One-to-one with Fred Turner

London mews are home to some of the city’s oldest & most hospitable pubs

Fred Turner comes from a longstanding brewing family – Fuller, Smith & Turner, the successful pub company dates back to the early 1800’s, and across town you will find a warm welcome, a cosy atmosphere and excellent beer being served by their traditional pubs.

We caught up with Fred over a pint at The Star Tavern in Belgravia to find out more about this truly English institution.

What is the history of Fuller, Smith & Turner and how long has your family been in the brewing business?

Although the papers to the Fuller, Smith & Turner partnership were officially signed in 1845, brewing was going on long before at the Griffin Brewery in Chiswick. In 1839, John Bird Fuller inherited the brewery from his father and sought investment and expertise from third parties. John Smith, who was helping to run a successful brewery elsewhere, was invited aboard. He invested on behalf of his son, Henry Smith, and his sonin-law, John Turner, who was my great, great grandfather. Over the generations, Fullers has remained very much a family business. Richard and Sir James Fuller are both non-executive directors.

Members of my family are in the business – Michael Turner, is the company’s Chairman, Peter Turner, is our Property director, and I am the Retail director. Sadly, the Smith family died out. Ironically, our recently appointed Finance director is Neil Smith, no relation to the founding Smith family. The previous owners of the brewery, now known as the Griffin Brewery, fortunately realised that however good you are at brewing beer, you still need somewhere to sell it, and this led them to purchase local pubs. For example, The George and Devonshire in Chiswick, The Coach and Horses (now The Old Pack Horse) opposite Turnham Green plus other pubs, which are no longer trading. At one time, a pub stood on each corner of the Griffin brewery site; pubs have been at the heart of the business before the Fullers, Smiths and Turners.

We’re sitting in the wonderful Star Tavern, which we also include in ‘LB Loves… Pubs’ in this autumn issue. Tell us more about the history of this pub.

The Star Tavern is a beautiful pub tucked away in a Belgravia mews with some interesting former patrons. During the 1960s, the pub was infamous as the hangout for London’s inner circle of master criminals. It was here where planning took place for the century’s biggest heist – the Great Train Robbery. Criminal masterminds, Buster Edwards and Bruce Reynolds formed the plan at The Star while rubbing shoulders with stars of the era such as Diana Dors and Peter O’Toole. While being known for being a favourite haunt for the rich and famous for many years, The Star’s life started catering to the residents of the neighbouring mews in the 19th century and the servants of the surrounding Belgravia mansions.

In recent years, the pub has won countless prizes from CAMRA for cask conditioned ale. It has been a pop-up for designer Anya Hindmarch who renamed it the ‘Bag and Bottle’ for one night only. It has become something of a honeypot for international visitors, who now mix happily with long established locals, as is the case for many mews pubs.

What makes your company’s pubs special, attracting loyal customers as well as visitors to London?

With nearly 177 years of providing first class hospitality, Fuller’s has mastered the formula for creating the perfect pub. Our aim is to create experiences that nourish the soul. We achieve this through our premium venues, our team members and the products we serve. Careful planning and shrewd acquisitions means we have an estate we are proud of.

Extensive career development opportunities for our team members means we have a team of enthusiastic and passionate people throughout the company. Our passion for pubs includes serving our customers fresh, locally sourced produce and maintaining great relationships with our suppliers.

It’s a difficult economic landscape out there, since Covid and with escalating energy costs. What would you like the new PM to do to help protect your pubs and promote commercial prosperity?

The recent energy price cap for businesses provided us with muchneeded reassurance ahead of our key trading period. However, a reduction in business rates and a cut in VAT would certainly help stimulate growth.

Volumes are still down compared to pre-pandemic, but we’re approaching our first Christmas without restrictions in nearly three years and our teams are ready and excited to welcome guests to join us for seasonal festivities.

What does the future look like for your pubs?

We’re seeing a trend where customers are looking for experiences when they’re out – going to the pub for an experience with family and friends. Fuller’s pubs are great at providing this – premium food and drink in fantastic surroundings.

We’re also seeing an interest in a variety of drinks – not just nipping in for a pint. Post-pandemic, people are more engaged with what they’re drinking and up for trying new things. Our sites have always been known for serving the best beer and, over time, we built up a good reputation for wine. However, we’re now in the time of premium spirits and Fuller’s pubs are now serving cocktails, which are proving to be very popular – with our team members as well as customers.

Creating and mixing cocktails is an art form. You can take real pride in making a delicious cocktail and it’s a great way for team members to learn about spirits and flavours. From a customer point of view, a cocktail can work well as an apéritif or digestif, both help to create a special dining experience in a Fuller’s pub.

What for you makes a perfect pub and your favourite beer – roaring fires, traditional beer, classic pub dishes…?

My idea of the perfect pub is one with lots of individual, snug areas with a roaring fire. Variety is important, so I like to see a good selection of cask ales on the bar. Team members are also key to the pub experience – in the perfect pub there’s a team who love to play host to their community, provide a warm welcome and deliver fantastic customer service to everyone who sets foot in the pub at any time of day or night.