Good pubs and good people – that’s at the heart of Oakman

Peter Borg-Neal in front of new Blue Boar Witney sign
Peter Borg-Neal in front of new Blue Boar Witney sign

So pubs are dead, are they? Someone forgot to tell Peter Borg-Neal.

Peter, 51, is chief executive of Oakman Inns & Restuarants, the Tring-based company that has grown from zero to a £10million turnover in just five years.

Among its seven high performing outlets are the Red Lion at Water End, near Hemel Hempstead, the Kings Arms in Berkhamsted and the Akeman in Tring.

“I see us accelerating to two or three openings a year,” said Mr Borg-Neal. “It’s sustainable growth for us and I’m happy with that.”

It takes a large amount of capital to get an Oakman Inn going. Buying the freehold of a good venue can cost around £1.6million, with refurbishment adding £1million on top.

But the company has a series of confident backers and a formula for success developed in Tring.

The sites have traditional decor, including lived-in sofas, real fires and food priced to reflect quality rather than an appeal to the mass market. Oakman pubs are especially attractive to women and diners although they have areas where those who want to pop in for a pint can do so.

“The idea is to have an ideal pub for a nice market town adapted for particular customers,” said Mr Borg-Neal, who worked in the leisure industry, including at Whitbread, for 35 years before deciding to start his own business.

“I had wanted to be a chef,” he said. “I wasn’t that good in the kitchen, but I saw managers I knew I could do better than.”

He recently rejected an approach from a moneybags plc, preferring to continue with the Oakman project rather than get a huge payday.

The boss – who admits to “getting a kick out of hearing the buzz of pubs” – is keen to encourage the next generation of young people into the trade and has a policy of rapid promotion for people with commitment.