A COUPLE who have made a success of their gastropub on the edge of Dartmoor are riding high after winning a prestigious award.

Husband and wife team Jay and Tess Barker-Jones run The Dartmoor Inn at Lydford, which won ‘best pub’ at the Food Drink Devon Awards presented earlier this month.

They took on the pub back in 2019 and have weathered the pandemic to build the business up to an award-winning establishment, which is busy and thriving.

Explaining their journey to pub ownership, Tess revealed how her connection with the pub stretched back to her teenage years: “I started working for the previous owner, Philip Burgess, at 14 washing dishes and it was my grandparents at the time who told me to give them a call as I wanted a job and to go and earn some money. I worked my way up here until I was 19 when I was helping to run the front of house.”

Tess met her husband-to-be Jay when they were working together at the Two Bridges Hotel in the middle of Dartmoor.

“After eight years of working in various places together I was complaining to my Dad about my job and he said “oh Tess you know the Dartmoor Inn is for sale” and we had to convince my mum to join us and buy the pub. We completed the sale in July 2019 and we had loads of things to do to sort out the pub.

“We’ve replaced every single bit of this place since we took over.”

She said it was her huge connection to the Dartmoor Inn, perched on the edge of the moor near Lydford, which gave the the big push to take the place on as a business.

“It had to be the Dartmoor Inn and if it wasn’t it just wouldn’t have happened, we’ve got an affinity to this place. It was a big risk, a big gamble, it was a mad idea that came to fruition.”

It must have seemed even bigger gamble when, having taking on the Dartmoor Inn, the covid pandemic struck in the spring of 2020.

Like many other hospitality businesses The Dartmoor Inn has its own story of making it through this time.

“Bookings were starting to dwindle, but we always had someone dining in the weeks leading up to lockdown.. there was no clear guidance for us and the fear of a staff member getting covid and then the pub being closed for a number of weeks.”

“Because our pub is quite separate we could book people into their own areas and keep everyone apart and have a clear segregation between customers.”

In the pub, the couple are a team, with Tess heading up front of house and Jay being the chef. Then they have their hardworking staff, who are crucial.

It is hugely hard work, but also very rewarding.

“On a busy day I’m walking around thinking ‘wow all these people are here for us’ and it never ceases to amaze me,” said Tess.

“For us to win that for all of Devon and for my parents to put it all on the line for it to work for us, coming out of the pandemic is really cool for us and our grandparents would’ve been so proud of us and I just wish they could’ve seen it.”

“This award actually meant so much to us because of that and being able to bring it back to the team and show them that is what you did.”

The Food Drink Devon Awards are prestigious annual awards made to hospitality venues and food producers, championing the efforts of so many to put the county on the map for good food.

Tess said: “When they came to inspect us, I said to Jay I’ve done everything in my power to get this and that I think is right and perfect. I’ve given them the authentic Dartmoor Inn experience and if that’s not enough then so be it. I’ve been in the industry a long time, but I always come back to that you’re only ever as good as your last service. We always wanted a good dining experience, good wines, good food and good service.”

With the awards ceremony taking place in the first week of October, Tess said it was hard to tell if their burst of business was due to the awards or not.

“It’s very difficult to track, we had a huge amount of people congratulating us on social media. The week before last was our best week ever, a random week in October, so I think there must have been a bit from it.”

“We normally do quite well at this time of year and for Sunday lunches we are two weeks in advance to book for it.” “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be consistently busy. We have people coming from all over Devon to visit us.”