takeaway has done that.

“Our social media has exploded and we’ve got people coming from a 25-mile radius. It’s been great.”

And following the success of the takeaway offer, Mikey, Gareth and the team are desperate to be able to reopen and get the pub trading again.

They have big plans to further develop the food offer at the 68-cover pub; and to reinstate live music, not to mention belatedly mark their first year at the helm of The Kings Arms.

And what a year it has been.

“The timing of everything has been terrible,” said Mikey.

“We were obviously a bit down about it at the beginning but then we changed our mindset and thought ‘this is what we’ve got, what can we do with it’. Star Pubs & Bars have been fantastic; the support has been great. And we’ve just used the time to focus and get things done.

“It’s obviously not been ideal. We lost December, which was a massive blow. We had huge plans for that, and for Halloween, so we’ve lost a lot of opportunities. But we’ve also tried to make opportunities and benefit from the time.

“The thing now is frustration. We know we’re sitting on this ready to go, waiting on the starter gun.

“I’m very confident in what we’re going to do; we’ve planned, tried, tested everything and we’ll execute it, and execute it well. We’re all ready to go and grow this together.”