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Ad Feature: Chestnut’s Philip Turner has transformed East Anglia’s pub scene

Philip Turner
Philip Turner

Ten years ago city banker Philip Turner bought his local pub in Moulton and embarked on a mission to elevate the hospitality offering across his beloved East Anglia. Now with a portfolio of 17 pubs, the Chestnut CEO looks back on an incredible decade

What inspired you to buy your local?
I’ve always enjoyed pubs because you get people from all different walks of life, but when you’re stood at the bar everybody is the same, and that’s a great leveller. I grew up in East Anglia and had always been proud of the region but people I met who didn’t know it very well could be quite derogatory, saying it was featureless and flat.

When I moved back to East Anglia, after living in London, Hong Kong and New York, there wasn’t much in terms of hospitality. Greene King were selling The King’s Head in Moulton, and I figured Newmarket is the global headquarters of horse racing, there’s a lot of money round here, and there’s no-one catering to that demand. So, I bought the pub, which I renamed The Packhorse. We opened in October 2013 and it was crazy busy.

How did you devise the brand name?
Community is really important to me and I wanted to re-energise pubs in villages to help rebuild communities which had broken down in recent years. When I think about community, I think about permanence so I wanted a name that had some of those features and thought of a tree. A tree has roots, can be around for hundreds of years and has a strong trunk. When I went to Companies House, Chestnut was the only tree name available so that was the one!

The Carpenters Arms, Picture Emma Cabielles
The Carpenters Arms, Picture Emma Cabielles

We love the look and feel of your pubs. The Carpenters Arms, for example, is so vibrant. What inspires the décor?
The pubs don’t all look the same but equally if you know who we are, you can recognise our signatures. I want to give people the opportunity to have a relationship with their local pub. So, The Carpenters has its own identity in terms of brand; it has soul, in terms of the people that work there; and it is special in its own right, with its own menu and way of doing things. All of those aspects create an independent operation.

Your menus are filled with lovely local produce. Is food provenance important?
Yes, everything is fresh, and we are lucky in this area as so much amazing food originates in East Anglia, from Gressingham Duck to Cromer Crab. We’ve got 400 miles of coastline, so we’ve got lots of fish, plus out in the Fens, we have possibly the most prolific growers of salad and veg in the country. Buying local is no longer a USP; it’s what you have to do, so that’s why I imagine we’re probably one of the biggest pub groups that has 17 individual menus!

The Cricketers character-filled interior
The Cricketers character-filled interior

The pace that Chestnut has evolved over the past 10 years has been nothing short of meteoric. Has it felt that way to you?
I was asked to write an article to mark our 10th anniversary for our magazine, In a Nutshell, and ended up writing a letter to myself 10 years ago setting out what I planned to do. One of the most amazing things about the journey is the fact that we have achieved everything we set out to do. We wanted to engage with the community and provide a welcoming, warm experience for the people who work with us and visit us. I believe that’s what we’ve done and with two prestigious national awards under our belt I couldn’t be more proud of the team.

You’ve raised thousands of pounds for charity via the Giving Tree. Tell us more. . .
I sent out the first email about doing a charity-based community initiative nine days after lockdown started. We went on to set up the Giving Tree which fed around 40,000 people and has raised £140,000 over the last three years. We’ve just done a cycle ride and raised £20,000 for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. We’ve made donations to the communities in which we operate and it’s become core to who we are.

The Globe, Picture Emma Cabielles
The Globe, Picture Emma Cabielles

What’s been a highlight of running the business over the past decade?
Being able to share the passion, enthusiasm and energy I have for what we do with others around me who feel the same. I love that we have created so many opportunities for the people who work with us and been able to watch them grow. When you see people flourish it’s hugely rewarding and empowering.

What’s next for Chestnut?
We’ve just started work on The Maltings in Weybourne, which is a beautiful building, and recently bought The Old Bridge in Huntingdon which has a wine business so we’re going to integrate a wholesale business with a private client business.

We are a partial owner in a brewery, which was the launchpad for Eastern Gold, our 10th anniversary beer brewed at Barsham Brewery, and we’ve bought a wine business. We are looking at other properties and hope to create a lifestyle brand around our offering, in terms of our food, wine, drinks, interior and bathroom products and our Chestmutts dog-friendly range!

A map of East Anglia showing all the Chestnut pubs
A map of East Anglia showing all the Chestnut pubs

Finally, sorry to ask (as we don’t want to get you in trouble), but do you have a favourite pub?
This depends how I feel on which day of the week! On a cold winter’s day for Sunday lunch, it’s The Three Blackbirds. On a Monday when I’m trying to impress somebody at lunchtime, it’s The Crown at Stoke by Nayland. On a winter’s day where I feel a bit depressed, either The Carpenters or The Weeping Willow because there’s so much glass and light which is incredibly uplifting. If I’ve got my dogs and it’s a summer’s evening, I’ll sit on the terrace at The Globe. If I’ve got friends coming to stay and we want to go somewhere special, we will go to The Packhorse. Up early for a walk on the beach, it would be breakfast at The Ship, Dunwich, or a Wednesday night, meeting a friend, somewhere relaxed would be The Black Lion, Long Melford, overlooking the green. There are many pubs I haven’t mentioned, not because they aren’t my favourites, but because I could give you a time and a place to suit all our pubs!

Find out more about all the Chestnut pubs at chestnutgroup.co.uk

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