Roarty Makes his Mark in Ayr
It is fair to say that Vinnie Roarty does not like to let the grass grow under his feet and he can’t pass up a good business opportunity either, which may explain why he has opened two new venues in just over a year – and already has his sights set on a third.
Like many people in the licensed trade, Vinnie, 36, was drawn to it after taking a part-time bar job when he was a student. He loved the work and soon decided that a career in advertising and PR – the course he was on at the Central College of Commerce in Glasgow at the time – was not for him.
He explains, “I had a part-time job at the Clockwork Beer Company in the South Side of Glasgow. They brewed their own beer and had a fantastic range of whiskies – it was a great grounding for me. Fortunately I managed to fall into the trade and haven’t looked back after that.”
Vinnie went from there to the G1 Group, where he helped prepare for the opening of their Tusk venue in Glasgow. His hard work and dedication, helping out in the stock room and so on, paid off – and he was soon offered the job of bar supervisor by then manager Mark Lappin.
Two years later Vinnie joined the trainings and openings team at G1 – something he now describes as his favourite role so far.
He says, “I was doing lots of really exciting stuff for them. They were opening places all over Scotland and re-branding units. I got involved in all facets of training, developing cocktail lists and things like that. It was a great time – probably my most favourite role since I started.”
After a stint as assistant manager at The Corinthian in Glasgow, also for G1, he left the company to work for the Budda Group.
Initially Vinnie was based at their Sauchiehall Street venue before moving to their flagship unit on Cresswell Lane. Again, he was involved in openings and expansion for the company, gaining valuable experience which has clearly stood him in good stead ever since.
In November 2011, he went into partnership with Sean Cairnduff and Euan Bain and the trio took on the Church on the Hill.
Vinnie says, “The investment to get in was £30,000 between the three of us because the accounts were so bad for the previous years – nobody wanted to take it on. I borrowed money from my parents to get on board.
“At that point I knew it was either try something for myself or go and work for another company – so I decided to go for it.”
They took the ailing premises over in the November and worked Christmas with the existing staff, before freshening things up in January. There was no money left in the budget for a proper refurbishment at that stage – but a blitz on PR and marketing soon had the customers coming back anyway.
Vinnie explains, “We did a bit of PR and marketing and almost overnight it just took off and turned into this monster.
“Sean and I were both from the South Side and I think people responded to the fact that we were local people. They came and gave it a shot and luckily we were good enough that they kept coming back.
“One of the keys things we did was to go from a bought in, mainly frozen, food offering to fresh, and a more exciting pub menu.
“In the kitchen, chef Kevin Cutliffe was the key man of the whole operation. He went on to develop menus and help with the other two openings we did. Without him, we wouldn’t have been half as successful as we were.
“We changed the menu to include things like scallops and quirky twists on favourite pub dishes like a Duck shepherd’s pie, which for the South Side in 2011 was unheard of and quite exciting.”
From there, Vinnie persuaded Sean and Euan to take on Strata, on Queen Street, in the city centre which had been sitting empty for about a year.
They kept the branding, but modernised things a bit and freshened the place up and within a few months of opening it had won DRAM’s new cocktail bar of the year.
Two years later Euan left the partnership to pursue his own interests.
Sean and Vinnie then took on The White Elephant, in Merrylee, Glasgow, in 2014, ploughing £80,000 into a refurbishment to create a family-friendly offer with an emphasis on good quality food and great value for money.
Despite working well together, Vinnie and Sean found they were increasingly having to make small compromises within their partnership and decided that it was finally time to do their own thing.
Sean subsequently bought Vinnie out of all three businesses, leaving him free to start building his own portfolio down in Ayr, where he now lives.
He moved to the area six years ago with wife Kirsty, 33, who is a part-time teacher and mum to the couple’s three young sons.
Vinnie bought his first unit, The Newmarket, in the town centre, last June and spent £80,000 refurbishing it, working with Michael Dunn, of Dunn Interiors, who has carried out most of his refurbishments.
But when the venue opened in August, things did not go quite to plan.
He explains, “I went in with what I thought people in Ayr wanted. I thought there was very little difference between the offerings and that I would try to do something really quite cutting edge, but it turned out to be too cutting edge. People were coming in to look at the menu and as many were walking back out as were sitting down to eat.
“Basically I ripped the menu up and started again. It’s safer, more generic now, but with a couple of interesting options too. We posted the new menu on Facebook and the reaction was great and it snowballed from there.
“We also developed the drinks side of the business a lot more too – we are probably the go-to bar in Ayr now for people who want a good drink.”
With a good cocktail list and over 90 gins on offer, it is not hard to see why that might be the case.
Vinnie adds, “From the November we had a good Christmas and even in January and February we were trading about 40% up on where we had been in the October. We tried out different deals but then we stuck a set menu on for Monday to Friday and it really worked. We hammered the hell out of Facebook and were relentless with social media too.”
In July Vinnie took on his latest venture – The Brooklyn Cafe, also in Ayr – and carried out his own refurbishment, before opening at the start of September. He managed to keep the budget to just £40,000, by doing all the design work himself and using things like reclaimed wooden pallets.
He says, “It was just a mixture of materials that were cost-effective but would actually look good and be different. That said, there are probably a lot of design clichés, like the London Brick tiles in the kitchen – it’s not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination but it works.”
The look, which includes graffiti-style art by Glasgow-based Devo, is very much casual New York – one of Vinnie’s favourite cities – and ties in perfectly with the burger and wood-fired pizza menu.
Vinnie says, “There are lots of families in Ayr and I wanted to create somewhere that they would feel comfortable, where students would feel comfortable – anyone who maybe feels that The Newmarket is too high-end for them.
“I’ve been over to New York and Brooklyn a lot and I just love it, so that seemed a good starting point.”
Vinnie even travelled to Naples, in Italy with his two oldest boys, to visit the oldest pizzeria in the city and eat proper Neapolitan pizza.
He adds, “I have to say I loved it but the guys up at Paesano are knocking out just as good pizzas and that’s a credit to them. My market research should have just ended in Glasgow – but it was a good trip.”
Already the Brooklyn is doing well – partly due to Vinnie’s dedication. He knows how important it is to make sure everything is perfect from the start and regularly works 13-hour days to keep it that way.
Both restaurants have around 80 covers each and The Newmarket also has two function rooms. Between the two venues he employs 40 staff.
But Vinnie is currently looking at another project.
He admits, “When I went away from having three venues I said that I’d just focus on one but I get itchy feet and I am looking at another venue.
“It’s tough down in Ayrshire and there are a lot of distressed units. I just think if you can pick something up at a reasonable price, and you know you can make it work, you can’t really let that opportunity pass.
“The common theme with everything that I’ve done is that it’s been lying empty. If you don’t have money you have to start somewhere.
“The biggest thrill for me is seeing all your hard work, and everything that you had in your head, translate into a venue and it working, people having a great time and the feedback you get from them.
“That’s what it’s all about.”