Sarah Smith, manager, the Park pub, Bedford

16 February 2006
Sarah Smith, manager, the Park pub, Bedford

Sarah Smith runs the Charles Wells-owned Park with her chef husband and business partner, Darron.

She has been in the hospitality industry for 15 years, and her CV makes for interesting reading. She has been a landscape gardener and an antiques restorer, and also had a stint in retail.

From 1996 she worked as restaurant manager at the Kings Head in Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire, and moved 30 miles north in 1999 to the Courtyard Brasserie, Olney, where she met Darron. Before the Park, she held the position of deputy manager at Nicholl's Brasserie, a large Bedford restaurant with a £1m annual turnover.

After a spell of illness in the mid-1990s Sarah turned to hospitality. She answered an advert for a kitchen porter and got the job, but after two weeks of dishwashing she was moved out on to the restaurant floor. "As soon as I got out there, I realised that this was what I had always wanted to do," she says.

Despite having her hospitality epiphany in later life, Sarah doesn't feel that she is at a disadvantage; she believes that the industry isn't ageist and that success has more to do with passion, sociability, patience and the ability to give customers what they want.

When they took over the Park, the Smiths turned a loss-making pub into a flagship Charles Wells property in just two years.

"We've always considered the pub to be our own, and we treat it that way. We fought hard to make a lot of changes, but Charles Wells gave us room to manoeuvre," she says.

Sarah is heavily involved with the operational side of the pub, which includes sitting in on staff interviews, helping develop the menu and playing a central role in staff training.

However, Sarah's ambition is that she and Darron will own a pub in the future. She believes that the time and hard work spent at the Park will equip them with the skills they need.

"We've learnt a lot from the Park," she says. "Setting up our own pub won't be easy, but I'm not afraid of some hard work."

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