The key to Angus Ashford’s success in hospitality has been his ability to spot and surf trends, react to change and innovate. Whether that means changing the focus of a business, devising new menus, carrying out refurbishments or dealing with the current pandemic, these skills have ensured the success and future of The Red Barn in Woolacombe, North Devon.

Angus’ family have lived and been involved in catering in North Devon for over 200 years. It was his entrepreneurial grandfather who purchased The Red Barn in 1965, running it initially as a cafeteria before his father took over.

The Red Barn has a long history with it acting as a US Red Cross Service Club during the Second World War. It served food and provided recreation for soldiers preparing for their Normandy landings. It is thought that the iconic name came from these American soldiers.

As surfing started to boom in the swinging 60s, the venue’s position, close to what is now known as ‘the UK’s Surfer’s Paradise’, ensured it became the unofficial hub for the sport and beach life in the area.

While Angus spent much of his youth on Woolacombe beach, surfing in the sea and working at The Red Barn, it was only in 1997 that he took over the reins after completing his degree in Metallurgy and then spending a fair amount of time travelling, chasing waves, skateboarding and skiing.

He said:
“I had an incredible childhood in Devon but always wanted to travel and try new things. Hospitality is in my blood so I always knew it was something I would return to but without the life experiences and travel I had in my younger years, I doubt I would have had the same success.”

After sampling the delights of various international cuisines on his travels and seeing the coming of gastropubs in London in the 90s, Angus headed home with plenty of ideas and a plan. First, The Red Barn was completely renovated and rebranded as a pub with surfing becoming a focal point of the decoration. Next, the ‘old school’ cafeteria food tray service was replaced with a fully-working kitchen and a bar was added to serve alcohol.

The business boomed in the following years with Angus continuing to keep one step ahead of the swell, tweaking and adjusting his offering and improving the quality, choice, entertainment and service.

He continued:
“Business is a bit like surfing, if you get comfortable and take your eye off the horizon, you can get in trouble. Out on a board, it’s a wave that wipes you out. In the hospitality business, if you stop improving and your offering gets stale, it’s the competition. The key to our success has been our ability to see over the horizon to new trends and then adapt and react.”

All the food at The Red Barn is cooked in-house and the kitchen sources locally, taking advantage of the fantastic fresh fish on its doorstep, the high-quality Exmoor beef and the many superb craft beers and drinks. The homemade classics such as burgers, nachos, steak and fish ‘n’ chips remain top sellers with the Country Range seasonings and spices playing a key role in maximising flavour. A constantly rotating specials board also enables the kitchen to be creative and showcase sensational seasonal produce.

Angus added:
“We’re blessed to be in an area rich with quality food and drink producers, many of whom our family has worked with for over 50 years. This provides our dishes with unbeatable taste, authenticity and absolute provenance, which is definitely something our local customers and tourists appreciate.
Our specials board is forever changing and thanks to our chef’s travels, there is plenty of international influences. Recently he travelled to South-East Asia so we have had some fantastic Malaysian, Korean and Thai inspired
dishes on the board.”