The George Inn: Revitalising an icon
Financial support from Greene King is helping Somerset entrepreneurs Stuart Kerley and Ben Manzi revitalise a stunning 16th century coaching inn – and hopefully add a second venue to their portfolio.
Perched commandingly on high ground in the ancient village of Wedmore, overlooking the Somerset Levels with outstanding views of the Mendip Hills to the east, The George Inn has a truly spectacular setting.
The stunning 16th century Grade II listed coaching inn has a rich and fantastic history. For hundreds of years it’s been popular with locals and tourists alike, thanks in part to its proximity to iconic locations like the Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury, Street, Wells and the Quantocks.
All of which made it doubly tragic that The George Inn had no choice but to close its doors during the pandemic. “When we came to Wedmore during our search for a pub, The George had been closed for over a year,” explains hospitality specialist and serial entrepreneur Stuart Kerley.
“The George wasn’t even up for sale at the time, but we sort of fell in love with it. So we approached the owner and asked if he’d be interested in selling it.”
At that point Stuart and his business partner, Ben Manzi, had been busy scouring Wiltshire and Somerset for a venue that ticked a long list of boxes.
“We had a very comprehensive and quite extensive list of criteria that we wanted the place we eventually bought to meet,” says marketing specialist Ben. “We wanted somewhere we could add and grow the food side of the business, we wanted rooms, we wanted outdoor space we could develop, and so on.”
The pair had previously been business partners, owning a small chain of nightclubs before Stuart left to live in the United States. He eventually returned, and the pair joined forces once again: and set out to find a venue that would allow them to realise their dreams once more.
“We checked out a lot of venues,” recalls Ben. “And a lot of them ticked 80% or 90% of our boxes, but none of them hit the magical 100% – then we discovered The George.”
Like a fairytale, it was love at first sight. Stuart explains: “When Ben first brought me here, within minutes I was nudging him and saying ‘we’re having this’. I was absolutely convinced it ticked every box, plus a few more that we hadn’t even thought of.”
It was, however, the typical story where the pair had set a budget – then found somewhere they loved that was way over that budget. Ben is coy about exactly how much over their budget it was but admits that it was “over twice” what they had planned to spend.
Nevertheless, the deal was done and the pair acquired the freehold in June last year.
“We spoke to a number of brewers at the outset,” says Stuart, “but when I came back from the States I’d been hearing good things about Greene King so I made a few calls to some people. We wanted the backing of a big company, but we didn’t want to lose our independence or individuality as a venue. Greene King looked like the ideal partner. Then we met up with SDM Steve Ikin and that was that.
“He could not have been more helpful or more knowledgeable. Honestly, he has been fantastic from that day to this – and Greene King were the only ones with enough belief in themselves, and us, to put their money where their mouth is.”
With the help of a small loan from Greene King, Stuart and Ben then set about completing a full, top-to-bottom refurb which was finally completed in time for a grand opening in mid-October.
“Some parts of the building are 600 years old and we’re Grade II listed, so we had to have archaeologists and conservationists and all sorts of experts in,” comments Ben.
“But to be fair to the local council, they were brilliant. They took a very pragmatic approach to it all and they understood that they needed to get this historic building reopened for the village.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, business was fantastic upon re-opening and that carried through to a spectacular festive period. Then the good news just kept on coming.
“We sort of expected the reopening period to be successful,” says Ben, “and we hoped Christmas would be good – but it ended up being even better than we could have hoped. The big surprise was that January carried on where Christmas left off. We’ve been ahead of our forecasts ever since we opened, so we couldn’t be happier.”
Trade has been so positive that the pair are already on the lookout for a second venue.
“We’re currently talking to Greene King about a bigger financial support package that will free up some cash to let us continue to develop The George and to let us look at adding another venue,” says Stuart.
“Our relationship with Greene King is a true partnership. That’s exactly what it feels like to us. They’re always there when we need them and they understand what we’re trying to do. Plus they make some great beers!”