The landlord of a historic, Dartmoor village pub is keen that locals keep supporting the business he is due to leave after 17 years as host.
He said: “I don’t want to leave because I have loved working here and building up the business to be a success. We have come through several parish councils and they have been happy with what I have achieved here as the tenant.
“We’ve been through covid and built ourselves up again and I’d like to stay. But I missed the deadline for renewing the lease. It comes to an end in November and I’m here until then.
“I’m also very proud of my staff and my partner for all their support in running a traditional village pub renowned for its beer, cider and food.”
The Royal Navy veteran of the Falklands Conflict, during which his warship HMS Ardent was famously sunk and many of his shipmates died, said: “I’m too young to retire however, and would like to continue a career in the hospitality industry whiuch I have been in since I left the Navy.
“But the industry and future of many local pubs is on a knife edge. My future is uncertain and I also worry about my staff. Pubs have had to adapt to to life after covid, which has left many struggling to make a profit as customers change their habits and therefore, they are in weaker position to be viable during the cost of living crisis which has hit our customers and increased our costs.
“Our die-hard drinkers have thinned out dramatically after getting used to drinking cheaply from the supermarket at home with their mates, which leaves us depending more on our meals.
“We do very well during the summer, because people go out into the countryside and have a lunch or supper here.
“But it’s not easy to get here during darker winter evenings down narrow lanes.
“We therefore don’t open every evening because we need a certain number of covers to make it worthwhile, but there aren’t the numbers. Lunchtimes are our most profitable times.
“However, the council wants a new landlord to open every evening, which is not commercially realistic with all the higher costs of energy, food and wages.
“The council has been very supportive, but it’s not sustainable to expect to stay open until 10pm every night.”
He said he could stage events regularly to attract more custom, but that could easily lead to anti-social behaviour and to complaints about noise and litter and therefore, alienate villagers.
“The Royal Oak is in a good position, compared with many others. I have to admit there are too many pubs for the number of customers and you have to have a special attraction for people to travel to a relatively remote country pub.
“We have that pull, as people come from far and wide. But we need more locals to support us and keep us going in these hard economic times, otherwise, before they notice, we could be gone.”
Royal Oak landlords pay a rent to Burrator Parish Council and run it as a business separately under the terms of the lease drawn up by the council.
A spokesperson for Burrator Parish Council said: “The council is well aware of the challenging times facing the licensed trade industry and has the greatest respect for Mr Earp’s views.
“The pub has been successful under his stewardship for 17 years, but it has consistently been successful under the parish council’s ownership for nearly 200 years, a long and celebrated history in Meavy and roundabout.
“Mr Earp’s comments about ‘local habitants’ very rarely using the pub is interesting because there has been clear evidence expressed to us that local people would wish to see the pub open each evening.
“The essence of a hearty village pub is when friends and neighbours call in after work for a convivial get-together over a pint by the fire.
“Closing the pub in the evening, after diners visiting from elsewhere have gone home, denies access to ‘regulars’ who live nearby.
“The parish council will be happy to negotiate with a new tenant as to the exact number of opening hours based on this requirement, and other commercial factors with the assistance of its agent Vickery Holman.”