The Woodstock Arms is back in business and customers already flocking as owners Johnny Pugsley and Damion Farah return to restore its reputation and revisit its glory days.
“I’m in my element,” Johnny adds, as he mans the kitchens, Damian whisking plates of delicious looking food from the new menus to customers enjoying the historic pub garden while new GM Harm-Jan Volders holds the fort behind the bar.
“We want to bring back the locals, get the food back to where we want it to be and put some love back into The Woodstock Arms,” Damion explains.
“Of course there is a bit of trepidation, we understand that, but with Johnny in the kitchen people are already enjoying it and he’s got a great team in there. We just want to excite people again.”
“We just want to excite people again”
“People are already really excited to have us back and it’s been great watching their reactions as they walk back in and see a friendly face. We were full last night so word is already getting round pretty quickly,” he adds.
The Woodstock Arms first reopened in 2016 and was THE place to go – great food, fantastic company, charming location, ski lodge style decor and a warm welcome.
But slowly over the years as different managers were brought in to run the historic Woodstock pub, its halo slipped and its popularity waned.
“We gave the former management the opportunity to run it as they wanted, but they didn’t give it the love it deserves”
“We gave the former management the opportunity to run it as they wanted, but they didn’t give it the love it deserves,” Johnny explains. “So we are back to do just that and it’s great to be back in Woodstock.”
Luckily Johnny and Damian knew just the man for the job, having known Harm -Jan for years, their friendship going back to their Lemon Tree days under Clinton Pugh. Browns, The Old Parsonage, Gees, The Duke of Cambridge, Kaz Bar, Cafe Coco…… Harm-Jan has worked at or managed them all. “He’s an Oxford institution.” Damion quips.
After a stint in Wales, the boys have managed to lure Harm-Jan back and he’s raring to go. “I’ve been looking for something to sink my teeth into and this really fitted the bill,” he says, having already revitalised the cocktail menu, replicating his Duke of Cambridge and Browns days.
“I’ve been looking for something to sink my teeth into and this really fitted the bill”
Having just given up the lease on sister pub Jacobs Inn after 10 years READ ABOUT IT HERE , the boys are now focusing on their current portfolio, alongside Jacobs & Field in Headington.
But they are the first to admit its been a hard few years with Covid, Brexit, a staffing crisis and rising costs. “Hospitality is a different industry entirely today. People want different things when they go out now. They don’t necessarily want a really crowded boozer, they want an experience, they want quality and they want simplicity, and that is what we are aiming to provide here,” Johnny said.
“Hospitality is a different industry entirely today. People want different things when they go out now”
“But is has been really hard, especially finding the right quality staff and trying to have synergy between multiple sites (the boys also had The Plough in Bicester and The Red Lion in Islip until Covid happened),” he admits.
So what can we expect? “Well we have started the food and drinks menu again from scratch, use local producers, and are concentrating on seasonal stripped back food. We have a dry ager so the steaks are great and we do a cracking Sunday roast, breakfasts, and the menu will change throughout the week depending on what comes in,” Johnny explains.
“There is lots more to do but we are excited to be back. We just want to get stuck in”
And what of the competition – The Back Lane Tavern, Crown, Star, Black Prince, Punchbowl and Kings Arms? “All the Woodstock pubs offer something different and business is booming here, but we are open all day every day and cooking fresh, seasonal, old fashioned food, with a cracking wine list, and its going down really well already, judging by our first week” Johnny says.
“There is lots more to do but we are excited to be back. We just want to get stuck in.”
Full review to follow!
The Woodstock Arms is at 6-8 Market St, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX201SX https://www.thewoodstockarms.com