In May 1992 that John and Susan Haresnape took to the water and bought the Lady Florence River Cruise business. John had been in a senior position in the computer industry when redundancy struck in 1991. Despite nearly 30 years in the industry, and over 800 job applications during the following year, there was not one job offer. The couple faced a life-changing decision, and Lady Florence came to the rescue. She had been in operation for eight years before that time.
They downsized from their country home in Bedfordshire to release capital to buy the business, and move to a small property in Orford. It was very much a hands-on business with John behind the wheel of Lady Florence and Susan in the tiny galley preparing all the food served from the a la carte menu, helped by a local galley slave.
Lunch cruises were quickly supplemented by evening dinner cruises in summer, and when both became fully booked at weekends, shorter morning brunch cruises were introduced with hash brown potatoes and American muffins and apple pie and cream.
Such was the success of the business that in six years it had grown from five lunches a week to twenty-one cruises over seven days. Lady Florence became a family business, first with elder son Rhys and his family in 1998, and then with younger son Craig in 2000. Craig left a senior position in the hotel industry, and with his partner, Kris, is running the business today.
Craig took on the Lady Florence in 2000, and sent parents to South Africa to establish a business there. During 2002, they bought the Allen Gardiner, another World War 2 wooden historic vessel, and Rhys converted her after we had had ten years’ experience of running Lady Florence. So after ten years, the business became International. Something of which we were very proud.
Craig and Kris spent the early years of the Allen Gardiner in Durban, South Africa establishing the business there, and we then employed non-family staff for day-to-day running of the Lady Florence.
Another ten years on, and Craig and Kris were struggling to keep two businesses 6000 miles apart on an even keel, as John and Susan were gradually handing over the business and looking forward to a well-earned semi-retirement.
So 2012 saw the decision to regroup and relocate Allen Gardiner to Ipswich. Incidentally, James Hehir, then Chief Executive of Ipswich Borough Council, in 2000 tried hard to have us relocate Lady Florence to his fledgling Waterfront in Ipswich.
The traumatic move of the Allen Gardiner from Durban to Ipswich during 2013, (a year-long saga), has merited a slide presentation of great interest, fascination, photographic amazement and enormous frustration, culminating in a licensing disaster.
However, the family team are winners and continue to win despite vicissitudes of that magnitude.
Twenty five years has been packed with excitement, interest, meeting wonderful customers, dramas, joy and a rewarding family bonding. A book needs to be written.
Lady Florence and Allen Gardiner are both historic wooden World War ll boats and both restaurants, but EVERYTHING else about them is different. Experience each of them and then try to decide which you enjoy most. It’s a challenge.
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