A Cumbrian chef is reflecting on his 50-year career in the hotel and restaurant industry.
Mike Haddow and his wife Margaret recently put their beloved village pub, the Shepherd’s Inn at Melmerby up for sale and are looking forward to their well-earned retirement.
The couple have owned and run the popular pub since 2018, employing 14 people with Mike taking on head chef duties.
The busy restaurant has a maximum five-star rating on Tripadvisor and a five-star hygiene rating from the local authority.
“I’ve have always loved working in kitchens and pubs, and owning the Shepherd’s Inn has been one of the highlights,” said Mike.
“We have sown our roots in Cumbria and enjoyed living and working here for so many years.
“But now it’s time to slow down, enjoy retirement and hand the reigns over to the next custodians of this amazing country pub.”
Mike’s career as a chef saw the couple travel and work all over England before returning to Cumbria in 1981 to open the kitchen at The Crown in Wetheral near Carlisle.
During the 1980s and 1990s he ran the kitchens at The Crown and later at the North Lakes Hotel in Penrith, becoming executive chef for the Thwaites Hotels group with responsibility for nine hotels and eight pubs across the country.
Influenced by his grandmother, who was a cook at The Rex Hotel in Whitley Bay and Fenwick’s department store in Newcastle, Mike’s passion for food and cooking started in the 1960s growing up in Blyth.
“The North East was really a desert in the 1960s and 1970s, there was nothing there, very few opportunities and nobody knew about food, an egg sandwich was a huge treat in our family.
“One day at school I had to choose between metalwork or cookery. The cookery class was full of girls and the teacher was pretty,” said Mike.
After spending two years at catering college, Mike began working in kitchens around Newcastle and across the North of England, meeting Margaret in 1974 whilst working at the The Crest Hotel (now a Premier Inn) in Carlisle.
The couple then worked together in hotels and country houses all over the country, including Leeming House near Ullswater, as well as venues in Lytham, Hull and Tetbury.
Mike’s culinary expertise, coupled with Margaret’s business and management skills helped the pair to gain experience and learn about the industry.
They lived in Wetheral for four years when Mike joined The Crown in 1981. Owned by Shire Hotels group (now Thwaites), Mike was involved in the firm’s expansion across the country and was appointed head chef of the North Lakes Hotel in Penrith when it opened in 1985.
“I remember the managing director of Shire taking me to an empty field on a hill overlooking junction 40 of the M6 in 1984. At the time there was one house and some chicken sheds.
“He had the vision to build the hotel and knew it would be successful with so much passing traffic, trade and tourism.
“I helped design the kitchens at the North Lakes and was involved in setting up the kitchens and menus at the other hotels the company took over during the late 1980s and 1990s.
“It was an exciting and rewarding time for me and I loved the challenges involved, from recruiting the right people to getting the menus and kitchens organised,” said Mike.
By the early 2000’s, he was beginning to grow tired of the relentless travelling required between all of the group’s sites and returned to the North Lakes as head chef full-time, with responsibility for training and mentoring new chefs and kitchen staff.
After almost 35 years with the hotel group, Mike left Thwaites in 2016 having been an integral part of the senior management team during many years of consistent growth and expansion.
“The day I left Thwaites Hotels, I saw an advert in the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald for the Shepherd’s Inn. Margaret and I had strong ties to the area and we knew we could make it a success.
“It had 10 owners in 10 years, we set out to make it the traditional village pub that locals and visitors wanted. I’m not interested in awards or being clever, I’m passionate about a consistent offering of quality, country food with fresh local ingredients.
“Small details like that make the biggest difference,” said Mike.
Despite running some of the busiest and most successful hotel kitchens in the country, Mike has taken most pride and satisfaction in the younger chefs he has helped to train over the years.
“There will be hundreds of chefs all over the country working today that have been through my kitchens, and that’s what I am most proud of,” he said.
The hotel and hospitality sector has adapted to changes in consumer habits, financial challenges, recessions, pandemics, Brexit and numerous economic and political crises over the last five decades, but Mike’s resilience and can-do mentality have been the foundations of his success.
“Highlights are always the people you work with and meet along the way. I’ve been in kitchens all over the world, from New York to Paris and met some of the greats like Marco Pierre White, Gary Rhodes and Pierre Koffmann, but my happiest memories are from Cumbria, with Margaret by my side,” said Mike.
With so much experience and knowledge to share, his advice to younger people is straightforward.
“Work hard. Develop your skills. Don’t take shortcuts. Research and watch. Work with different people and learn from them. It’s the same for any industry – you have to be the master of your own destiny,” he said.