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Rutland chef at Exeter Arms in Barrowden wins over locals with pub transformation





A chef has won over the community after taking on a village pub.

For William James Horrell, having his own pub has long been a dream, but not one he ever thought was achievable in his mid-20s.

“I always wanted to have a pub but I imagined I would be more 35 than 25,” he said.

William James Horrell of the Exeter Arms in Barrowden
William James Horrell of the Exeter Arms in Barrowden

After a summer working at The Bell in Stilton, his passion for cooking was ignited and in 2020 he set up his own business called William James At Home, selling beef wellington and salmon en croûte.

The catering business gathered speed, with a number of village shops selling his dishes, but spending his days working alone in an empty kitchen became lonely for the self-taught chef. After popping into the Exeter Arms pub in Barrowden for just a drink last year, William left as the new head chef after the person previously in the position had unexpectedly left.

A couple of months later he was told the landlords at the time were leaving the pub.

The outside bar at The Exeter Arms in Barrowden
The outside bar at The Exeter Arms in Barrowden

But impressed by what the Exeter Arms had to offer and enjoying his job as a chef, William made the decision to take over the pub himself.

“I don’t think I slept for about a month,” the 26-year-old said.
“I took it over on November 21 and went straight into the Christmas rush so I didn’t have time to think.”

He added: “It is a lot of hard work but the benefits of getting to know the locals makes it worth it.”

William James Horrell specialised in making beef wellington
William James Horrell specialised in making beef wellington

After the rush from the festive period died down, it became clear to William that in today’s climate a pub needs to have more than just good beer to draw in customers.

Quickly the team set about hosting quiz nights, happy hour-style discounts on pints and special food evenings.

William said: “I learn something new every day.

William James Horrell of the Exeter Arms in Barrowden
William James Horrell of the Exeter Arms in Barrowden

“There’s always things to improve on with listening to what the locals want and making sure they are involved.”

He added: “We have always encouraged people in the village to come talk to us and tell us what they want to see.”

Regular e-mails are sent out to customers asking for feedback and at each event pieces of paper are left out for people to write down suggestions.

William James Horrell making pies
William James Horrell making pies

It was also important to William to create an environment where everyone felt welcome.

“We serve proper pub food. I didn’t want to go down the fine dining route,” he said.

“I don’t want people living locally to only be able to come once a month, I would rather them come twice a week and be fueled up on good food.”

Food at the Exeter Arms in Barrowden
Food at the Exeter Arms in Barrowden

The pub now offers an a la carte menu, set lunches, a kids menu, sandwiches as well as Sunday lunches.

Looking back at what he has achieved in the eight months since taking it over William says he is proud, but is always trying to do more.

Have you visited the Exeter Arms? Let us know in the comments.




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