Licensee Interview: Rock ‘n’ Rollo

October 15th, 2018 | Posted in: Editors' Picks,Features,People

JOHN AND KAREN ROLLO ARE NOW THE PROUD OWNERS OF EIGHT DUNDEE PUBS, HAVING PURCHASED THEM A FEW MONTHS AGO, CREATING REDWOOD PUBS. JOHN’S BASED AT THE BOARS ROCK, WHICH IS WHERE JASON CADDY CAUGHT UP WITH HIM FOR A CHAT.

Dundee’s hit the headlines lately because of the buzz around the new V&A and so has licensee John Rollo who, together with wife Karen, has just acquired eight pubs in the city.

Growing up and working in his parents pubs since the age of 18, the trade is in this quiet man’s blood, and for someone with such towering ambition, he was fairly reserved at first. But he soon got into his stride, telling me some funny stories about his calamitous community fundraising efforts. More on that later.

But back to business. The couple bought the pubs from Redwood Leisure, the company that John had previously worked for. The deal, which concluded in July, included The Bowbridge, The Clep, The Vault and The Barn, The Boars Rock, Halleys, Caws Bar and Sandy’s. Redwood Pubs, is the name of the business owned by the Rollos and it employs some 50 staff.

Explained John, “I got the managers job at The Boars Rock in 2000 when it was owned by Bett Inns. Prior to that I worked in various bars in Dundee. During my time at Bett Inns they decided to sell, and I became part of the management buy-out team. The new company was called Redwood Leisure, and I was one of several people involved in the buy-out. When the area manager retired, I took on this role for Redwood, as well as managing The Boars Rock.”

He continued, “I did the area manager job for about nine years, looking after several premises, and at the end of last year I spoke with Redwood Leisure MD Gordon Whiting about the possibility of him selling the pubs and the deal was struck – plus 11 residential properties above them, which are all rented out.

“My wife and I bankrolled this, raising the funds by selling back my shares to Gordon. We are now Redwood Pubs and Karen has appointed herself chairperson – I’m just the secretary! But the shares are 50/50. Redwood Leisure still operates and owns the Invercarse Hotel, Woodlands Hotel and Birkhill Inn.”

Karen and John worked together for 20 years in the trade, but prior to the acquisition, she’d been away from the trade since 2010, when she went to work for the community alarm scheme. Now that they are owner/operators in their own right, they pride themselves on offering the personal touch. Said John, “When customers walk into one of our pubs, the drinks usually poured before they get to the bar. A lot of the senior management structure is changing in Dundee because many of them have either passed away or retired and this type of service has gone with them. There are also less independents and more chains. I really hope this comes back because I think that customers feel like a table number rather than a customer when it’s too impersonal.”

We also chewed the cud about what he regarded as the major challenges that licensees face in today’s uncertain business climate, and whether or not his venues were benefiting from the spike of interest in all things Dundee since the opening of the V&A. He said, “We’re doing well on the back of the V&A’s launch because there are a lot of B&Bs around The Boars Rock, for example. My customers are very loyal, and I can see things getting better generally.”

He continued, “The biggest expense for licensees such as myself is Sky Sports and BT sports, and the more venues the better the deal, so it can be tough for licensee on their own. In this day and age you need a bit of food, premium drinks at a reasonable price and sports on the TV. A good local where they feel safe to come. ”

And he’s also keen to share the good news of other success stories in the city. “Gordon Whiting has just added 30 rooms to the Invercarse, and he’s done the same at The Woodlands Hotel just past Broughty Ferry, and that’s mainly for the golfing business,” John explained.

So with all these pubs to look after, what’s a typical day involve for John Rollo? “I start work at 7am every day. I start out at The Boars Rock and then leave at about 10 a.m. to visit all the other bars. Karen also does the rounds checking that everything’s running smoothly. She does all of the staff rotas. I generally try to knock off at 5 o’clock and then come back in about 7pm. That’s dedication, I know, but it’s the only way to make things work these days,” he said.

Away from work, John has done lots of charity work and continues to do so despite the odd calamity. “I went abseiling for Dundee FC youth team and I nearly killed myself,” he explained with a wry smile. “It was a 450-foot high building, the Uni Tower in Dundee. I was the first person to ever have come down upside down. I had gloves on but my hand slipped and my spectating wife and daughter thought I was a goner.”

the oldest junior teams in Scotland. For my sins, I like to watch Dundee FC!”

John and Karen live in Monifieth and have two daughters, neither of whom are remotely interested in the trade, despite growing up in it. “One’s a nurse in Inverness at Craigmure Hospital. The younger one is a student and she’s working part-time at The Woodlands with Gordon,” he said. “They were brought up in the trade. I used to give them pocket money for putting out the beermats out in the morning. They’ve got no aspirations to follow in our footsteps – they’ve seen how hard it is for mum and dad. I worked 106 hours one week!”

Given the fact that the two of them work like mad, Karen is trying to twist John’s arm about a cruise, but John seems to be more concerned with his wet sales than sailing. “My daughter brought us an anniversary present last year and we stayed at the Green Market in Edinburgh for our 25th anniversary. My wife tells me that I need a bigger break as our 50th birthdays approach, but a cruise? I’d prefer not to be away for two weeks and keep my feet on dry land at this early stage in the business!”

And if you need any more proof that the trade is in John’s blood, get this, he also happens to be related to former Dundee licensee, Jonathan Stewart. He found out after Jonathan had been doing some digging into his family tree. Jonathan has since called time on the trade but continues to cast a very long shadow in Broughty Ferry and Dundee, and is greatly admired by John. “Once he got his teeth into something he doesn’t let go,” is how John described Jonathan and, given his recent achievements, John was obviously also blessed with a similar type of tenacity..


Orry Shand named Chef of the Year at ScotHot

Mon 18th March 2019

Orry Shand, of Entier, won Scottish Chef of the Year at this year’s ScotHot at Glasgow’s SECC, sponsored by Brakes Sco... Read more.

Average spend on late-night out increases 15.5% to almost £70

Mon 18th March 2019

The average spend on a late-night out has increased 15.5% to £68.68, according to the latest Deltic Night Index, compared with £59.49 for ... Read more.

Scottish chefs set out vision to reform hospitality industry 

Thu 14th March 2019

More than 60 chefs and cooks from across Scotland have pledged their support to a new culinary manifesto, which aims to reform Scotland’s ... Read more.

SCALA boss welcomes Brexit delay

Thu 14th March 2019

Theresa May will make a third attempt to get her EU withdrawal deal through Parliament in the next week after MPS voted to reject a no-deal ... Read more.

Historic Auchtermuchty pub on the market

Wed 13th March 2019

The Forest Inn in Auchtermuchty is now on the market with offers invited for the three-storey property. Christie’s and Co in Edinburgh is ... Read more.

Hotfoot it to ScotHot

Wed 13th March 2019

Which licensee worth his or her salt isn’t looking for an opportunity to meet with suppliers, network with others to share ideas and i... Read more.

BUZZWORKS RETAINS ITS PLACE ALONGSIDE THE BEST IN UK 

Tue 12th March 2019

Buzzworks Holdings has been named in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work for in the UK for the fourth consecutive year. It recognise... Read more.

Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival returns for 2019 with foodie focus

Tue 12th March 2019

Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival returns to the city this May, from Friday 24 – Saturday 25 May, with a special foodie focus. It’s... Read more.

SCOTTISH LICENSEES RECOGNISED AT STAR AWARDS

Mon 11th March 2019

The achievements of top Scottish licensees were celebrated at Star Pubs & Bars’ annual Star Awards. The awards were the biggest ever h... Read more.

ScotHot study shines spotlight on mental health in hospitality sector

Mon 11th March 2019

Nearly 60% of people working in Scotland’s hospitality industry have experienced mental health problems at work, a new national survey has... Read more.

The Beer and Now

Thu 7th March 2019

It’s the world’s most popular drink after water and tea. There’s even a crater on the moon named after it. We’re talking about beer ... Read more.

BREWDOG LAUNCHES ITS FIRST DRAFT HOUSE PUB IN ABERDEEN

Thu 7th March 2019

BrewDog debuts its new Draft House pub called The Hop & Anchor, on Exchange Street, in its home city of Aberdeen, on Friday 8th March. I... Read more.

Whisky storms to the top of Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index with 40% annual growth

Thu 7th March 2019

The Wealth Report 2019 reveals that new entrant whisky has topped the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), surging in value by 40% ... Read more.

QUILMES REFRESH AND NEW NAME

Wed 6th March 2019

Morgenrot’s Argentine beer brand Quilmes has undergone a full brand revamp including a new packaging makeover of its bottles and cans, and... Read more.

GREEN INK FOR PILSNER

Wed 6th March 2019

Carlsberg UK has unveiled a new, ‘better’ Carlsberg Danish Pilsner to minimise its environmental impact, with sustainable packaging and ... Read more.

Star Pubs & Bars injects £960,000 investment into four Edinburgh pubs

Tue 5th March 2019

Two multiple operators are undertaking major investments with Star Pubs & Bars as part of a £960,000 investment in four Edinburgh pubs ... Read more.

COUNTING HOUSE DOME RESTORATION

Tue 5th March 2019

The historic centre-piece domed ceiling at The Counting House in Glasgow’s George Square, Wetherspoon’s first pub in Scotland that opene... Read more.

Design Focus: The Crescent

Tue 5th March 2019

It’s been a long time coming, but Bubbles and Rahul Randev of the R Group have finally unveiled their latest Glasgow venture, The Crescent... Read more.

Design Focus: Cold Town House

Tue 5th March 2019

Bucket loads of divine design inspiration evidently rained down on Tibbatts Abel, the people responsible for the look and feel of Cold Town ... Read more.

Diageo launches new series of films to celebrate 2019 International Women’s Day

Mon 4th March 2019

As the world comes together this International Women’s Day on March 8th to celebrate #BalanceforBetter Diageo has released a new seri... Read more.