Restaurant Profile: Discover a unique English-style pub that transports its guests across the pond, and embraces the history of its familiar location.
Ihen Ian Robbins first saw the former Mayflower restaurant in Loves Park two years ago, it brought back fond memories of a similar establishment in his native Ross-On-Wye near Wales, England. “I looked at it and said, ‘This reminds me of my hometown pub,’” he says.
It so happened that the property was for sale. Despite having no prior experience in the food business (although his grandfather owned fish-and-chips shops in England), Robbins took the plunge and bought the building in 2009, with the hope of bringing some English flare to a place that has struggled, over the past few years, to find its identity.
Since 1999, when the original Mayflower closed its doors after a successful 70-year run, The Hope & Anchor English Pub is the sixth restaurant to inhabit the 5040 N. Second St. location. Although other owners floundered, Robbins and wife Kreena plan to stick around. They’re willing to embrace the past, knowing the building holds very special memories for more than a few locals.
Scattered throughout the pub are visual reminders of the Mayflower, including a framed photograph of late owner Tony Salamone. The Robbins’ also serve Bookbinder soup, a longtime Mayflower staple.
“We truly believe Tony is our ghost,” says Kreena. “We love when people talk about the past. We have customers who celebrated their first anniversary at the Mayflower and are coming back to celebrate their 50th. That’s pretty special.”
So was Robbins’ journey getting here. In the 1980s, he followed his mother, Sue Ellerslie, from England to the United States, in search of better job opportunities. Ellerslie took a position in the upholstery business, shortly after her arrival, and Robbins worked as a mechanic in the Chicago area, before they moved to Rockford. Today, Ellerslie lends a hand in the kitchen preparing cottage pie and other English favorites. In addition to the pub, all three principals have full-time jobs: Robbins owns a construction company; Kreena works as a hairstylist; Ellerslie is a food service administrator. “It’s a balancing act,” Robbins says.
The Hope & Anchor offers English pub favorites, including its signature fish-n-chips, a lightly beer-battered cod served with chips (fries) and malt vinegar; faggot’s peas & chips, traditional meatballs made with pork sausage, pig’s liver and gravy, served with marrowfat (mushy) peas and chips; and bangers-n-mash, made of sausages and mashed potatoes. There’s also the traditional steak and ale pie, made with stewing steak and beef gravy, enclosed in a pastry shell. “This is the type of food I grew up with,” says Robbins.
The pub serves lunch and dinner seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (midnight on Sundays.) The lunch hour attracts employees from Woodward, located across the street, while the after-work crowd draws plenty of young professionals.
The Hope & Anchor pub hosts a variety of special events throughout the week, including live music, poker nights, trivia contests and bag games. There’s a large selection of imported beers, including Strongbow Cider, Guinness, Bass, Newcastle, Boddingtons, Hoegaarden and Smithwick’s, all on draft. There’s a new outdoor beer garden and a sweet shop featuring desserts and other English foods, too.
The Hope & Anchor hosted an early morning party on the royal wedding day of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, and regularly serves high tea. It’s all part of a unique English charm.
“If you go into any pub in England, there’s a real atmosphere there,” says Robbins. “You know everyone there within a half hour. Socializing is even more important than having a drink.” ❚