EARLIER this spring, word spread through Cornwall, England, and beyond: The revered Ferry Boat Inn had new owners.
Having grown up in Cornwall, brothers Ben and Alex Towill knew their investment in the coastal restaurant and pub (the inn’s rooms are now individually owned apartments) would create a stir. This was the Ferry Boat, after all, a cherished institution where locals and visitors had gathered for more than 300 years.
Fortunately, the Towills are used to public recognition. Ben moved to New York City in his 20s and opened the popular neo-gastropubs Fat Radish and Bar Belly, and Alex recently inked the sale of Hubbox, the British restaurant chain he co-founded with Richard Boon, inspired by American street food. (“We always say that [Alex] does American food in Britain, and I do British food in America,” Ben says.) Kate, Ben’s wife, is an American interior and set designer who has worked on Wes Anderson films, an office for Suno and a Kanye West–directed Drake video, while Sarah, Alex’s wife, is a sought-after artist in Cornwall. For the foursome, a collaboration has long been a shared goal. “When the Ferry Boat came on the market out of nowhere last year,” Alex says, “our dream of a family business just fell into place.”
Ben and Kate oversaw the renovations, drawing on the commercial and residential design projects they’ve specialized in since moving to Charleston, South Carolina, in 2012. (Their design firm, Basic Projects, officially launched in 2014.) “Authenticity was key,” Kate says. “The design had to feel like it had been passed through families.”
They stripped the interior of the previous owner’s “faux-London” aesthetic to uncover original arches and plaster fireplaces. Much of the art and photography is either left over from the original pub or gifted by longtime regulars. Meanwhile, Alex updated the menu, adding daily specials (mackerel-and-beet tacos) to the lineup of classics (fish and chips, burgers, seasonal crab rolls). Sarah’s illustrations are featured prominently on the menu and website.
“Cornwall is a beautiful, rugged, very real place,” Ben says, “and the Ferry Boat Inn is a huge part of that magic.”