When Martin MacKay and Frank Cogan met as colleagues at Belhaven Brewery 16 years ago, little did they imagine that they would end up being business partners. Today the two are celebrating eleven years in business and for the past seven years have been operating as Bozz Co Inns Ltd, a small pub company, that is actively on the lookout for new acquisitions. I caught up with them at The Belmill Hotel in Bellshill to find out more about the business and why they chose Bellshill to spend £1m.
Frank met Martin when he joined Belhaven on the same day in 2000 – Frank, at the time, was in Business Development while although Martin joined as a Sales Representative he eventually moved into acquisitions. Frank had previously worked with Maclays and Guinness before moving to Belhaven, while Martin joined the brewer having previously worked for Sky. Says Martin, “I didn’t have any experience but I literally sold myself to Bill Hughes, who obviously recognised I had the drive and energy to make a success of it. I’ve never regretted the move.” The two, Frank and Martin, found themselves as kindred spirits, and the camaraderie they enjoyed working for Belhaven under then boss Jim Young, former Sales Director of Belhaven, has endured. In fact the two credit Jim with giving them the confidence to go forward in business. Says Martin, “Perhaps if Jim hadn’t moved on from Belhaven we would still have been working for him! He was a great guy to work for and has been a real mentor to us. He was definitely one of our biggest influences.” Their first acquisition was The Stewart Inn in Stepps which they still own, and which proved a challenge for the duo. Frank comments, “It’s a traditional wet-led pub, but it is our wean.
We’ve bought and sold a couple, but we wouldn’t sell The Stewart Inn. The other traditional pub that they have is The Cellar in Airdrie, which they bought and totally renovated. Says Frank, “It had been a whisky bar with 150 whiskies but we wanted to make appeal to a more diverse market. So we have taken it away from whisky – which was more aesthetic than practical, and brought in wider range of wines and spirits.” They have bought and sold two – the Athletic Vaults in Motherwell and most recently The Derby Inn also in Bellshill. Says Martin, “I think part of being in business is knowing when to sell and we always buy places with a secondary value in it. Both times we have sold up we have made out of it.” They also own The Union in Falkirk which they plan to turn into another Belmill Hotel which brings us nicely back to why I’ve paid a visit to Bellshill. The Belmill, which they bought a number of years ago, and which was formerly called Chaplins, has undergone a real transformation – the man responsible for the new look is Stephen Patterson of Burns Designer (he also previously did the The Cellar too).
The Belmill has gone from being a basic pub to one which would not look out of place in the city centre of Glasgow. It re-opened last Christmas after being closed for a year after the two sunk nearly £1m into the refurbishment, with the support of the Clydesdale Bank Frank comments, “Bellshill is a town of around 40,000 residents. We felt that Bellshill needed a decent pub and it’s great when people say to us thanks for giving us somewhere nice to go. In fact, when I look back at the old pictures I can hardly believe we ran it like that for five years! Bellshill is really under-rated. It’s only two minutes from Bothwell and 15 minutes on the train into the city centre of Glasgow. Our four new bedrooms are well utilised by tourists who book online and who appreciate the fact that the train station is next door. We considered putting a back door in to allow people to come straight from the train station into the pub, but while a nice idea, logically at night it would have been difficult to police. I definitely think by spending the money on The Belmill we have helped the profile of the town.” The whole building has been stripped back, walls knocked down and a new extension, kitchen and outdoor area added.
But one of the main expenses was the fact that the floor had to be dug out and steel beams put in. Says Martin, “We must have spent £150K on structural work. And that was before the two came across the gas issue.” Explains Frank, “We didn’t have enough gas and electricity coming into the property for the size of the kitchen, but we didn’t realise how complicated it was putting it in, how long it would take or the cost which was in the region of £40K.
It seemed simple enough at the time. I’m just glad we did it because we are now doing 150 plus covers a day in the restaurant and up to 300 a day at the weekend. ” The Belmill restaurant and bar is split into three zones – the front which has comfy couches booths and a posing table as well as a feature wall – which has a whisky display; the middle area which is perfect for dining; and a raised area, which you can get to via a ramp which curls around the wall. Martin explains, “It’s not just a design feature it is very practical too – it means that disabled people can access the whole area and are not restricted to where they can sit.” The upper area also leads out to a great outdoor area which they call ‘The Foxes Den’. This outside area is one of the best I have seen – reclaimed wooden tables, a log burning stove and a giant mural which features a local church and which Heverlee helped with, by bringing a Belgian Banksy over to do. It also has shutters and copper light shades which means the heat can be contained in the height of winter. Says Martin, “We show sport out here, but you can also eat here and smoke. In the summer it is great, but it is equally as good in the winter.” The décor is contemporary throughout with some reclaimed and refurbished pieces of furniture. Frank comments, “I just love it when you see the mix of people that we get here. For instance, you might have three generations of the same family enjoying afternoon tea, or people out for birthday celebrations.
We can accommodate functions for around 40 people in the raised area.” Next on the agenda is updating the old nightclub next door, which they plan to turn into a function suite. Upstairs the bedrooms are light and airy with contemporary décor and they feature a stand out piece of artwork which really adds to the warmth of the rooms. Says Martin, “We got a lot of the individual pieces from a great shop in Wishaw”. However says Frank, “It wasn’t all plain sailing. We hadn’t had rooms before and we didn’t know how to source laundry, etc. Luckily help was on hand from Steve Graham at Manorview, who we met on a brewers trip, and who gave us a steer on how to run a small hotel. He’s been really great at helping us out.” Another person who the two have met with has been Kenny Blair of Buzzworks. Says Martin, “He was also great. He gave us some very valuable advice especially when he said that when you open you are only 80% there and that your customers drag your round the other 20%. He was so right.” As to the future, they would like to replicate the look and ethos of The Belmill Hotel in Falkirk where they have The Union. Says Frank, “That will be another big investment. But Martin and I do like a challenge.”