Nottinghamshire’s Secret Pub Company: Quality, Success and Great Food

In 2016, Mark Osborne, David Hage and their Secret Pub Company embarked on a remarkable journey, opening their first pub, The Railway at Lowdham. Fast forward to today, their dream has expanded into a four-pub group. This impressive collection now includes The Radcliffe in Radcliffe on Trent, The Railway at Lowdham, The Plough at Normanton on the Wolds, and as of May 2023, The Lambley in Lambley. Each pub, though part of the same family, has its own unique character, offering a distinct food and drink experience that underlines the team’s passion and skill.

We recently spoke with Mark, the head chef as well as co-founder, whose vast and enviable career has been a key ingredient in the creation of The Secret Pub Company. With a CV that boasts chef positions at prestigious establishments such as Hart’s in Nottingham and Langar Hall in Langar, Osborne’s expertise has been instrumental in crafting each pub’s menu and identity.

Mark Osborne

This Secret Pub Company is not a chain but a community, each pub having roots in its locality and the whole Secret team — recruited from Nottinghamshire — working together. This approach has proven successful with the group now proudly employing around 60 people.

Despite the expanding empire, Mark emphasises the importance of maintaining a work-life balance. He ensures his team works a manageable four days a week, reflecting his ethos of quality over quantity. While the company has no immediate plans for further growth, they remain open to opportunities, focusing on their existing establishments’ success and reputation.

Interestingly, each pub is located about six miles from the next, creating a perfect cycling route for Mark, an avid cyclist, who often covers the 40-mile route, visiting each pub in one sweep.

The Radcliffe has undergone a remarkable transformation from a former hotel and private residence to a thriving pub boasting an outdoor pizza oven and bar. The group’s clever and flexible approach to changing market conditions, particularly rising food costs, is another key factor in their success. They continuously adapt their menus to ensure minimal wastage. The company’s expansion also allows cost-sharing.

Some of the team after winning Nottinghamshire Pub of the Year in 2022

Mark’s fascinating journey into the world of pub entrepreneurship started at The Riverbank on Trent Bridge, where he met his business partner David Hage. Before this, he served as Head Chef at Hart’s in Nottingham.

His career also took him to London, where he spent a month at the renowned Barrafina. Subsequently, he graced The Grill Room in Nottingham and Langar Hall before branching out to establish his business. “It changes everything when it’s yours, and you’ve got your money in it and house on the line,” Mark reflects. As he approaches his 50th birthday in June 2023, it’s clear that this risk has borne fruit.

Mark’s menus do not forget pub classics but these are paired with a rotation of innovative specials, ensuring the dining experience is both comforting and exciting. He also champions local sourcing, with his primary butcher being James Vickers, a former Nottingham chef turned butcher. When James decided to embark on his new career path, he reached out to Mark to supply his pubs. Mark, seeing the chance to fuel an old colleague’s new project as well as work with someone well-acquainted with a professional kitchen’s needs, agreed. Today, James’s Chef’s Cut Butchery is an integral part of the supply chain. Mark also collaborates with Nottingham suppliers like FishRich and Kerry’s Fresh.

It’s been a rollercoaster journey for The Secret Pub Company, weathering the challenges of Covid and subsequent market shifts. Yet, Mark and his team have shown resilience, adaptation and an unyielding passion for offering the best to their customers. “It’s been a rock-and-roll couple of years with Covid and everything, but we’re still doing it and loving it,” Mark says.

Secret Pub Co Head Chef Zak foraging for wild garlic

The Secret Pub Company’s story is far from over. With its devotion to high-quality food and drink, its passion for local sourcing, and its commitment to the community, the group’s future looks promising. Mark and his team, since starting in a single pub in Lowdham, have proved that commercial success, quality and a work-life balance can go hand in hand in the pub industry (although it certainly hasn’t been an easy ride).

Speaking of rides, as Mark cycles through the scenic routes connecting Lowdham, Radcliffe on Trent, Normanton on the Wolds and now Lambley, he would be well within his rights to feel proud of his and his team’s remarkable achievements. So cheers to many more years of excellence, innovation and that unmistakable Secret Pub Company touch!

The author:

Matt lives in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. He is passionate about the independent food & drink sector and founded Great Food Club in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town.