WHEN you arrive at The Haunt on Colchester’s North Hill you get a warm welcome.

Not only do you see the friendly faces of owners Karen Mole and Richard Margetts – but more often than not their faithful four-legged companion Chip is also enjoying its relaxed atmosphere.

And the little sausage dog is not the only canine welcome at the bar and eaterie, which opened its doors last month.

Karen, who previously worked in advertising, and her partner Richard admit it had been a long-held dream of theirs to open a pub or restaurant.

She says they knew they would have to find ways of catching the eye of potential customers and offering something other similar ventures in the town were not.

She explains: “That is why we really want to get the word out that the Haunt is dog friendly.

“Obviously because we have our own dog, we know that when you are working in the week you want to spend as much time at the weekend with them, taking them on walks and being outdoors.

“But you also want to go and have a nice drink or maybe a meal and sitting outside somewhere is not always that convenient.

“As far as I know there are very few, if any actually in the town centre, pubs and bars that allow you to take in dogs unless they are guide dogs of course.

“That doesn’t mean we have been over-run with them but it is nice people feel they can bring them in and the word is getting out there now that they are welcome,” she says.

Finding themselves in a position to take on a new challenge Karen and Richard had already seen the Grade IIlisted premises on North Hill, formerly a Mexican restaurant in its most recent incarnation, and decided to take a look.

NNChef: Richard Margetts in The Haunt kitchen 26 Gazette Thursday July 7, 2016 www.gazette-news.co.uk taste By LAUREN OLDERSHAW “We had a vision of how we wanted our place to be and when we came here we knew it was just right.

“It is a beautiful building, very historic, with beams and upstairs it even has a Jacobean fireplace which itself is Grade I-listed and some beautiful wall paintings.

“In the future we hope to use that as private dining room and it is already being booked up as a party venue.

“It has its own food preparation area and also a dumb waiter so you can bring things up from downstairs,”

says Karen.

In the main area the couple have put everything into completely refurbishing and clearing out the pub to embrace its heritage and make it a welcoming space.

This extends to the courtyard garden at the back, which now has comfortable furniture and is cleared of trees and shrubbery.

“It was a lot of hard work but we are really pleased with the outcome,” admits Karen.

She says they thought long and hard about the clientele they were aiming for and said with so many fine dining and wine bars nearby she knew they needed a hook to get people in, particularly during the day.

“We did not want to compete with those restaurants so we reflected that in the menu.

“They are dishes that people can very much share, platters, cheeseboards and pizza, while they enjoy a drink and a chat and perhaps then move on.

“Lots of customers have already said they wished they did not have somewhere else to go on to,” says Karen.

Richard divides his time between working behind the bar and in the kitchen where they have just appointed a chef, who trained with the Milsom group of restaurants.

During the day the focus has been on getting students from the nearby colleges to come in, enjoy an affordable sandwich and drink, and take advantage of the free wi-fi.

“My daughter is a student and when we were batting around ideas she said what they really wanted was somewhere they could go where they could get free wi-fi and buy affordable food. It is why the fast food restaurants are so popular.

“Coming here gives them an alternative to that,” she says.

The Haunt is also registered on a website which people can use to find out if dogs are welcome, doggypubs.com “Our aim is to make The Haunt relaxed and informal, like your local pub, but in the town centre,” says Karen.