Chef wants to put family first
Back in January, we revealed that chef Aiden Byrne of Restaurant MCR (previously Manchester House) and present owner of The Church Green, Lymm, was to open a new restaurant within the restored Grade II listed Black Friar pub on the corner of Blackfriars Road and Trinity Way.
The reworking of the Black Friar is expected to cost £2 million, partly funded by Salboy and Domis, the partner construction company, and would have involved a significant personal investment from Byrne and his wife Sarah.
My wife and our family have got everything we need on our doorstep and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made really
It appears that the recent lockdown period has given Byrne the opportunity to take stock and he has decided to pull out of the Blackfriars project and invest his time and money back into the family business he has owned for the past 12 years, The Church Green pub.
Byrne announced the U-turn in an announcement on a local Lymm Facebook group:
'Firstly I would like to thank you all for your continued support at The Church Green over the past 12 years.
'Lockdown has been interesting for me as I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to sit still. I started baking and making pies at home for our neighbours and was keeping myself busy. My wife decided to post a pic on Facebook and then the majority of Lymm wanted to order them. The feedback has been amazing and once again I have felt that I was part of the community. Really happy and enjoyable times. Sarah and I have made the decision to pull away from any other business interests and focus solely on our first born, Church Green.'
Byrne goes on to explain that they have been working very hard to improve the pub’s outside space to accommodate the new government guidelines on social distancing.
We gave Aiden a ring to find out more....
Have you had some kind of epiphany during lockdown?
Aiden Byrne - “It’s less of an epiphany and more like a sensible business decision. Salboy were investing the money, but that was a loan to us as a couple. So it was quite a big decision and a huge investment and we were quite far down the line. Then COVID took over and everything went on the back burner.
"We’d had to close The Church Green for obvious reasons but we enjoyed the first month, because it was a chance to spend time together as a family, which we hardly ever do. Then we started to get a bit nervous that it might never re-open because no one had a clue about how long this was going to carry on or what financial position we were going to be in at the end of it.
"Going into Black Friar and starting up a new business and getting £1.5 million in debt, when we didn’t really know what position The Church Green would be in, might have put us in a precarious position. When you look around at all the restaurants that aren’t reopening, it’s quite scary. We could easily have been one of them.”
How did Salboy take it?
AB – “They weren’t too happy, but it is what it is. I’ve got to worry about me and not anybody else any more. For the first time in ages I feel really content.
"It’s been an opportunity to take a long hard look at where we are. Do we spend the next five to ten years diluting what we’ve got to offer over two sites and be extremely nervous about whether we can sustain that? Or do we pour all our efforts into the site that we’ve got and make it great again? My wife and our family have got everything we need on our doorstep and it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made really.”
What have you been doing back at The Church Green?
AB - "We’ve got about 20 guys on site trying to get the place ready to reopen with social distancing measures in place.
"The whole outside infrastructure was here when we arrived and we haven’t done too much with it over the past 12 years. Now we’ve invested in it to make it cleaner and newer and a whole lot shinier, more attractive and suitable."
What else have you been doing during lockdown?
AB - "I was making pies for my neighbours and I put it on Facebook and practically the whole of Lymm asked for them. So we thought, do you know what? We’ve got a disused garage connected to The Church Green, so we’ve completely gutted that and we’re going to turn it into a delicatessen where I can sell all my charcuterie.
"Everything that we sell in there we’re going to be able to make ourselves; breads, cheeses, salamis, pies, pastries. The deli area is something that I’m super excited about, because it’s something I’ve never done before. It’s like running a new business really. And then we’ve given the pub a bit of a facelift and we have a sense of pride now we believe it can live up to people’s expectations."
When are you hoping to get open?
AB - "We are working night and day to be open for drinks only from Saturday 4th July. The front door goes on tomorrow, the room’s just about ready to be tiled, and all the equipment will just slot straight in.
"We’ve done a bit of work in the pub kitchen as well. We’ve put a new floor in which has set us back a week, so we’re not going to be serving food out of The Church Green until July 13th. Our ice cream parlour has now become the outside bar so people don’t have to come inside to purchase drinks."
What? Can’t we buy ice cream anymore?
AB - "Actually, I’ve just bought a brand new Carpigiani ice cream maker, which I’m also super stoked about – I like my toys - and that’s going to allow us to offer soft serve ice cream out of the delicatessen which has a little hatch where the walkers can come and grab a coffee or an ice cream to take on their walk round the dam."
How many people can you safely accommodate?
AB - "We’ve turfed the kitchen garden to create an outside bar area to seat around 50-60. The new covered pagoda will seat 48 people whilst also accommodating social distancing. The inside of the pub, which used to sit 75 people, can now seat 50. So we can accommodate around 100 people in all, completely covered and then there’s the beer garden, which should hold the same again.
"We’ve just had our first enquiry for a wedding, because we’re right next door to the church. So we’ve got a decent sized outdoor space now, which is perfect. The face of the business has completely changed."
You’ve had a well-publicised period off the booze. Have you managed to stick to that during lockdown?
AB - "Yeah. It’s been around 14 months now and I don’t miss it at all. It did get to a point where I was pretty much drinking every day. In this industry it just becomes part of your daily routine and I feel like a much better person now and I’m making much clearer decisions."
So fans of Aiden’s food can now find him cooking back at The Church Green, but will it be good pub grub, or will he be offering more of a fine dining experience?
AB - "We certainly won’t be doing fine dining. To begin with we’ve got to be realistic about what we’re able to produce. So we’re only going to have five starters, eight main courses and four desserts – almost like a bistro-style menu. But everything is made by me so will have the integrity that I’ve always cooked with.
"We’re not trying to achieve Michelin stars or AA rosettes, we’re just trying to make a good solid business which has got longevity and a sense of pride."
The Church Green will reopen for drinks only from Saturday 4th July and will be serving Aiden's new menu from July 13th when the new delicatessen is also expected to be open.
Aiden Byrne Church Green, Higher Lane, Lymm, WA13 0AP
Tel: 01925 752068