In early 2008, the run-down Continental pub, which had been closed for two years, sparked an idea in a couple who had little experience in hospitality but a wealth of creative entrepreneurial ambition.
Cities such as Liverpool and Manchester had started to boom and Preston which had not long been a city was hoping to follow suit. No sooner had the young couple invested all their begged and borrowed money into an ambitious redevelopment plan than the Tithebarn project to rejuvenate Preston collapsed amongst the financial crash of 2008.
This may not have been a good thing for Preston but as a result The Continental became a flagship amongst the dire pub scene in Preston. Pubs were closing at an alarming rate and the town centre itself had few restaurants of note, the night time scene was dominated by the Church St Friday and Saturday night revellers. The student population hadn’t expanded as much in those days, Avenham and Miller Parks were poorly used and neglected and the Guild Wheel – a twelve mile circular cycling and walking path hadn’t yet been designed.
The refurbishment of the Continental’s building took 6 months working with an award winning designer and using local workers, with money being borrowed as it went along. The large garden space which had so much potential was completely redesigned and turned into a beautiful outdoor dining area. The children’s indoor play area was completely revamped to become an Arts and Events space. The pool room became a softly lit, beautiful snug, furnished with leather sofas and comfortable armchairs . The existing fireplace was brought back into use as a feature in the room which provided warmth and a relaxing atmosphere.
The Continental was a rarity in the town being a Free House. A manager from Manchester was brought in and the pub was stocked up with a large and varied range of beers, from real cask ales, European lagers and beers, bottles from all over the world, fruit juices and mixers with exotic titles that have become household names, and wines from fine local stockists. This was all to complement their intention to only offer quality products, in fact the owners refused to sell alco-pops. The range of cask ales sourced from the developing micro-brewery scene soon became the talk of beer drinkers all over the country.
Husband and wife team Steven and Deborah Kerfoot, both highly experienced chefs, were brought in to develop a modern menu. Using only locally sourced food, and cooking from fresh ingredients, genuinely home-cooked, their food quickly became renowned throughout Lancashire, soon competing with the best of the Gastropubs. The popular desserts are all hand-made and crafted with love. The Continental’s classic, apricot and vanilla Bread and Butter pudding with homemade ice cream and biscuits is such a favourite it is a permanent fixture on the menu.
The Continental also developed in other cultural areas, and offered far more than just food and drink to its customers. The events space was fitted with a fifteen feet wide cinema screen which hosted a cinema club, plays, comedy, music including World Music and Improvised Jazz events. Initially, many of these were promoted by the Arts group They Eat Culture, who developed their ambitious programme from the Continental offices upstairs, The entertainment space was also acoustically fitted out with a superb PA system, professional stage-lighting and staging and its own bar in the foyer.
The location by the unique Victorian parks, Avenham and Miller, adjacent to the River Ribble and under the grand Railway bridge meant people were soon being drawn to dine alfresco in its beautiful garden. Television programmes have used the Continental as their setting . The Continental as a pub set an important inclusive trend as one of the few in Preston to be dog friendly, plus welcoming families in all its areas.
A number of developments in Preston took place in quick succession, the development of the Guild wheel, the revamping of Avenham and Miller parks and the successful Preston Guild all helped to make the Continental what the couple had foreseen it could become, the start of Preston’s Tourist Trail. The licensing of weddings in the Park has led to the Continental being used more and more for receptions, it is also popular for Christenings and private parties of all kinds.
The Continental is famous for its hugely popular Beer Festivals when the pub and its gardens are dressed into a wonderland of great design. Around 4,000 people attend over the long weekend featuring over 200 beers and ciders and great music. The Continental has also developed outdoor events and bars for the City council and its team of creative people are always in demand, putting on events at council organised schemes and providing the popular Artic Bar over Christmas on The Flag market in the centre of Preston followed the next year by The Tundra Bar.
Since its set up, The Continental is now not the only pub in Preston to offer quality products. It has been joined in promoting the trend of great craft beer brewing in this country by many other establishments and bars , and by restaurants and eateries of all types. Some have survived and flourished, some have not.
Chefs Steven and Deborah are still with us after 11 years, never having a day off sick! Lisa, the General Manager, is in her 10th year and holds everything together. The menu changes with the seasons but continues to develop traditional dishes using with new ingredients and a modern twist. Examples such as slow cooked Lamb Shoulder marinated with Espresso Treacle, Lime and Cardamon, served over kale with parmentier potatoes and lamb gravy. The Continental always uses the best of Lancashire produce, for instance locally grown watercress and pak choi, and local suppliers. Pigeon from Local Shot, chicken from Goosnargh and cheeses from Sandhams and Garstang Blue amongst a host of items bought from local producers who provide food of the highest quality. The outdoor service does not use cheap condiments and crockery but keeps to the high standards being served indoors. A range of liqueur coffees and seasonal cocktails and specials are introduced though out the year, all hot drinks come with a delectable square of brownie made by the chefs. The menu offers drinks selections to pair with the food and caters for vegans and vegetarians.
The programme of Events continues to be managed by Rob Talbot, frequently drawing sell out crowds to its Shows and live music events. Many community groups such as a local Book Club and Damson Poets choose the Continental as their home. Above all the team ensure the Pub continues to diversify to meet the 21st Century. The venue is always featured during Preston’s annual Arts and Jazz festivals and links with the local university ensure a diverse range of events. Both the Events space and elegant Snug are in demand for corporate and private function hire.
An important aspect of the Continental’s success is its early understanding, knowledge and use of social media and other forms of publicity and promotion which again is thanks to the creative people involved in its development and ongoing promotion. Within an industry notorious for staff difficulties and management turnover the Continental is a beacon for the independent family business managed with love and devotion. We have lots of plans for the future with an outdoor kitchen offering a morning and daytime menu for the many diverse passers-by, from commuters walking through the park to town centre jobs, the cyclists and ramblers using the Guild wheel, families with dogs in the park and the many running and sports clubs in the area. We are also working on the development of a second bar to service the busy garden area.
Situated in an idyllic location just out of the town centre, serving beautifully made and presented food and high-quality drinks, there can be no more perfect place, winter or summer to than to relax in The Continental garden by the river or catch a gig in the event space.
We are proud to say that we were at the very start of a trend in Preston which many have tried to emulate, but The Continental will always strive to remain ahead of the game.