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St Jude's Brewery is to open a new pub in Ipswich
Colleen and Frank Walsh
Colleen and Frank Walsh at the St Jude's Brewery, Cardigan Street

A Suffolk micro-brewery is attempting to buck the trend of pub closures by opening its first inn.

St Jude's Brewery wants to convert the former Olun Mills photography studio on St Matthew's Street, Ipswich.

"We're confident because on this side of Ipswich there isn't a massively brilliant alehouse," said Frank Walsh, who runs St Jude's with his wife.

The building needs structural work, but they are hoping to be open in time for Christmas 2010.

The St Jude's Brewery opened in 2006 and current production is 60 firkins (1 firkin = 9 gallons) of beer a week.

With pubs closing left, right and centre in the UK, Frank claims opening a pub (to be called the St Jude's Brewery Tavern) is actually a survival strategy.

"It's a volatile market and if, as a brewer, you're always having to sell to other people and their business goes down, it can take you with it," he said.

"Rather than like most pubs, who are having to buy a firkin for £120-130, we make it for considerably less, so we can pass that saving on to the people who frequent the tavern.

"We wanted somewhere near to the brewery. It's still got a nice part-of-the-town feel and hopefully we can make it even better."

Brewery Tap, Ipswich
The Keens say the Brewery Tap has been a pub since 1993

New landlord for dockside pub

Another brewery that tried to open a pub in Ipswich was the Cliff Quay Brewery. They took over the Brewery Tap next to the former Tolly Cobbold brewery on Ipswich docks in 2008.

However, they didn't stay there long, and the pub has been run as a freehouse (not owned by a brewery) by Mike and Georgie Keen since October 2009.

They have continued serving Cliff Quay beers, which are brewed in the neighbouring Tolly building, but there's no tie.

"[The Brewery Tap] had several different landlords and the consistency wasn't there," said Mike, who is also the chef at the pub.

They say food is vital to success.

"The days of chicken and chips in a basket for £12 are gone," said Georgie.

"People aren't stupid. They've seen all the TV chefs and they expect quality."

"I think if you're city centre and you've got a massive amount of footfall of people who just want a cold drink, that's okay, but those places are few and far between," said Mike.

"Gastropub has all these connotations of kicking out the drinkers, but we've got a big enough place here not to do that.

"We're definitely a local - we have people who come in every single day," said Georgie.

"On any night you could come in and see guys from the dock or the trucks sitting at the bar, there'll be granny having her 80th birthday supper with her family and a trendy young couple who've just finished work."

"It's not enough to be packed out on a Friday, you've got to spread it across the week," said Mike.

"We're pushing ourselves as a Suffolk pub and everything can be sourced within 10 miles of Ipswich - lager from Coddenham, cider from Aspall's.

Storytellers at the Brewery Tap, 2008

"The English pub, in essence, will always be there. I think what we're trying to do here is true to that image."

That means pub quizzes, quieter acoustic music acts, developing beer gardens and holding a beer festival on their first anniversary in October.

Mike and Georgie say they reached their monthly break-even point of £25,000 revenue for the first time in July.

To feed or not to feed?

St Jude's isn't put off by Cliff Quay's failure to sustain a pub in town.

"We're near the football ground, it's near the [proposed] Waitrose development, so it's a growing area," said Frank.

"We're planning on putting on 18 ales and we're on the road to somewhere as opposed to being a destination pub which you have to seek out."

St Matthew's Street, Ipswich
The St Jude's Brewery Tavern premises on St Matthew's Street

The pub has planning permission and a license, so it's a case of re-fitting the building with church pews, chairs, chandeliers and oak panelling.

Frank estimates the cost of opening the pub will be £25,000.

"The Tavern will be the pub that eBay built!" he said.

And he doesn't feel they need to focus on food to survive.

"We're doing Indian and English snack food and anyone can bring in their takeaways from Norwich Road and we'll provide the knife, fork and plate.

"But we won't be doing lavish, sumptuous food because that can be a pitfall - you don't know if it's a pub or a restaurant."

BBC Suffolk aims to re-visit our interviewees on a regular basis to provide a snapshot of how the British pub is faring.

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