Phil Simpson, one of the two directors of C2 Investment, owns Lancaster Brewery, as well as a number of pubs restaurants and hotels, including the Mill in Ulverston, the Duke Of Edinburgh in Barrow, the Palatine in Morecambe, and the Sun Hotel and Bar in Lancaster.

Mr Simpson was speaking to in-Cumbria as part of our regular “10 minutes with” feature and discussed the merits and drawbacks of running a restaurant in the current climate.

So, who is Phil Simpson?

“I’m one of the two directors that owns and manages C2 Investment, which we started when we bought the Water Witch in Lancaster in 2001.

“Since then it’s just grown and grown, and as we stand we now have the Sun Hotel and Bar in Lancaster, The Palatine in Morecambe and, of course, Lancaster Brewery.

“We also have a sizeable venue in Ulverston called the Mill, which consists of three bars, including a new cocktail attic bar, a restaurant, and a large terrace area. We also have the Duke of Edinburgh, which is our busiest place and most significant investment, over in Barrow.”

Big developments

“The Duke of Edinburgh at Barrow has had ten years of continual development, we just finished it six weeks ago. It now has 51 bedrooms, a large bar, and a downstairs restaurant and bar area, and it’s been an incredible effort.

“It started out as a very tired and ramshackle Victorian pile of bricks, and I don’t think there’s a single element or surface from ten years ago that hasn’t been touched in some way.

“We've taken over the attic space in the next door Cooke's Building and we've just finished creating nine really pretty new en suite bedrooms.”

The company’s recent results

“It’s not really our style to release our results, we’ve always operated under the radar, and grown and developed quietly.

“Over the last 18 months to two years Matt Jackson (the firm’s other director) and I have become a little bit older and a little bit more mature in our ways, and we decided to be a bit more outgoing in our publicity.

“We’re very happy with our annual results, they are something we’ve been working towards for years and years. Three quarters of everything we generate in profit goes back into developing the business or new ventures.

“It’s just the start of things, the way things are going this year, we’ll be way ahead in our next set of results.”

Future plans

“I think we’re less inclined to take on risky ventures these days, but we are looking actively to invest in a canning plant at Lancaster Brewery as canned beer is a big market.

“We’re looking at possibly moving into property, that sort of thing, but in a low key way. The canning plant is probably our biggest investment coming up, which isn’t hugely expensive in the grand scheme of things.”

The changing restaurant industry

“It’s getting harder to make money in the leisure sector, because there are so many new venues springing up. I think restaurant numbers in the last 5 years have gone up by 25 per cent.

“In Lancaster alone there has been a proliferation of new restaurants opening, and so I think it’s getting tougher and tougher.

“That said, we will be announcing shortly that we have a partnership with a well-known Chef at our Cumbrian venues, which will be quite exciting, and will bring about a different approach to food in our Cumbrian venues.

“On one hand you can be negative about the supply of restaurants and bars, and you can say it’s a cause for concern, but on the flip side the public doesn’t regard dining out as something special any longer. Now people are dining out every week, or even several times a week.

“Where when I was a kid, dining out was for special occasions. People dine out in massive numbers compared to ten years ago.”

TripAdvisor and difficulties in running restaurants

“There are difficulties with things like the supply of chefs. The number of chefs available isn’t adequate for the number of restaurants, so finding and keeping great chefs can be tough.

“I think people’s expectations have changed enormously too, with the rise of TripAdvisor many people now regard themselves as a food critic or hotel inspector.

“TripAdvisor has sharpened up a lot of things, and hotels are a thousand times better than they were ten years ago, because people won’t accept low standards any more.

“But in other ways this has created difficulties. Lancaster hasn’t got a fine dining establishment, it hasn’t got a Michelin star, multi-AA rosette style place, and the reason is that it’s very hard to do fine dining at that level for the money that people want to pay.

“There are some fantastic restaurants across the North West that are regularly slated on TripAdvisor because people have walked in and expected it to be £5 for a starter, and £10 for a main, when it’s double the price.

“I would like to see that change, and I think over time it will, as there’s a big market out there.”