by RONA MANN / Photos by Jeffery Lilly

It would seem like a no-brainer, right?

Take over an existing, wildly successful restaurant and pub and just sit back and let the dollars continue to roll in. Easy?

Owners Alex Foulkes and Wilson Castaneda

Not so. Not so at all if you’re a seasoned hospitality guy like one of the new owners of Penny Lane Pub in downtown Old Saybrook. Alex Foulkes didn’t get where he is by resting on anyone else’s laurels. He earned his own through hard work, small mistakes, and big efforts; and he’s not exactly willing to rest on them any time soon!

It’s not easy stepping into the shoes of another. In this case it was the pair worn for years by Bob Hansen, former owner of Penny Lane Pub and still proprietor of the very successful Johnny Ad’s on the Post Road. “Bob knows everyone in town,” Alex stated flatly. “He has shaken hands, kissed babies, some even called him the ‘Mayor of Main Street.’” Yes, impressive shoes indeed, but Alex Foulkes is not trying to fit into the shoes worn by Bob Hansen. He’s got his own pair of pretty big loafers and plans to walk in them throughout the local area, greeting old friends and making new ones, all the while keeping the very best of Penny Lane Pub while adding a few “tweaks.”

A Connecticut native, Foulkes studied business at Ithaca College in Upstate New York. “My first foray into the hospitality field was when I did a work-study program and got a job at my school’s dining hall.” Within a short time Alex was promoted to manager and remained in that position until he graduated. “I then went to work in an office, but that didn’t last. I hated it. I wanted the restaurant business.”

Thus began a series of positions in the field where “I learned the hospitality business right on the job, made mistakes, and benefitted from them.” He took a job as a Catering Manager in Ithaca which he enjoyed, but after marrying a social worker, the couple decided to move back to Connecticut five years ago.

Alex is no stranger to Penny Lane Pub having come on board as a front of the house manager more than four years ago. Immediately he was thrust right into the workings of a very successful operation that was “always busy.” He had to learn and learn fast, thriving on the pace and mastering every aspect of the business. “If a kitchen worker called out, I would find myself in the back, learning as I went. I also worked the bar, the front of the house, jumped in wherever I was needed.”

About three years ago, Bob Hansen approached Alex and Head Chef, Wilson Castaneda, inquiring as to whether they might have interest in buying the business. Hansen planned to retain Johnny Ad’s, but was also looking to move on to other ventures. Two years ago the deal was consummated, and now both Foulkes and Castaneda are partners in the popular neighborhood restaurant. “It’s a good match,” Alex adds. “Wilson is an excellent chef and knows how to run the kitchen, and I run the rest of the house. We work very well together.”

The men were smart about making changes. “The bones were always great here,” Foulkes said, “so we just figured we’d tweak a bit here and there.”

One of their first “tweaks” was the addition of a new sous chef – also named Alex – who is multi-talented, working well under the pressure of a perennially busy environment and turning out food that is consistently good. “Alex is also a great manager,” Foulkes adds, “so if someone on staff has to call out, customers don’t know the difference in quality.”

Castaneda and Foulkes have made room for some new menu items, admitting that “when we change things, we expect and get some kickback from regular customers. We make changes for a certain reason and ask our customers to try new things, but if it doesn’t work out, we’re not afraid to go back if necessary.”

One of the changes Foulkes has made was to improve the beer list. Alex not only enjoys beer, he knows it and know it well, having studied both the art and science of this delightful product of the hops. He has used his considerable knowledge, therefore, to carefully craft a new and expansive beer list, keeping old favorites while introducing customers to new flavors and lighter beers, many with less calories that still satisfy.  And always, he is mindful of the local connection.

“I support ‘local’ completely,” he says. We want to use local suppliers as much as possible and cultivate long term relationships, both with vendors and our customers. It is what drives me and drives Penny Lane Pub.”

To that end, Foulkes and Castaneda use meat that has been sustainably raised, they source as much as they can from local producers, and have maintained the “garden out back” first planted years ago,  a major source of the restaurant’s produce. New tables and chairs have been purchased for outside seating, an extremely popular option once the warm weather arrives. It fosters and promotes the idea of Penny Lane Pub being such an important part of the Old Saybrook community – a place where neighbors can wave to neighbors as they go by, and visitors to the seaside enclave can be enticed to come on in and join the fun.

Contributing heavily to that fun is the restaurant’s staff, both front and back of the house. “We have a great team here,” Foulkes affirms. Most of them have been here a long time, many even before I came. They live in this community and genuinely like where they work. That says so much. Our staff is truly the backbone of this place, We never forget that first and foremost, it is the hospitality side of the hospitality business that is most important, so we’ll continue treating people well here.”

His work cut out for him, Alex Foulkes smiles, shakes hands, and strides quickly away in his shoes…his own shoes…ready to walk the walk and talk the talk, perpetuating the success that is Penny Lane Pub.

Visit soon and often at 150 Main Street, Old Saybrook  and check frequently at www.pennylanepub.net  and on their Facebook page to keep up on ongoing entertainment and events (860) 388-9646

 

1 reply
  1. John Dion
    John Dion says:

    Penny Lane serves delicious, comforting food and drink in a delightful atmosphere. I have a gluten intolerance and there’s a wide selection of food the restaurant can prepare for me. My wife and I will return until we’ve tried it all; then repeat with our favorites.

    Reply

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