Michael Bergson: Shaking up Glasgow

March 2nd, 2017 | Posted in:

By Susan Young

Michael Bergson is close on to a legend in Glasgow city centre being one of the few Managers that has worked for Mario Gizzi, James Mortimer and Stefan King and remained on good terms with them all. This is a real testament to his work ethic and his personality but customers would probably know him best for his signature handshake. If there was an award for meeting and greeting Michael would win it hands down.

We met at Buck’s Bar, the Glasgow bar and diner which food reviewer Ron McKenna suggested was like a dark-like biker bar that you would find in an old Clint Eastwood movie. Says Michael, “He may not have meant it as a compliment, but we took it as one because that was what we were trying to achieve. We shared the comment on social media and it got more than 20,000 likes!”

Michael and wife Michelle have three places – their original Soho on Miller Street, Little Soho in Jordanhill and now Buck’s Bar – all Glasgow. But it was at the Old Ship Bank pub in Saltmarket that he learned his trade. He explains, “My first job was at the Old Ship Bank, it was my dads haunt, he lived above it. I went to work for Frank Hislop and his mum, and it is still run by Frank today. It was a good training ground because we had all sorts of customers. The law court was next door, but so was Paddy’s Market – so you had smart customers and scruffy ones, but Frank taught me never to refuse an outstretched hand and over the years I always greet everyone with a handshake – it’s my USP.”

He continues, “One of the best lessons Frank taught me was to always keep busy even if you are not serving, and he taught me to respect all my customers.”

From the minute he started working in The Ship Bank, Michael realised that the pub industry was for him, although initially, he had thought we would prefer working in nightclubs. He says, “My friend and I ran under18 nightclubs and I initially thought I would like to work in nightclubs. But once I started working in pubs I realised that the banter and the atmosphere was more up my street.”

His next step was working for Mario Gizzi at Di Maggio’s. Michael comments, “I saw an advert for a charge hand at a new bar and restaurant that was opening in East Kilbride. And I went for it. I was really lucky to work with Mario – he was there every day running it, day in, day out. I learned so much from him. His brain is like a computer. He adds all the wee details up and the big picture comes together. I worked for him for six years in total and just about every day I got pulled up for something… for instance before the smoking ban he always had a bug bear about dirty ashtrays, if there was as much as one cigarette butt in it, it had to be replaced! If the cellar was a mess it had to be sorted, if there was as much as £5 out of petty cash you needed to explain it, and if he called you on your mobile you had to pick up right away. That’s why he is the success he is and I have a huge amount of respect for him.”

He left Di Maggio’s to work for G1 when the Corinthian and Arta opened. He thought he was going to work at Arta, but then he was sent to work at the Corinthian. Says Michael, “The second week I was there Stefan asked me to work at the Corinthian. He told me I had a week to learn it inside out because the then management team would be leaving.

He then left G1 and went back to work for Mario. Says Michael, “I think I’ve been able to go back and forward because I always work hard until the very end of my employment whether it’s three months notice or whatever.”

Then in 2002, a friend of his, who worked for Tiger Tiger suggested he apply for a job there. Michael explains, “I applied for a managers position because I had always fancied working in London. So I went for an interview and they offered me the Assistant Managers role at Tiger Tiger in Manchester. I loved it. In fact, I still love Manchester. I was there for 11 months before they moved me back to Glasgow as General Manager at Tiger Tiger there. It had been struggling – in effect, the company had tried to run it the way they ran their London venue and that didn’t work in Glasgow. I had an amazing management team there – Gary Ross, Michael ‘Robo’ Robertson and David Friel as Head Chef.”

While he was working at Tiger Tiger in Glasgow he met his wife-to-be Michelle Mooney. Says Michael, “Michelle was a friend of a friend and I knew her, so when a sales manager job came up I put her forward, but she didn’t get the job, but I got the girl. Then six months later they came back and not realising we were going out, offered her the job. During her first year there she was the group’s sales manager of the year. She helped turn the business around. We concentrated on networking and booking the rooms for events, while Michael and Gary focussed on the operational side. It worked like a dream. We rented out the rooms and by 11 pm at night we already had 1,000 people in the venue. It was packed and we won awards – we won a DRAM Award too and that made a difference to the business. People recognised it as a Glasgow business. Unfortunately, the business was sold out to a private equity investor and although our bosses came to say “nothing will change”, even they were gone within six months.”

A chance meeting with James Mortimer of Lynnet Leisure in the then Living Room on St Vincent Street, led to Michael’s next role. Says Michael, ‘I bumped into James and the family in the Living Room, they had just sold the premises to Living Ventures and were enjoying a night out there. We got on really well and he took my phone number. The rest, as they say, is history. He showed me around the building that is now 29, and immediately I could see where James was coming from. Mind you, every time I spoke to him he had changed the plans a bit! I could feel that it was going to be amazing. Even as an empty shell it had an atmosphere. So when James offered me the job I was delighted to be on board. It was exciting and I got to be at the very beginning. I also took some folk with me from Tiger Tiger and although David Friel had by that time moved to Lodge on the Loch, he agreed to come on board too and of course Michelle – when James met her he said, “Have you ever worked for a mad man like me?” (Today Michelle still works one-day a week for Lynnet and helps with their charity events.)

“I don’t think I’ll work for anyone else again. I’m enjoying what we are doing now. I love my life.”

One Up and 29 went on to be great successes. Says Michael, “Working for James was great. If you wanted something to happen, he made it happen. He didn’t waste any time. James would run through brick walls to ensure that his business got everything it needed. For instance, the toughened glass initiative had just been introduced. Tiger Tiger took the news lying down, but James managed to get exemptions for particular areas.”

“Another thing that I liked was that James had a real focus on looking after customers. He got angry if customers complained. And he himself was a customer – he makes a point of dining in his own places. His has a huge business of property, wholesale, managed pubs and so on. And he likes to be hands on. He taught me never to take no for an answer.”

“One year, in particular, was just amazing. The business exploded. We ran a charity dinner with Gordon Ramsay and raised £450K for charity with 150 people; everyone from Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, Princess Anne, Sir Alex and The Prime Minister came. Our volumes were huge – particularly champagne. It was a great experience.”

Roll on three years and by that time Michael was ready to start out on his own. He and Michelle had wanted to open an American grill and they had found the perfect spot in Miller Street, but the first time it came up, they missed out. Luckily for them what was Fixx II became vacant again and they jumped at it. But by this time the credit crunch was hitting and the two feared that customers would be watching their pennies so they decided to go the pizzeria and cocktail route instead. Says Michael, “There was no pizzeria also doing good cocktails and we thought it had legs. However, we had no money. We got the last ever brewers loan from Scottish & Newcastle before it was taken over by Heineken, which for us was a good thing because we then had access to all these great beers. But honestly, when we opened we were skint. I had to borrow the float from my dad and I employed friends. After the first few months we didn’t look back.”

Two years he heard from G1 again. He says, “I was on holiday (stuck in New York due to the Ash cloud) when I got a call from Stefan’s PA, who asked me to meet Stefan for a coffee. When I got back he asked me to come on board at the Corinthian as a Director reporting into him. The package was really attractive and he specified that it would only be for a year. It was too good an opportunity to turn down. It was pleasurable to go back because by that time the business was running more smoothly and the management team was able to put all they had learned into it and it was beneficial to witness the operation of such a large head office infrastructure.”

I stayed more than three years, and during that time we invested the money I had earned in another business Little Soho in Jordanhill. My brothers all helped out (Michael has five younger brothers). They have all worked for me at one time or another.”

He left G1 a couple of years ago and since then has opened Buck’s. The idea came to him when he was in New York on an enforced stay. He says, “I keep getting stuck in places. This time we were in New York and were snowed in. Michelle and I were literally stuck for a week. I love trying local places and I love to eat so we headed to Peaches in Brooklyn. They had the best fried chicken and I thought I would love to do this in Scotland, and I had always wanted to do a good Rock n’ Roll bar. When we came back we tested out loads of recipes in Miller Street, and we did a kitchen plan and got the premises. We have been busy since we opened. And I really hope to open more of these.”

Michael is still very much a hands-on boss, although he does take Sunday’s off, and is now home to see the kids in the evenings and put them to bed. While Michelle is also heavily involved in the business particularly when it comes to marketing and social media.”

Says Michael, “I don’t think I’ll work for anyone else again. I’m really enjoying what we are doing now. I love my life.”


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