Stuart Inns was founded in August 2011 after chef Oliver Macmillan, frustrated working for other people, wanted his own business. Oliver went to his father Andrew, a financial advisor, and together they took the lease of The Long Melford Swan.


The pair approached Oliver's sister Lorna, who had some prior Front of House experience, and their brother Iain, a gardener at the time, was drafted in to help Ollie in the kitchen.


"Iain took two weeks holiday from the gardening world to help Ollie out and then never looked back," says Lorna. " Olle trained him as a chef and we went from there. My friend even helped me out for free because it was mayhem on my own. She's now one of our restaurant managers."


Since those frantic early days, Stuart Inns has seen its staff numbers grow to over 60, its estate to include three restaurant/pubs, five star AA rated accommodation and a delicatessan. Its reputation in the area has changed from a young upstart to an established big hitter that is turning heads. For the Macmillan family, creating a clear and strong offer has been key to this.


All of Stuart Inns' sites have seen substantial investment and full refurbishments to mould them into the venues desired by the family. The key for Lorna has been to create distinct areas that offer open spaces, with unique, quirky and premium fixtures and fittings. "I do all the d├ęcor and interior design for the sites," she explains. "What we've tried to create are different areas, because some people love being in the front near the bar, while others need to be in the restaurant. You have to create areas that have different feels to them for different types of customer."


Each Stuart Inns site has its own personality and feel, modelled around the community in which it operates, but all sit at the premium quality end of the market.


The family has been thorough in its research when deciding on the offer of each property. As locals, they understand the area and what other businesses in the surrounding vicinity are offering, and have acted accordingly to ensure that each venue stands out in each village.


Long Melford, for example, has a large number of wet-led pubs offering live music and discos, but lacked a really high-end offering. The Swan started out with a strong food offer, but a less than premium drinks menu. The company soon brought that up to the same level as the food, bringing in an extensive wine list, including Champagnes, cocktails and cigars.


"We felt that the offer was getting wishy washy," admits Lorna. "You have to know what your offer is and what your brand is, and pitch yourself as that's what you do. We had a choice to make and we just said 'let's go completely premium'."


Conversely, in Lavenham, Stuart Inns found a village with an abundance of high quality restaurants and a community calling out for a local pub. While The Swan and The Ram might be considered restaurants with a bar and rooms, the family listened to the locals and set The Greyhound up as what they call a Fine Suffolk Pub, serving food from 10am to 10pm with a strong range of ales - even one made especially for them.


"We opened it with that approach because we had listened to what the people in the village wanted," explains Lorna. "We wanted it to be that much more pubby. We have lots of ales and different food too - good quality pub food with a twist."


The Hadleigh Ram, the family's second property sits comfortably inbetween the offering of the two other properties. The Ram offers a similar style and quality to The Swan, at a lower price point. Featuring a private function room, it is the ideal location for a large party or business meeting.


While the focus might vary from site to site, the food offer remains at the highest standard. "If you go out to dinner at any of our venues, what we're trying to achieve is you tasting something and saying 'wow, that's amazing'," Andrew Macmillan states. "We want to challenge you, to say 'try this because you might like it'. That's what we're trying to do, but it can quickly get over the top when you're telling people what they should like."


Everything is made in house, from stocks and sauces to ice cream and bread, using fresh local ingredients, but Andrew maintains that it is the quality of the food that needs to be the primary objective over local credentials. Stuart Inns' beef is supplied by Aubrey Allen who source beef from North East Scotland, the South West of England and Northern and Southern Ireland. Areas with vast green clean pastures far from industry with pure spring water where the large herds are reared with expert care. Fish is sourced locally from Lowestoft but also further afield from Scotland or the Isle of Man.


Andrew explains, "We've tried to source locally as much as we can, but you can't always source the best in the countryside. We're interested in sourcing good produce through the best suppliers."


Stuart Inns have also aquired Melford House, the property two doors down from The Long Melford Swan and converted what was a residential propery into four en-suite boutique bedrooms, and later added an additional three above the restaurant, including one family suite. Since opening the first four rooms in early 2015, The Swan has received 2 AA Rosettes, a recommendation in The Michelin Guide and 5 star accomodation ratings from both The AA and Visit England, who have also presented them with a Breakfast Award and their esteemed ROSE, Recognition Of Service Excellence, award.


The latest addition to the group is Duck Deli, a delicatessan conveniently nestled between The Swan and Melford House. Duck Deli is a foodies heaven, stocked with unusual and different foods and artisan products from East Anglia, regional and national growers and producers. Among the artisan cheeses, locally baked breads and pastries, you'll find a range of fresh sandwiches, salads, wraps, sausage rolls and infamous Scotch eggs all prepared daily by the chef's at The Long Melford Swan.


In the beginning Stuart Inns played to the idea of a pub opened and run by a family. Since then, that family environment has extended to the rest of the staff that work with Stuart Inns with the family still very much involved in the day-to-day running of the businesses, Lorna explains "It sounds cheesy to say it, but now as people join, they feel like they've become part of the family."


The in-house training that is provided, as well as the opportunities to progress, has seen Stuart Inns enjoy a loyal, enterprising and markedly young team at all its venues, with internal promotion prevalent and improvement ideas welcomed throughout.


For more about each venue, awards and accolades, and individual websites see below.