When the opportunity arose to take over a pub in his childhood city, publican Andrew McCracken didn’t hesitate and has even renamed the bar in honour of the local Countess of Chester hospital. Find out more here …
CHESTER PUBLICAN PRAISES WARM WELCOME FROM LOCAL COMMUNITY
A Chester publican has paid tribute to the warm welcome and support he has received from his local community since returning to his roots to take up the helm of a new venture 12 months ago, just weeks before the Coronavirus pandemic plunged the UK into lockdown.
Pub owner and Director of Jam Bars (Chester) Ltd Andrew McCracken took over The Brewers Arms, formally The Frog on Liverpool Road in Chester in February last year little knowing that just weeks later, his plans would be put on hold by the impact of the virus and UK-wide restrictions. Undeterred by the crisis however, Andrew soon pushed on with his original pre lockdown plans to re-launch the pub as The Countess Bar and Restaurant in tribute the NHS and as a thank you to the staff of the nearby Hospital for the care his best friend received in his final days some years ago.
Andrew, 52, whose first job in the pub trade was as a glass collector at The Golden Eagle in Castle Street aged 17, relocated from running The Six Bells at Brentwood Lock in West London to take on his new venture. Speaking about taking on the pub, he said “I have very fond memories of growing up in Chester, and so when I saw that this particular pub which I remember from the late 80s/early 90s was available, it presented me with the perfect opportunity to realise a long-held ambition to return to the City. However, no-one could have predicted what was about to happen literally weeks later. Renaming the pub as I have is simply my way of saying a very personal “thank you” to the NHS and a tribute to all the staff at our local hospital (particularly since the Pandemic). The feedback we have received since opening once restrictions allowed has been fantastic, the locals have made us feel really welcome and they are pleased that we have long-term plans to make the pub a focal point and hub for the local community once again. We want it to a family friendly, dog friendly inclusive place where everyone feels welcome and above all safe from the moment they set foot through the door.”
In taking on his new venture, Andrew brings with him a wealth of experience in the catering and hospitality trade having run his own bars, restaurants and clubs in the Central London area before going on to design and build a hotel and restaurant in Wales. Andrew’s company, Jam Bars(Chester) Ltd has established a reputation for breathing new life into pubs, restaurants and hotels, offering fine wines, craft beers and freshly prepared meals using local suppliers and seasonal produce wherever possible.
With the pub quickly gaining a reputation for serving reasonably priced freshly cooked gastropub quality food, Andrew and Head Chef Ethan Martin have launched “Pubilicious”, a takeaway version of the pub’s extensive menu of pub classics including the traditional Sunday Lunch options which have proved such a hit with locals. New menus are also planned for when the pub can re-open fully with Executive Vegan Chef Sara Sano working alongside Andrew and Ethan to develop a range of exciting new dishes. The team are also planning to launch a subscription-based food box complete with recipes and ingredients to enable foodies to re-create their favourite gastropub style dishes at home.
Since taking on the pub, Andrew and his staff have worked hard to build up a loyal following and regulars have been impressed by the measures he and his team have put in place to create a safe environment, with many taking to the pub’s Facebook page to leave positive reviews of their experience, praising the pub’s warm welcome, food and Covid measures. Said Andrew “It’s important for us that our customers feel safe and also that we respect our neighbours, we have received some really positive feedback since opening, particularly around our making the premises as Covid secure as possible. Pub regular, Actor Stuart Evans of popular Chester based theatre company Against The Grain said “When restrictions allowed, I used to love my weekly visits to The Countess for a catch up with my friends, but what is also great, you get to have a good catch up with the team too. They very quickly got to know our names and took an interest in what we have been doing. They go out of their way to offer great service. The way that they handled the restrictions and guidelines during the period when we were allowed to go the pub was excellent, very safe. Great pub, great atmosphere, great team, I can’t wait until we are able to return.” Stuart’s friends and co-founders of Against The Grain, Upton residents Mark and Marian Newman said “It is so good to have a true local pub again where you’re made to feel welcome, safe and have good food with good service from all staff and landlord. Especially when lockdown restrictions were lifted last year and everyone was still wary about going out, Andrew ensured you were made to feel safe in his pub environment. A real ray of sunshine in a gloomy world.”
Speaking about his plans for The Countess Bar and Restaurant post Covid, Andrew said “We’re looking forward to unveiling our long-term plans once we can open fully, we’re not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, we really want to make the pub a real hub for the local community and bring it back to how I remember it in the 80s and 90s. As well as looking to stage a whole range of entertainment and special events including quiz nights, live music nights and film nights, we want to make more use of the fantastic outdoor space and make the pub a venue where everyone, young and old alike are all welcome, we can’t wait to open the doors again.