The Brockley Central Interview: Richard Salthouse, Jam Circus

We can think of no better example of how local businesses can engage the local community than Jam Circus. Richard Salthouse, the manager, is a regular reader and contributor to the blog - responding to people's comments, promoting events and innovations at the bar and championing all that Brockley has to offer. So, we decided it was about time we interviewed him. In typically enthusiastic form, his answers are long, but very interesting reading. We hope you like it.

How long have you worked at Jam Circus?

Almost 2 years, I've now been the manager for 6 months, and was previously the assistant manager for a little over a year.

Your group also runs the Royal Albert, which is another local favourite, how would you characterise the differences between the two places and what is the secret to running a successful pub?

My previous manager actually used to run both pubs so I really got to know RA quite well. The main differences come down to the respective areas - we seemore families, whereas Royal Albert taps into the local student crowd. Importantly though, I don't think either pub has pigeon-holed it's clientele and has a nice cross-section of the New Cross & Brockley communities, be they young professionals, families or your local bricky. Royal Albert looks more like a smart traditional boozer - dark leather sofas, a few real ales, etc,whereas Jam Circus is more open with soft furnishings, floor-to-ceiling windows, coffee machine on the bar, etc. When it comes down to it both are first and foremost pubs with decent drinks and homemade food. Both have fantastic, hard-working chefs and although JC is probably more food-orientated, Kevin, the chef in RA is lucky enough to have Deptford market, allowing for amore flexible menu (he does fantastic daily fish specials).

Running a successful pub - I'm learning! Essentially you have to give customerswhat they want and be friendly while doing it. Michelin-starred food & disinterested staff will get you nowhere if all somebody wants is a burger and a smile. I'm lucky enough to have a great team of staff who take care to lookafter & get to know our customers. Word of mouth is invaluable and the first thing we all mention to our friends is service. Of course, product is important - we've worked hard at our food menus and recently introduced draught real ale & a cocktail list, as these were in demand. But, quality must beconsistent otherwise you will only flatter to deceive and that all-important word of mouth will start to go against you.

What do you think of the White Hart's plans to introduce strippers? Are you sympathetic to pubs that are struggling financially?

I read a little of this on BC and the front page of one of the local papers and while I can sympathise with struggling pubs I don't think strippers should or can be the answer. When an industry begins to struggle there are plenty of losers, but the winners are those who knuckle down and do everything to be thebest around - and the best pubs don't have strippers! This won't attract groups of friends spending cash, instead there will be seedy men sitting alone nursing a pint for 2 hours. Again, it's about being friendly, clean & welcoming. These things aren't costly.

What has been the effect of the smoking ban for you?

We're unfortuntate to not have a proper garden, but overall I think the effect was near-negligible. The ban was introduced at the right time - food has become more important to pub-goers, many of whom are now families with children in tow. Also, being introduced in July most people were happy to sit outside withtheir cigarette, allowing a soft landing.

Crofton Park seems to be undergoing a lot of change lately, do you thinkit's on the up?

Crofton Park is definitely improving - we've had the Co-op refit, Jays Costcutter is now a nice Budgens and a few local businesses have given their shopfronts a lick of paint. I can only imagine further improvements when the ELL arrives - Brockley will be in demand but I think Crofton Park will be the affordable option for some, with its own train station and only 10min walk from 2 tube stations, plus 5 minutes from Hilly Fields and with a good selection of places to eat and drink. I'm sure we'll see a one or two caf├ęs, delis, etcpopping up over the next 2 years.

How do you feel about the revamped Brockley Jack - is it a threat or healthy competition?

I think until an area reaches saturation point competition is always healthy. We need to keep local residents in the area when they look for somewhere to eat & drink, rather than losing them to Blackheath, Dulwich, etc. The Brockley Jack is vastly-improved, but I think what we offer is different enough to notthreaten each other. Of course the theatre should do wonders for the BrockleyJack and thankfully it seems they are back in full swing with new plays and film nights.

Would you ever consider opening a place near Brockley Cross?

Personally, definitely. Speaking for my company though - no. It would be too close to Jam Circus and Royal Albert - there could be an Antic-saturation! Brockley Cross is crying out for an Antic-style pub, though - decent ales & homemade food in a comfortable, friendly, clean local is a no-brainer for thearea, but where?

What have you got planned for the future of Jam Circus?

I think our biggest battleis to distance ourselves from the past - there was at least a year or so when the pub was unfortunately mismanaged. We need to re-introduce some people to what is now once again a lovely pub. I also plan to win some hearts in BrockleyCross - we're really not that far from Brockley Station (10min walk at most) and yet I think there are many who think we're in another area entirely! Lookout for us flyering Brockley Station in the future.We actually have plans for an end of summer party, pencilled in for Saturday27th September. The idea is to thank customers for their support and toencourage others to try us for the first time. There would be food samples andour local cake-lady, Lorna, is even considering having burlesque girls hand out cupcakes!

There's a great local band called Lyrebird (myspace.com/lyrebirdsong)in its infancy who have promised to play that night and they'd probably befollowed by a DJ. More details to come!I think we have built something fantastic & consolidated it over the past 6months and now is the time for small improvements here and there - we're goingto trial including game on our Sunday roast menu, starting with pigeon. PeterJames the butcher catches his own rabbits in the winter, so that is definitelysomething I'm keen to get on plates of a Sunday!Recently we have been more involved locally and we'll look to build on this.

I have built a Jam Circus blog (jamcircus.blogspot.com) that is yet to be officially launched, but I would love to kick-start it by directing BC readersthere to see what they think and to contribute. We will use it to updatecustomers and to respond to feedback, but I wouldn't want it to be pure JC - itshould champion local businesses such as Peter James, offer exposure to local artists perhaps, and direct more people to valuable local sites such as BC,Broc Soc, etc. We also have a big new local noticeboard opposite the bar foranybody to drop in and stick to it what they wish.

Lastly, I'm thinking of having a children & parents only morning on Thursdays.We usually open at noon but if there is enough interest (perhaps a localparents group) we could open at say 10.30 and let the kids have the run on theplace. We would put on a DVD, provide books & toys and make sure there areplenty of cakes & muffins on the bar for grown-ups! Let me know what you think.

JC was heavily involved with this year's MAX. What did you think of the event and would you like to be involved again? How did your involvement come about?

I think everybody knows there were publicity problems, but first of all I would thank the guys who put absolutely everything into ensuring the festival continued after Moira stopped. They had some major issues with Newsshopper, who were to distribute their flyers and I'm sure they would do a few thingsdifferently next time. Nonetheless, the event was a great week for us and we'd definitely like to be involved again - we had a big jam night, an evening with local artists, a jazzevening and of course we were lucky enough to hold the finale, when Joel Pott of Athlete filled Jam Circus and went down a storm.

BMax is great for Brockley and it's important it continues next year. As an event it introduces people totheir own area and to local artists, musicians and businesses. More thananything it's a lot of fun!We already had a few things in place this year when the organisers came to seeme, and it was because of them that we had such a great closing night - theyorganised absolutely everything and we were honoured to be asked to host it.

Do you have a final word for Brockley?

This is going to sound like an old record - we must support local businesses. Brockley isn't exactly teeming with bars & shops like Lordship Lane, but there are plenty of gems. Many of these places aren't lucky enough to have a group such as Antic behind them and a few tough months can quickly become a serious problem. Even spending a few pounds in the places you know and trying out theones you don't can get the ball rolling - personally I think Dandelion Blue, Degustation and Shop on the Hill are doing great things in Brockley Cross; Moonbows is as reliable as ever, and down this end we are blessed to have Mr Lawrence's wine bar & off-license. Le Querce and Babur (not quite SE4) offer food as good as anywhere in London (Le Querce in particular is extraordinary) and The Honor Oak (definitely not Brockley now) has truly established itselfand shares much of its philosophy with Jam Circus.Our website is www.antic-ltd.com/jamcircus

27 comments:

The Brockley Telegraph said...

have you thought about holding a gay night? There are tons of rich gay people locally but no where to go! The barge doesn't quite suit!

Anonymous said...

Why do nights have to be 'gay'? Can't we all just... get along?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great idea - and healthy comprtition to 286 in Lewisham!

The Brockley Telegraph said...

You call that competition? :o)

fiona said...

As a mum-to-be I like the sound of a parents and children morning. Sounds like a good way to meet other parents.

TJ said...

I can picture it now, 3 or 4 guys, not talking to each other,nursing their drinks whilst Soft Cell pumps out in the background.

As a gay man myself, let's not have a gay night.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

You're kidding right? I think it would do wonders to get all that pink pound spent locally.

Its only one night after all. In the spirit of innovation it could be a good thing.

Traditionally pubs hold these sort of events on a quieter night, such as a Tues or a Thurs, i.e. to not sacrifice alienating non gay punters. I suspect its the same philosophy for the mummies and children mornings.

TJ said...

My pink pound gets spent locally anyway - last time at Jam Circus. Just couldn't see much need - gay nights don't tend to cater to gay couples...

Anyway I have seen the change at JC that Richard is mentioning - had a great night there (semi-gay) and will go more often. Next time I'll even walk there.

Anonymous said...

BT - why do you consistently seek to segregate and pigeon hole social groups?

Are you frightened of integration?

Do you feel safer in groups of people who are just like you?

Anonymous said...

does anyone know how long the 2 for 1 flyers for the jam circus that were handed out at brockley station last week are valid and what they are valid for? btw I thought giving out the flyers to commuters was a great idea!

Anonymous said...

Andy, stop digging yourself a deeper hole.

If you want a gay night, set up a group called brockley pink (or something like that) get a decent number of memebers and approach local venues and activities yourself.

Finbar Saunders said...

Mmmmm

Denounce strippers but encourage burlesque girls.

One and the same according to Dita von Teese in a recent interview.

BTW what sort of establishment is 309 New Cross Road? It has the appearance of massage parlour but flies a rainbow flag.
Gay Brothel?

publicbod said...

Richard Salthouse I think your attitude and your contribution to the community are great. And just to prove my dedication, i'm going to get my friends from catford up for a drink at the JC this week. they will be so impressed!

mae west said...

"the best pubs don't have strippers! This won't attract groups of friends spending cash, instead there will be seedy men sitting alone nursing a pint for 2 hours."

the way i read this is that the main objection to strippers is that they wouldn't make enough money

nice

TJ said...

No not at all - to Richard's defence, the rationale given by the pub was that business was so poor the only thing they could do to make it a going concern was turn it into a strip joint. With a large amount of government money earmarked for the regeneration of New Cross centre, I doubt it will make it through liscensing

Headhunter said...

Mae West - As TJ says, the landlord's argument is that his pub does not make enough money as a straightforward pub and that his only option to make enough money is to turn it into a strip joint. If that's his argument, then Richard's comment that strippers are likely to attract seedy men nursing a pint all evening is completely valid.

patrick1971 said...

I really like Jam Circus and it's great to have someone so enthusiastic and interested in the local community running it. I've not been there for a while (have been seduced away by the revamped Brockley Jack!) but must get down there again.

Gay night...interesting idea, not sure there would be enough people locally to support it. Could be worth a shot though; that is, if Jam Circus needs to do special nights to attract customers, it always looks pretty busy to me.

Anonymous said...

oh for goodness sake, let the proprietor analyse his customer base (current and potential) and decide. Gay or stright, quiz nights, fancy dress, hallowe'en, who cares? it's jsut about PEOPLE having fun and enjoying themselves no? isn't that what a good business offers?

Monkeyboy said...

I'm all for seedy women myself, where can I find some?

Headhunter said...

I was going to ask you the same question. You're the one who gets offered "services" on the way to Brockley station!

The Brockley Telegraph said...

This topic brings a whole new dimension to the name Headhunter :o)

Richard said...

Thank you for making it through my long-winded replies with enough energy to comment! I'll respond to a few things as best I can, please keep any questions/suggestions coming.

Gay nights - I don't think we'll be doing 'nights' of any sort in the near future - 1.they tend to be exclusive and 2.we don't really have a particular evening that is regularly quiet. That said, a fair few pink pounds are spent in Jam Circus as it is.

Parents/Childrens Morning - Fiona, at the moment this is an idea that has seen some interest with parents who already come, so it is just for me to find an avenue through which to properly organise it (I will get in touch with the local NCT). If interested, please drop me an email at jamcircus[at]antic-ltd[dot]com

Strippers - tj and headhunter have addressed this perfectly. My point was that a pub looking to book strippers is probably already a poor pub and only likely to get worse. I think the moral issues go without saying

Strippers again vs burlesque - I'm not sure Dita von Teese is burlesque's official voice, but you could be right. However, knowing the lady who bakes our cakes I doubt the burlesque girls who hand them out are intended as a turn-on.

Thank you for the various supportive comments.

Richard said...

We seem to have lost a few comments on this thread, strange!

Anyway, I'm off to Cornwall for a week, so if anybody has any comments I'll respond once I'm back.

In the mean time, please have a peek at our blog - here - and possibly post a comment. I hope to get it in full swing (photos, etc) towards the end of summer.

Richard said...

If anybody is interested I've begun making decent use of our blog (jamcircus.blogspot.com).

It's something I'm very keen to make use of so I would be chuffed to pieces if people like it and would be willing to use it to find out more about Jam Circus, to ask me questions, etc.

It still needs some tweaks here and there presentation-wise; any feedback appreciated.

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