Encouraging start for Cowshed

New off-sales and drinking spot in Abingdon

The latest pub conversion from a shop, the Cowshed in Abingdon, opened on December 9. But Stuart Fanson, who runs the business, resists calling it a micro-pub as most of the premises is devoted to off-sales of beer, wine, cider and spirits, with only about a dozen seats for drinkers.

Nevertheless it is a welcome addition to Abingdon’s drinking scene, with three rotating cask ales and plans for keg lines, supplied by XT, in the near future. Cask ales available on the weekend before Christmas were Geminids, a session pale by Luna (from White Horse brewery); Dark and Seedy by Little Ox; and a session IPA by London craft operator Brew by Numbers.

Opening of the Cowshed – so-called because a previous business set up by Stuart was in a cowshed – means there is once again a licensed premises on Stert Street in Abingdon, which had three pubs about 40 years ago. Across the street from Cowshed is a branch of Pizza Express with the tell-tale ceramic plaque in the wall depicting the Morland Artist, a trademark of this long-gone Abingdon brewer’s pubs. This was previously the George and Dragon, while further along the street were the Beehive (now an Indian restaurant) and the Plough (now a chemist).

An artisan bottle shop with a micro-pub on the side”

Cowshed operates in a listed building which was previously the Added Ingredients delicatessen, and deli owner Jill Carver is now Stuart’s landlady. It’s sad that an independent deli now struggles to compete with supermarkets, but that is something Stuart is determined not to do.

“What we sell can’t be bought in a supermarket and off-sales are the majority of our trade – we are primarily a bottle shop for independent brands,” he explains. “A lot of businesses along this street are independent, and there’s a lot of demand for all kinds of take-away in Abingdon which you can see from the number of people carrying coffee. I believe that even in a recession, people will still drink whether at home or in a pub.”

Bottles and cans from many local breweries are stocked, and there is also a good choice of imported beers including German brands and unusual wines too. A 17% stout from Tartarus brewery was among its Christmas offers. Stuart worked for a beer importer after spending more than two years at the King’s Arms in Wantage, and as his grandparents ran a pub in Haddenham and he worked at pubs as a young man, he is well versed in the pubs business.

“The running costs of a traditional pub are very much higher, and for us our main costs are heating, lighting and the fridges,” he says. “Before opening I spent a lovely three days driving around looking at other shop conversions, and I found a real spirit of co-operation in the drinks industry.

“A few traditional pubs will close because of the recession and energy crisis, but some will re-open when things settle down. Quite a few breweries are going out of business too, but I don’t think there can ever be too many. The market will find its right level.

“I’m confident, and we describe ourselves as an artisan bottle shop with a micro-pub on the side.”

Stuart Fanson brings plenty of pub and drinks industry experience to his new venture