Rita – a friendly face behind the bar for decades

The re-opening of the historic Dukes as a pub and restaurant a year ago was a life-changing moment for Rita Griffiths of Heath and Reach. And now she's back behind the bar of a pub she first worked in nearly two decades ago.

Rita, then working as a supervisor in a local fashion store, was delighted to see the pub she had worked at behind the bar nearly twenty years before was being revived by sisters Sarah Smith and Jo Carter.

“I loved that pub and I said to myself – I need to go back there. So I walked straight in while Sarah and Jo were in the middle of painting the pub up prior to the re-opening and asked them if they had any jobs going!”

Shortly afterwards, Rita was hired, and is now once again a familiar lunchtime face behind the bar of the venue known originally as the Dukes Head.

Rita – whose Welsh grandmother married a Russian escapee from the infamous POW camp at Belsen – has lived in Heath and Reach for more than  two decades and is a walking encyclopaedia on the recent history of the venue, an 18th century grade II listed, thatched roofed pub.

Rita, pictured behind the bar of the then Dukes Head in the 1990s

“In the mid 1990s the Duke’s Head was bought by a couple, Jim and Joy, who also had a couple of pubs, the Crown and the Plume of Feathers, in Dunstable.” Rita told us. “I was trained how to work behind a bar here at the Duke’s Head and stayed for about six years before moving on to the Axe and Compass, just down the road in Heath and Reach.

“I came back after Jim and Joy sold up and worked for a manager, Malcolm Wilkinson and his wife before the pub was sold again and went through various incarnations as Thai, Chinese and Indian restaurants. But I always loved the place and I made 100 per cent the right decision to come back to work here again – the Dukes is very people-oriented and very much a team effort all round, a great place to work”.

Rita, who is Front of House Assistant at the Dukes, says the job allows her to manage her home life, including looking after her grandchildren, perfectly. She can be seen behind the bar most mornings after serving breakfast to clients.

“The old place still looks the same but lots of things have changed since I started – the technology, with flat screen TVs and digital tills, are worlds removed from the old days. And the choice of bottled beers and alcoholic drinks is mind-boggling!” Rita added.