If you are a Shaftesbury resident who has missed popping out for a pint in Enmore Green, since the Fountain Inn closed in 2017, here’s some good news. The pub will reopen next year.
Alfred met owner Max Lacy on site, to hear about his plans.
The Fountain is part of Shaftesbury’s history. This coaching inn was opened in the 1750s to quench the thirst of passengers who had to wait for extra horses to be added to their carriage before the ascent along Tout Hill to the town.
By next summer, Max Lacy hopes to encourage regulars from both up and down the hill to a pub with a more open and brighter space and enhanced dining facilities. “It is a very dark pub currently,” said Max, as we toured the stripped-back interior with its bare walls. “With a lantern light in the middle and the glass extension at the back, a little more light will be let in,” he said.
The 34-year-old who lives in the Wimborne area is relatively new to the pub trade, having started his career in timber and logging. His research revealed that pubs could provide him with a better return on his investment, so be bought and transformed two Dorset properties. The Fountain will be Max’s third. He assured me that he is a businessman, but he’s not seeking a fast buck. “I’m not a developer. I never sell. I would say I’m a pub owner that just rents out,” he said.
Locals have wondered whether The Fountain would ever open again. Max accepts that the project has taken some time. “It’s grade II listed. The main delay has been planning. I had to put in multiple planning applications, and it has taken about six months to push that through,” explained Max. “It would have been a lot easier to create a new build.”
Enmore Green is a conservation area, too. “There have been quite a few challenges,” said Max, adding, “The fact that it was cheaper was for a reason. It’s been left untouched for a number of years, so it was in a bad physical state of repair.”
Some commentators say that the pub trade isn’t in great condition currently, either. Changing drinking habits, economic uncertainty and even the smoking ban have been blamed for pub closures. Max is undeterred, convinced he can make a success of this business. “I think it is a difficult time to be opening a pub but my advantage is that I am a one-man band. My overheads are quite low. I can create a nice environment for a tenant to come into. I think it’s a viable option.”
Max sets the ground rules for tenants but once they’ve been appointed and they have settled in, he says that he wants them to run the business. “My model is to give them as much free rein as possible. If there is a high turnover of tenants, the locals don’t like it. I try to create an atmosphere that means they want to stay here for a while,” he said.
The remodelling of the pub space will add 25 dining ‘covers’. Max says that the capacity numbers aren’t set in stone, but he hopes to be able to cater for around 40 people in one sitting. And food will be an important part of The Fountain’s future. “When I appoint a tenant, I will be looking for them to have a food background and time in the kitchen. It will be key to its success.”
Max says he will want to see the applicant’s menu ideas before he decides who gets the keys. “I will sift through the applicants and pick out something that I think will work. I won’t control that for ever and a day. It will be down to them to move forward and they will be incentivised to get it right,” said Max.
The tenant will also choose which beers and ciders appear on the pumps. “I would hope that they would buy local produce in terms of food and that they source the alcohol locally,” Max said.
I was keen to understand what kind of pub the renovated Fountain will be when it’s finished. “The key to it will be the locals, so it will very much be a local pub. I’m hoping that the food will be good and it will draw in outside people but it will be predominantly local groups that will frequent it. I think it will be fairly traditional. I will try and leave things fairly blank so, providing I pick the right tenant, they will be able to put their stamp on it.”
Max has some experience of this process. His Sturminster Marshall pub, The Golden Fox, has been trading successfully under his stewardship for five years. Max has also operated his premises near Wareham’s quay, The Horse and Groom, for three years. “They are very similar to the Fountain in terms of size and hopefully they will be a similar food and drink combination,” he said. Both pubs have impressive TripAdvisor ratings of 4.5 out of 5, if you take that website’s reviews into consideration.
Max took me on a tour to explain his plans in greater detail. We had entered from the back carpark so, once inside, we walked towards the front door. “We’re planning to open up the first room and spin the bar around, so when you walk in you will face the bar directly,” he explained. There used to be a step up from the front room to the bar area. It was dark and far from the windows. Here, Max is planning to increase the amount of daylight. “I am looking to put in a large skylight on the flat roof. It’ll be a 2m by 2m lantern light.”
We returned to the back of the pub to stand in the corridor which once served as the skittle alley. The distinctive wall art depicting an overflowing fountain set against a woodland backdrop and a butterfly crossing a brilliant blue sky was, sadly, in a state of disrepair. “I am afraid it might be going,” said Max. It’s fair to say that the art appeared faded. “It could do with covering up. We’re going to create a kitchen and a cellar at this point and there will be a walkway to a glass conservatory extension at the back.”
The pub doesn’t have much carpark space, considering Max’s hope that The Fountain will attract diners from around our part of Dorset. “I’m hoping that we’ll get a lot of walking trade because we are very near the town. There is on-street parking up and down the main road leading to the town and we have a car park with space for eight or nine cars,” he said.
Now the necessary permissions have been secured, the contractors will move in to take the project further. “We are looking to start in November on the building work and we are hoping to open in July 2020.
Max says that the opening celebrations will be up to the tenant. He doesn’t have anyone in mind for that role at the moment. “I think it is too far down the line. Probably in the earlier part of next year we will look into it.”