Karen McLoughlin & Pat Hickey (joins later), publicans at The Orchard Tavern

How long have you lived in the area?
Since 1972. I was born here. Originally we lived in St Elmo Road.


How did you get into the pub business?
My dad was a plasterer but my mother was the classic Irish domestic, and she worked in The Coningham on Uxbridge Road. It was run by friends of ours. She used to take me with her to work so I've spent a lot of time in pubs. When I was 18, I worked behind the bar, and then I went to work for Diageo for 13 years. I loved it. They own Smirnoff, Gordon's, Moët... I worked in various departments: technical support, procurement, export... I was based in Hammersmith at United Distillers, the spirits' section, and then Park Royal. Then I went to Dublin for 3 years to work for Guinness.

A clairvoyant told me I'd own a big building
and I've run The Orchard twice.

Your job requires you to be highly numerate. At school were you a maths swot?

I went to the local school, St Stephen's, now The Good Shepherd – that's a fantastic school – but I'm not a natural at maths. It takes me double the time to do my figures because I'm a stickler for detail. I'm a Virgo.

Growing up what was your dream job?

I don't remember dreaming about a particular job, but I remember going to America in my early twenties – I was going to Australia and I stopped off in America – and I saw a clairvoyant who told me I'd own a big building that looked like a hotel. At the time I had no intention of owning a pub, but I've run The Orchard twice.

How did that come about?

In Dublin, I saved to buy a flat around here, but when I came back I saw this place up for lease. I was 28. My parents came on board and we enjoyed running the pub for 6 years. Five years ago I gave it up, but I've just come back with my partner, Pat, and we are enjoying getting to know everyone again.

Has the area changed?

Askew Road has changed so much. It's so much for the better and a great mix of new businesses have really improved Askew Road along with some well-established business that have been here years.

(Pat joins)

Pat: Askew Road is the place to be. We love having the most prominent pub in Askew Road and can't wait to meet all of our neighbours.

Has the pub's customer base changed since you left five years ago?

Karen: It's expanded. We've really looked after the local English and Irish clientele but whereas other pubs have turned pretty gastro, we've tried to keep it like a local community pub.

Do you get more female customers now?

Karen: Some people perceive this to be a blokey pub, but it's actually a very family pub. When people step inside they see it's really nicely decorated. And it is a family-run pub.

Pat: We live here with our two daughters.

Are you saying your customers are now more middle class?

Karen: We get all sorts: actors, politicians, producers and newsreaders, a real mix.

Pat: It's a big place. We have two bars. If you come in here between 5 and 7, you'll find the front bar is the working man's bar. At the back, the wine drinkers have space to kick back and relax.

How do you feel about so many pubs becoming gastropubs?

Karen: The way things are going, having food in a pub is a necessity. We do Thai food and it's probably the cheapest in town. And it's fantastic. There's a lot of competition around us doing gastro, but Pat comes from a café background.

Pat: I had five years in the Café Rest on Goldhawk Road until last Christmas. The overheads got too much when they put the rent up.

Karen: It's a shame because it was a traditional eating house with affordable food and I think there's still a necessity for that because not everyone has the budget to go to gastropub where two dinners and a bottle of wine are £80. At the minute, we're just doing Thai, but we’re about to launch a Sunday roast because we think a traditional Sunday roast goes with a traditional pub like this.

Pat: Some people charge £16.95 for roast beef, but we'll do it for £9.95. Everyone loves a roast. And it's nice to go out with your family and be served. The last thing you want to do on a Sunday night is washing up.

Karen: We'll continue with the Thai food at lunchtime in the week because it's becoming very popular for businesses. People seem to like it being light and quick. And you can get out for a proper break rather than a boring sandwich at your desk.

Pat: The Thai's good because people like to eat out what they can't cook at home.

Karen: And we're also looking at Saturday breakfasts in future. Pat will cook those.

Some people use the pub as a refuge from daily worries. Do your customers treat you like an agony aunt?

Karen: It's part of the job.

Pat: You definitely get to hear the gossip.

You show the big games on your TV. What do you prefer to watch?

Karen: We love showing the sports because it brings people together. I support QPR because it's kind of local, and Pat's a Man United fan. But his real love is horse racing because of where he's from in Tipperary – they're big into horses.

Pat: Watching the Gaelic hurling is my other vice. I played hurling and Gaelic football and had a stint with Tipperary when I was 16. But then we found girlfriends and lost interest.

Karen: Girlfriends and Guinness.

This building is palatial. Do you live like royalty upstairs?

Karen: Upstairs isn't as glamorous as it looks from the outside. It's spacious down here but more cramped upstairs than you'd think.

Pat: The kitchens are upstairs.

Is it easy living in the shop?

Karen: We open at 11, but this morning I've been down here since 7, doing the books, the delivery, getting the bar ready, doing the cleaning – so it doesn't stop. We've been back for 2 months and we haven't had a day off. The customers expect to see your face whether you come in at lunchtime or for a nightcap at 10 to 11 at night. The hours are long, but we don't mind.

Pat: Because the hours are so long it's good to know home is so close. Karen: We can cover for each other – with the kids.

Pat: And we see more of each other.

Karen: Plus you're part of the community.

Where do you go to get away?

Karen: Pat's favourite place to go is Cheltenham, but he couldn't go this year because it coincided with taking over the pub again.

Pat: Horse racing is my escape – Ascot and Cheltenham.

Karen: We go to local places like Detour's, and the Monkey Temple, Steve's café, and Laveli's. It's like a little village now on Askew Road.

We try to support local businesses.

If you weren't publicans what would you do?

Pat: I'd love to be a jockey. That was my ambition as a kid. I'd ride my bike like I was riding a horse, but I became too tall, too soon. I'd still like to be a radio pundit. Or even driving a pundit. I'd even go so far as driving a horsebox. Maybe.

Karen: I don't live in the future. I'm too busy with you lot.

Thank you, Karen and Pat. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.

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