Simon Theakston, executive chairman of the brewery that bears his name, told The Yorkshire Post that he expected the beleaguered pub trade to bounce back strongly from months of closures and restricted openings as communities begin to reconnect and fall back in love with the pub and its role as a community focal point.
Mr Theakston, the fifth generation of his family to run the 194-year-old brewery, added that the business was benefiting from a surge in the popularity of craft beer and refused to rule out ever launching a lager.Speaking at the brewery’s base in Masham, North Yorkshire, Mr Theakston said: “In the isolation of people being stuck locked down at home they have missed terribly this feeling of being part of a community and, from all the feedback one hears, people have missed the pubs enormously.
“Once we get back to normal and pubs can be used as normal we are going to see a huge wave of support for the role of pubs, this unique institution that you find nowhere else in the world but that we have in Britain And how lucky we all are to have these wonderful places that provide a job way beyond just selling drinks and food. They provide a sense of belonging to a community.
“There is nothing more wonderful than being considered a local in your local pub.”
Mr Theakston was speaking alongside newly appointed joint managing director, Richard Bradbury, who has joined from Heineken.
Mr Bradbury said that, in his view, no retail venue had been as high on safety standards as pubs during the pandemic.
“Standards have been amazing,” he said.
“But for pubs they have to police that front door, they have to create a one-way system, they can’t serve at the bar. And through that whole time do that generally with less staff than they need.
“I am sure lots of people are looking at a pub and thinking ‘that’s great, they must be doing really well’. But the reality is they are probably just about breaking even.”
With pubs set to reopen, without restrictions, from July 19 - the easing of rules cannot come soon enough for the sector.
However, both Mr Theakston and Mr Bradbury take a measured view.
"It is an impossible situation that we are all in," said Mr Theakston.
"We are just being patient and pragmatic. But we are optimistic given the numbers we are seeing that July 19 is looking very good, and we are geared up and ready for it.
"We are confident as anybody else. We will have to learn with the coronavirus and thank goodness hospitalisation and deaths are low compared to cases.
"Hopefully the health secretary will make a sensible pragmatic decision, and if my hunch is correct that will mean that we have the lifting of restriction on July 19 and get back to a position that pub can operate properly.
"At the moment pubs are restaurants in which you go and sit down and wait to be served. Pubs function at their best when it is a free flow of people, talking to each other and moving around - and that is what we need to get back to."
Like most breweries. Theakston’s has been expanding beyond traditional real ales in recent years. It recently launched Summit, its first cold-serve cask ale, and said more product launches are planned for later in the year.
When asked if he felt the business was facing competition from the rapid-growth craft beer market, Mr Theakston said: “The craft moment has raised the profile of ale which is a good thing.
But we have always reckoned that we were one of the original craft brewers because we still make our beer in small batches.”
Mr Bradbury agreed, saying: “We hand brew a live product, there is nothing more craft than that really.”
Eighty per cent of Theakston’s beer was, pre-pandemic, sold into the on trade, meaning pubs, restaurants and hotels.
When the pubs were closed in March 2020 it was forced to alter its model to protect itself.
Its sales to the off trade market grew by 30 per cent and, as Mr Theakston describes it, the brewery became akin to a fulfilment centre one might see at a large online retailer, with sales of beer either delivered or collected from the brewery having increased 10-fold.
“The desire of people to have a glass of Theakston's never went away,” said Mr Bradbury.
“That support for our brand has been a huge comfort to us all.
“And we are really grateful.”
Mr Theakston runs the brewery alongside his brothers Nick, Tim and Edward.
The business, started in 1827 by his great, great grandfather Robert, is something which he describes as a "matter of huge pride".
"It is truly humbling," he said.
"But I am just a custodian of a generation and the wish would be very much that we pass on the company to the next generation and future generations slightly better than we found it ourselves.
"It causes great pride among my brothers and I."