Time flies when you're having fun, reflects Jon Maslen-Jones, one year on from signing the lease on the Caledonia.
"The first six months felt like six years, but the past six have seemed like six weeks. It's really a pleasure to work here now."
The story of the past year is one of transformation. A year ago the Cally, which sits in the middle of a West Midlands housing estate, was serving up mostly lager and pop videos to noisy young people, some of whom often rounded off the evening's entertainment by fighting in the street outside.
Now it's much more of a community pub. Quiz nights, live music, darts and crib leagues have replaced the video screens as entertainment; steaks, mixed grills and other traditional pub grub are selling well; and people who had steered clear of the Cally for years, intimidated by its atmosphere, have returned.
Jon pinpoints New Year's Eve as the turning point. "That was the first enjoyable family occasion. It was the first time we could see what we'd been working for for six months, starting to happen. The right sort of customers were coming in, people were having a good time, and saying how nice it was to be able to come in here and not find loutish behaviour."
Three months earlier, Jon had made a key decision. He had identified an element among the regulars who, through their behaviour, discouraged older people and their families from coming to the Cally. So he banned them as a first step to giving the pub back to the local community.
"We knew it would result in a fall in trade, but I don't think we knew just how drastic that would be."
Takings plummeted from about £2,000 a week to a new low of about £800, but Jon held his nerve - even when the banned element retaliated by throwing the occasional half-brick through the windows of the pub or, equally frightening, of the adjoining house where Jon, girlfriend Michaela and daughter Emma were living.
Jon's confidence was shaken, and he was filled with misgivings about whether he should have given up his job as operations manager at contract caterer Gardner Merchant to take over a pub.
He was also experiencing troubles in his relationship with landlord Allied Domecq Inns: while there was broad agreement about the plan to change the customer mix, the pub company's management felt Jon was trying to push too fast, and was reluctant to fund some of his proposals.
Against this background, Jon took two radical steps. He and Michaela, who had fixed their wedding date for March, decided they would move away from the accommodation adjoining the pub to a rented house elsewhere in Dudley - just far enough to give them some privacy. The wedding and move went ahead as planned.
Jon also decided, having had about two nights off in the first six months, to advertise for an assistant manager. Shortly afterwards he found himself chatting in the bar to "Mad Mick" Hartshorne, a former pub tenant. Jon offered him the job, and Mick started just before Christmas.
Mick's natural showmanship and long experience of pub management are complementary to Jon's skills as a business manager. Mick has tightened up the food purchasing, has organised quiz nights and other entertainment at the Cally and has generally taken the pressure off Jon. "He's much more than an assistant manager," says Jon, who now gets a night off every week without having to worry about the pub when he's not there.
While Jon gets on like a house on fire with Mick, the relationship with Allied Domecq has been "more a roller-coaster". He argues that the company ought to have rebated some of the rent on the Caledonia to compensate for the lost business while he was turning away the undesirable element.
Allied Domecq took a fairly tough line on that, and Jon's refurbishment programme, both for the interior and for improved facilities outside, is moving ahead more slowly than he would have liked. But Allied Domecq's cautious approach may prove to be right - and Jon is collaborating with the management on ideas to give the Cally a warmer, more traditional "look and feel".
A local craftsman is working his way through the 14 black-painted tables in the bar, stripping them and restaining them a dark oak colour. Jon negotiated a deal for all the tables to be done at £25 each - a big saving on buying new.
Hardly traditional, but proving popular, are the karaoke nights that the Caledonia now holds on occasional Saturdays. This idea was "pinched" from a neighbouring pub, and the Cally is drawing some trade away from that pub, too. Prize games are also popular at the Cally. The other pub copied the Caledonia's "Play your cards right", so Jon and Mick responded with "Take your pick".
NatWest Bank, which has been supportive of Jon from the time he submitted his business plan, even before he had found the Caledonia, has agreed to lend another £6,000 for Jon to clear arrears.
The original £18,000 loan had been whittled down by repayments to about £13,000, but rent arrears had built up to about £1,500 and arrears on bar stocks to about £4,200. The Caledonia will repay the new loan at £200 a month over three years, on top of the £600 a month for the next two years on the original loan. "It helps the cash flow," says Jon.
There is plenty of unfinished business at the Cally. Jon wants to do more improvements inside and has plans for a children's play area outside. But as he says: "We need to watch our spending now."