How Welwyn's White Hart pub improvised after £100K kitchen inferno

The White Hart in Welwyn

The White Hart in Welwyn - Credit: Roger Protz

Two entrepreneurial brothers came up with an innovative solution to keep their historic Welwyn pub trading after a major kitchen fire which caused £100,000 worth of damage.

The blaze engulfed the kitchen of the 17th century White Hart at 4am on September 6, leaving owners James and Tom Bainbridge with the prospect of being unable to serve food for months, and therefore facing a further £80,000 in lost business while they carried out repairs.

But instead of resigning themselves to the prospect of closing, the siblings improvised with their resources at their disposal, implementing a brand-new barbeque menu within five days of the fire, using equipment from their sister company Bain & Bridges Catering.

James said: “It’s obviously slightly tongue-in-cheek, doing a barbeque after a fire, but it was just a case of how can we adapt what we’ve got left to offer.

 “We reacted very quickly to the fire, making sure, firstly, everyone was safe, no one was hurt, and the fire was out. We would like to say a big thank you to the wonderful fire brigade team who swiftly made the building safe.

“There was no time to wallow around and stress about it. There’s not a lot we can do about it. We need to get on with it.

“For us it was very important to keep what momentum we could in the building and the business, for the business but also for staff morale as much as anything.

James and Tom Bainbridge, owners of The White Hart pub.

James and Tom Bainbridge, owners of The White Hart pub. - Credit: White Hart

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“They’ve had to stop working three or four times in the last couple of years, they’ve watched the building be shut and empty and we just didn’t want that again. So we wanted to keep it all as busy as possible to keep them in work mainly, and the barbeque with our capabilities seemed like the logical option.”

While fire services and insurance companies could not determine the cause of the fire and did not investigate further, the brothers believe a piece of failed equipment was the likely cause.

They said: “There’s a certain brand of equipment we won’t buy again, put it that way.”

The new kitchen will be fitted and opened in time for the start of the Christmas season, having been out of use for a total of nine weeks.

The White Hart Pub also partnered with a local butcher, Brookfield Farm Butchery, to use local produce for their South American inspired barbeque menu.

The brothers said: “We like to be creative. We don’t like to stick to the norms, we like to do things a bit different.”

This menu included Peruvian style prawn ceviche and a chilli marinated steak baguette with blue cheese butter.

The Grade II listed pub has now moved onto a Japanese barbeque menu featuring three different flavoured yakitoris, and a take on a cured salmon sashimi with homemade wasabi mayonnaise.

The brothers also said they had developed a strong weekend trade as a destination pub for tasting menus, and they now have a sharing menu for two featuring a cote de boeuf and a barbeque pineapple dessert.

They added: “We like to offer something more interesting, but we really try to appeal to everyday guests, because at the end of the day our pubs are pubs, and we always do great fish and chips and burgers.

“But we like to push the boundaries so we can really attract foodies as well.”

Dating back to 1681, The White Hart was once the main coaching inn for Welwyn, offering an overnight stop-off travellers going north from London. It was also home to the village courtroom where petty sessions were held.