In the company of Sam Pullan, the Knaresborough gastro-publican making a success out of playing with fire

The Harrogate Advertiser speaks to Sam Pullan, head chef and co-owner of The Bear at Carriages

By Gemma Jimmison
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 9:51 am

Q: In a nutshell, what does your company do and how did it start?

A: The Bear at Carriages is an independently-owned gastropub housed in a Grade II listed building in the centre of Knaresborough. We are a family-run business, specialising in open-fire solid-fuel cooking, using the finest locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible.

We actually started the business during the first lockdown. My catering events business was flying, as was my business partner’s (who is also my brother-in-law) drinks company. When the pandemic hit and the lockdowns began we both started to think of ways how we could diversify. My sister spotted that the business (then known as Carriages) had shut its doors. We made some enquiries and four months later we had the keys and the hard work began!

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In the company of Sam Pullan, the Knaresborough gastro-publican making a success out of playing with fire

Q: What’s the most surprising thing about it?

A: From the front we are a cosy gastropub with low ceilings, exposed beams, a bar area and two dining rooms seating around 36 covers. But round the back is one of North Yorkshire’s most iconic beer gardens, which houses our outdoor fire pit (aptly named ’The Bear Pit’).

The Bear Pit is the real focal point of everything we do. This is where the majority of the cooking takes place, and where you can watch your steak being cooked over an open fire whilst sitting in the sun with a great glass of wine… There’s really nowhere else like it.

Q: What do you do?

A: I head up the kitchen team, create the menus and help direct the company alongside my business partner, John. With my food expertise and John’s business experience, I really feel we have found a great combination.

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Q: How did you end up here?

A: I actually started at art college and initially pursued a career in design and marketing, which saw me running my own consultancy business. After 10 years, I became despondent and retrained as a chef. Mostly self-taught, I set up a successful catering business based in Leeds and ended up working with some fantastic clients such as Coach, Gucci, and Grey Goose vodka.

With my catering business, I feel like I managed to carve out a real niche, catering at challenging and unusual events and venues (from castles to disused mills and even exposed mountainsides). The business was flying high when the pandemic hit, but we diversified and here we are!

Q: If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

A: I think I’ve found what I should be doing now… I’ve seen the corporate side of business and I feel like I prefer chef’s whites to suits now. My love of design has never left me, so there will always be creativity involved in anything I do.

Q: What motivates you?

A: My family, of course, and I genuinely love to see people who work with me happy and motivated. I like to see them improve and really enjoy what they do.

Q: What one thing do you wish you had known when you started out?

A: It’s a bit like when you have a child for the first time – everyone tells you how your life is going to change and what to expect, what to watch out for. It’s the same in business. Most of the things I was told before I started this journey have come to reality… even if there was a little bit of me that didn’t want to believe it.

Q: What excites you about business?

A: The best thing about running your own company is the freedom to take it in any direction you want. You can take your passion for something and create a business out of it.

Q: What is your pet hate in business?

A: People who don’t run their own business and think it’s easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it!

Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?

A: Turn up and work hard. Don’t feel like you’re entitled to anything, or that you have to know everything. Be keen and get in on time! When you eventually feel the urge to maybe start your own business, just do it. Don’t wait – take the risk.

Q: Who in business do you most admire, and why?

A: I’ve always admired how Sat Bains runs his restaurant (the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham) – training people to the highest standard then encouraging them to go on and do brilliant things elsewhere. New and emerging talent is what makes this industry such an exciting place to work in.

Q: What moments of your career so far stand out?

A: I’ve been privileged enough to do business with some pretty amazing people and companies in some amazing locations around the world. Having experienced two different career paths, it’s difficult to pin down to just one, but starting The Bear and taking the business in the direction it is going has got to be up there.

Q: What sets your company apart from the competition?

A: Our location and outside space are both fantastic, but it has to be our unique style of cooking and the atmosphere it creates. Our menus are all designed to showcase the best seasonal, Yorkshire ingredients and our drinks offer is also second to none. We offer over 35 wines by the glass, as well as an enviable selection of draught craft beer, small-batch spirits and cocktails.

A: You can’t deny the pandemic has had a profound effect on business. From lockdowns to supply chain issues, it’s really hit every hospitality business hard. The biggest challenge at the moment is the ever-changing attitudes and lifestyles of the customer. People have never been so unpredictable in terms of habits, so it’s really difficult to gauge and predict when your peaks and troughs might be.

Q: Have you got a five-year plan for the company?

A: I’ve learnt that the problem with five-year plans is it is impossible to predict what external factors are going to affect your business next week or in five years’ time. I attended a seminar over 10 years ago on ‘agile business’, and I really wish I’d taken more notice. It was a relatively new thing then, but much more important now to be able to adapt and change to rapidly changing factors out of your control.

Q: Why is it good to do business in Knaresborough?

A: One of our staff members described it as Whitby without the sea, which I found funny and quite liked. There’s a real sense of community in Knaresborough and there’s a lot of residential investment coming into the town. Come summer, it’s a great tourist attraction and really brings people in from afar.

The transport links with Harrogate, Leeds and York are also excellent and just a stone’s throw from The Bear as well. The name Carriages actually references our location above a Victorian tunnel on the Harrogate to York railway line. What’s bad? It’s got to be the parking!!

Factfile:

Name: Sam Pullan

Age: 38

Birthplace:

Keighley, West Yorkshire

Job title:

Head Chef & Co-Owner

Company name :

The Bear at Carriages

Company address :

87-89 High Street,

Knaresborough HG5 0HL

Website address:

www.thebearatcarriages.co.uk

Company founded : 2020

Number of staff: 15 - 20