A family has been left homeless and heartbroken after their dream of running a Sudbury pub turned into a nightmare.
When Andy and Donna Ashworth took over the tenancy of the Royal Oak in May 2013, they finally realised a life-long ambition.
It was a family affair, with the couple’s three children all involved, but the fall-out is threatening to tear the family apart. They are on the homeless list and currently sharing one bedroom in a bed and breakfast.
“It’s heartbreaking – this had been a dream of ours,” said Mr Ashworth.
The couple have accused Punch Taverns, which owns the pub, of never giving them a chance to make the Royal Oak a viable business.
“Punch told us it would make £6,000 a week,” said Mr Ashworth. “It needs £4,000 to break even, but at its busiest we were making £3,900 a week.
“They worked the rent out on these figures – it’s not a viable business, so we decided to leave. They knew we were going to walk out with nothing.”
By the end, the pub was taking as little as £50 a day, with the couple having to take the tough decision to sack their own son, Jamie, who had been chef.
“He didn’t get paid for four months – the pub wasn’t making enough money to pay its bills,” said Mr Ashworth. “He is not speaking to us. When your own son isn’t speaking to you, it’s difficult.”
This tarred relationship is made even more difficult as Jamie, 20, is still living with the couple.
Mrs Ashworth, 43, who was born in Sudbury, said it was their dream to run a pub, with the couple giving up their council house and previous jobs to take on the challenge.
But its failure has left a bitter taste in the mouth, especially as the couple claim the next owner has been offered a reduced rent – something they had continually appealed for.
Mr Ashworth said: “Why couldn’t they do that for us? We asked for a rent review for eight months – we were told we just had to get the business in.”
The couple said they felt trapped, having to buy beer at what they claim were high prices.
“You have got the likes of Weatherspoon offering silly prices – we can’t keep up with it,” said Mr Ashworth.
To make matters worse, debts and costs that Punch may claim back from the couple – which the family are contesting – could leave them with no other option but to file for bankruptcy.
A spokesman for Punch Taverns said: “The rental assessment provided was reflective of the company’s opinion of fair, maintainable turnover and profit for the site.
“This was provided to Mr and Mrs Ashworth prior to them signing their agreement.”
The spokesman said the tenancy agreement included a cooling-off period that allowed Mr and Mrs Ashworth to break their contract at any point within the first five months.
He added: “As a responsible landlord, we cannot allow significant debts to continue to grow.”