Well we’ve made it… 25 years, a quarter of a century at The Sweeney and what a journey it’s been.
We moved to Oswestry in 1993, with two young children in tow, Josh was eight and Kristian was 18 months. We had moved from the hustle and bustle of London, where we had been based for the last five years, to the glorious Shropshire Marches, and although there have been trying times we have, as a family, never looked back.
The Sweeney was in need of a little TLC when we arrived. A number of superb staff were in place; Bernie the Head Chef (who remained with us till last year) and his wife Olwen to name but two, but the Sweeney itself had lost its umph. The grass outside was up to our knees and the inside was dated, you risked a major electric shock when you moved too fast across the nylon carpet, but my Parents-in-law and I loved it.
It was very much a case of building it up, both as a business and as a building from the ground up. Kara will tell anyone how awful I am at DIY (ask any of the staff and they will also agree – they will search for anyone other than me to even open one of our sash windows – I tend to open by smashing!!).
I had moved here from managing a newly refurbished highly successful restaurant in Hanover Square in the heart of London where if anything went wrong I made a call and it was fixed, not so here; we needed to be careful with the cash flow (my father-in-law speaking!).
Kara came into the bar one day to find me surrounded by smoke, a horrible singeing smell (no that’s not where my hair went…) and me with a soldering iron in one hand and my head in my other. I was trying to fix the 70s style music system and failing miserably. I felt defeated, why had we done this, why had we moved across the country from a good job, a lovely house and all our friends to here. Kara laughed at me and then I laughed at me.
I sat with Bernie, devised a new menu, people started coming in to see the ‘new people at The Sweeney’. We got busier and busier, and today I’m happy to report that from doing 10 on our first Sunday lunch, we are now looking at 110 plus nearly every Sunday.
Kara didn’t find it easy either, I left her alone to ‘Watch the hotel’ for me for only half an hour – I got back and she was quite literally bouncing with excitement.
“I’ve taken a booking for a room” (bear in mind how quiet the hotel was in the first few months)
“I’ve booked them into room 5″
I looked at her, “Did you turn the to the right page in the diary?”
“What diary? We have no customers – this is great… isn’t it?”
She had only double booked on the only night we were completely full with a shooting party – the only booking we had for the whole week!!! I sent her to tentatively knock on their door and explain and we put them up in our home and didn’t charge them – they left a £50 tip not bad for 25 years ago and Kara….well I’m undecided if she was being very dim or extremely clever because I’ve never left her in charge again!!
As a family, we love living in the countryside and being here has enabled us to grow our tribe of children from two to six, most of whom have earned their pocket money working at the hotel as they have grown up and some are still here.
Josh is now 32, married with two boys of his own; Frankie and Louie. Kristian turns 26 at the end of this year and has followed me into the business. He’s brought fresh ideas to the hotel such as Shropshire’s very own Gin-fest! Freddie is 22 and after leaving Loughborough University is here until he goes
Freddie is 22 and after leaving Loughborough University is here until he goes travelling in January. Archie, 18, is taking a gap year and travelling with Freds, Noah 14 and embarking on GCSEs at Oswestry School and Lola, the youngest and the only girl of the bunch, she is 13 and also at Oswestry School. My wife Kara is a stay-at-home-mum with the odd dabble in the hotel – now Lola is 13 she is grabbing a well-deserved rest from little people!
My wife Kara is a stay-at-home-mum with the odd dabble in the hotel – now Lola is 13 she is grabbing a well-deserved rest from little people!
The hotel has changed somewhat over the past 25 years, going through internal facelifts for the hall to new name branding, we are soon to be known as just “The Sweeney ” rather than Sweeney Hall Hotel!
Staff have come and gone, some lasting many years here and some just a few months, many of whom have become friends and customers over the years. The same can be said of our customers, many of whom have become firm friends over the years.
We moved here so I could run the hotel for my Mother and Father-in-law. Sadly they both passed away in 2004-2005 and we were left the hotel in joint ownership with Kara’s brother – Kim worked in London and not in this trade so he was more than happy to sell his half to us in 2006.
We undertook a total refurbishment of the hotel and waited with baited breath to see if our loyal customer base would like it, more modern but with a little bit of the classic thrown in, and they did, huge sigh of relief from the Evans clan! Refurbishment is still on-going, she’s an old lady, the Sweeney, that likes to be treated with kindness and care but she also likes to be kept up to date! She still has the capacity to throw a spanner in the works, we have had lots of leaks through the years with the odd bit of ceiling fall down. The heating system has had to be totally overhauled, but we love her and judging by the comments from customers, you do too.
Along with our fantastic regular guests and friends we’ve had a few famous names make their way to The Sweeney over the years. The late Bill Paxton stayed with us and Rob Low (of the Brat Pack) joined him for dinner a few times – the waiting staff were quite dizzy with excitement! Melanie C (Sporty Spice) attended a wedding here as did Chantelle and Preston – they had the pleasure of being followed everywhere by our old Golden Lab Zack while they were here! For those in the know about weightlifting, we were lucky enough to have Precious Mckenzie to stay also.
For Mission Impossible fans, you might recognise the name Ingeborga Dapkunaite, she was also in Seven years in Tibet and Hannibal Rising. Ingeborga stayed for a few weeks along with Kenneth Cranham and Deborah Moore, Sir Roger’s daughter – this was one of Kara’s dabbles at the hotel where she came up to re-type their scripts for them. More recently we have had the cast of Nativity 2 staying; this included David Tennant (yes the staff were swooning!) Marc Wootton and Jason Watkins. Timothy West has also graced our doors. We’ve had politicians here too, from Owen Patterson to Ken Livingstone and those in between.
Over 25 years we have been happy to host over 1,000 Weddings and 800 Christenings, that’s over 500,000 meals in total from school proms, anniversary parties, birthday parties, launch Parties, retirement parties and of course our regulars who come week in week out for lunch or dinner.
Most of all we have played a special part in people’s lives – we’ve even had a marriage proposal or two happen over a good meal and a bottle of wine. We’ve thrown Halloween parties and written and hosted our own Murder Mystery evening.
Our latest venture had been our Gin-fest, this one I will admit is Kristian’s baby. When he first mentioned it I blithely said yes go ahead, thinking that we would get about 20 people interested, how wrong did I get that. We held our first one last year and the turnout was amazing, nearly 900 people came over the two days so we decided to do it all again this year, just bigger and better, and it was. With over 1300 people in attendance and so much gin drunk that it’s now on the map of things to do in Shropshire in the Summer.
From the single diner to an exclusive use party…. to friends old and new, thank you one and all for your support – it’s been a blast and here’s to many more years with The Sweeney.