THE pub is a British Institution.
In fact, a good local pub is more important to some than a post office, butcher’s shop or church.
So when The Nant Inn in Buckley was named Best Turnaround Pub in Wales after a rocky couple of years, landlord Jimmy Duff had reason to celebrate.
Since October the pub has shaken off its down-at-heel image and takings have rocketed by 800 per cent.
Jimmy’s philosophy? Listen to the customers.
“We’re like a big family,” he told the Leader. “When new people come in I always go and introduce myself. It’s part and parcel of what we do. We are here to entertain people, that’s what my job is.
“There is not a lot of money to spend in this time of recession so we like to give people value for money.
“I actually talk to people and listen to what they want.”
Jimmy, a former session musician and originally from Liverpool, is no stranger to the pub business.
He is the previous owner of the Y Dderwen Deg in Connah’s Quay and the soon-to-be owner of a London nightclub.
But The Nant Inn came about by accident.
“A friend of mine asked me to run it one Friday night so I went to stand in,” said Jimmy.
“I absolutely loved it and decided there and then that I would have it. The pub was in the middle of closing down when I saved it. They were taking next to nothing in October and used just four barrels of beer a week. Now we’re using 20 and sales of bottles and spirits have soared.
“Anything I make on the pub goes straight back into it. It’s here for good now.”
The pub has undergone a dramatic transformation under Jimmy, including a decor overhaul and a garden makeover.
It also boasts a packed menu of entertainment.
“We have live music every weekend including a band, a DJ and a karaoke.
“We all get up and sing together. Then at the end I sing my old favourite That’s Life and it clears the pub,” Jimmy laughs.
Most recently, ‘80s pop icon Steve Strange took to the Nant stage to give an exclusive performance.
The former Visage frontman sang to a 100-strong crowd and took questions from the audience on his colourful life.
Also drawing in the crowds are weekly poker nights, domino sessions and Nintendo Wii competitions.
For hungry customers there is Smoka Saturday – an all-day barbecue laid on in the charming beer garden.
If you fancy something more exotic there is the Mexican-themed menu with such delights as king prawns with chilli sauce and steak ciabatta.
“Everyone does the typical pub food and I wanted something different,” said Jimmy.
“Bar snacks don’t fill people up and a big meal weighs them down so we do the in between.”
Jimmy says he is “over the moon” to have been named the Best Turnaround Pub in Wales and faces competition from seven other pubs at the Great British Pub Awards final on September 9 in London.
The competition is hosted by trade magazine Morning Advertiser.
Editor Paul Charity said: “Despite the recession the pub retains its place at the heart of our lives, a uniquely British institution that is loved by the millions of people who visit it every week to eat, drink and socialise.
“The last few years have been hellish for our industry but as the entries to this year’s awards show, many pubs have proved resilient, thanks to the talent, passion and dedication shown by licensees across the country.”
Isaac Sheps, chief executive officer at Carlsberg UK, which sponsors the Best Turnaround Pub category, said: “Turning an under-performing pub into a thriving one is no mean feat, especially in the current economic climate. James has achieved it through hard work and determination and he thoroughly deserve his place on the shortlist.”
It is clear to see Jimmy has a genuine love for what he does and the Nant Inn will be around for years to come.
Jimmy added: “When I took on the pub, I knew it would be a challenge to turn it round and I wasn’t wrong.
“It’s been hard work, but very rewarding.”