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