Mike Goff – The Cat And Fiddle
Content and Photography by Joff Alexander-Frye
Growing up in Bude, Cornwall, Mike Goff is to pubs what Gareth Southgate is to international Football management. He seems to get the best from his teams and has a track record of doing so against the odds.
Recently appointed as the landlord of The Cat & Fiddle on the outskirts of Exeter, he has taken over what is a historically relevant pub at a formative time in its journey. After being bought by St Austell Brewery, £500,000 has been poured into renovating the pub; a project which has found a tasteful mix of modernisation and preservation.
I recently went to The Cat & Fiddle to see the transformation for myself and also to chat with Mike to find out more about his approach, his vision for the pub and also what it is like to be a landlord. During my time with him, I found Mike to be attentive, focused and knowledgeable; all the while with one eye on the pub around him. He clearly has an eye for fine detail, noticing minute specifics around him that needed tweaking or mistakes that needed correcting. I was impressed with his matter-of-fact interactions with his staff; direct but friendly at the same time. He clearly knows what he wants to achieve in his new pub and will go to great lengths to achieve it.
His first interaction with St Austell Brewery was a five-year stint as Operations Manager of The White Horse in Launceston, Cornwall. When he took over the pub it was, in Mike’s words, “on its knees” and almost at the point of closure. In the five years that he was the gaffer there, he helped turn the pub into a profitable and thriving business and built incredibly strong relationships with the Brewery, which he relishes and treasures to this day. He is a company man and unashamedly so.
After a stint in the Managed House part of St Austell Brewery (managing The Port William in Tintagel, Cornwall), Mike moved back into the Tenanted side of their business, taking over the newly refurbished Cat & Fiddle which many of us know and love. They only opened the refurbished pub on August 17th, so are still in the process of ironing out any creases and dealing with the natural teething problems that come with any project of this size.
And with 311 seats in the pub, the Cat & Fiddle is far bigger than most people realise. With facilities for business meetings, a kid’s soft play area, a function space that large groups or parties can book out and even high-speed WiFi (not at all common on the outskirts of Exeter), the pub is truly set up for pretty much anyone to use. And, in contrast to its historical track record, The Cat & Fiddle is now open all day; perfect for the geographical position of the pub, bang on one of the main travel routes connecting Exeter, East Devon and beyond.
In fact, historically, the pub was a Coaching Inn, built on the main route between London and Cornwall. Stables were situated over the road from the pub and weary travellers would stop for a drink and some rest. Legend even has it that part of the pub was a clandestine chapel for Catholics who, at the time, were considered enemies of the crown, around the time of The Battle of Clyst St Mary (a battle fought between Catholics and Protestants in the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion, when West Country resistance to the Protestant Reformation was quashed). Anyway, back to the modern day…
When I asked Mike about the process of taking over a newly refurbished pub, he commented,
“You just have to trust your team. Train them and then leave them to it. Be positive with them and, when they make mistakes, work with them to rectify and learn from it. One of my main priorities as manager of this pub is to ensure that my team are happy and satisfied in their roles. That includes not over-working them and requiring them to work seventy-hour weeks. To do that and then expect them to be happy, productive and engaged with our customers would just be ludicrous.”
I asked Mike when he had first realised that the challenging pub industry was one that he wanted to work in. He very matter-of-factly stated,
“Hospitality is either something that you have in you or you don’t. I absolutely love hospitality. It’s what I think about when I wake up and when I go to sleep. My partner even tells me off because I think about it when I have time off too. You’re either wired to provide excellent experiences for your customers, or you’re not. The industry has changed so significantly in recent years that you can’t stand still any more. You have to get ahead and stay ahead. That is what I feel we have achieved with the refurb of The Cat & Fiddle and I hope to see it go from strength to strength in years to come.”
Mike finished our time together by walking me around the cavernous pub and telling me about the non-negotiable foundations of his role. He remarked simply that,
“This whole industry, at the very least, is boiled down to a hearty welcome and a genuine goodbye. If you can’t greet and then leave a good impression on your customers, then they won’t stay customers for long. Of course, what happens in between your greeting and goodbye is vitally important too, but they are the fundamental basics of good hospitality.”
So, with a large investment from St Austell Brewery, a solid backbone of good pub food and Real Ales and a passionate new landlord at the helm, The Cat & Fiddle really is a pub on the up. If I had a pint in my hand (I don’t as it is mid-morning as I write this) then I would raise it high and propose a toast. “To Mike, his team and The Cat & Fiddle. Health, happiness and prosperity. Bottoms up!”.