Who to watch in Scotland’s licensed trade in 2017

February 6th, 2017 | Posted in: Features

Scotland is full of enterprising entrepreneurs, particularly in the Scottish licensed trade. Here we highlight just some of the most successful – who were on the acquisition trail in 2016 and outline their plans for 2017.

We also take a look at some up-and-coming groups worth watching.


Caledonian Heritable founder Kevin Doyle (above) was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2016 Scottish Bar and Pub Awards and for good reason as his pub and property empire continued to prosper last year. The company reported a pre–tax profit increase from £5.1m to £7m in 2016 and an increased turnover of £34.4m. Key highlights from 2016 include the reopening of Compass in Leith in January after it was expanded and refurbished and a makeover of Ryan’s Bar in Edinburgh plus the opening of Inverness restaurant Encore une Fois (One More Time).

Caledonian Heritable also acquired Grange Inns in April 2016, which included two Cask and Barrel venues, No. 1 Grange Rd and The Waiting Rooms, all in Edinburgh. Caledonian Heritable has over £100m invested in the licensed trade and it owns over 100 licensed premises outright across Scotland including The Theatre Royal, The Dome, The Roseburn and the Tynecastle Arms, with co–investments in a further 100–200 businesses; and supports over 700 staff overall.

On the agenda for 2017 is the refurbishment of The Peartree in Edinburgh, which is currently being expanded into the former Blind Poet next door, which is also owned by Caledonian Heritable. The company’s Edinburgh headquarters at New Charlotte House on Hope Street, situated above Ryan’s Bar, will also undergo a refurbishment, plus we hear there’s plenty of other projects in the pipeline.




Mario Gizzi and Tony Conetta, owners of The Di Maggio’s Restaurant Group (DRG), started 2016 strongly with a 25% leap in annual profits on a turnover of more than £30m with a pre–tax profit of £4.37m. Last year also saw Mario and Tony open cosmopolitan seafood restaurant Cadiz on George Street in Edinburgh, just above their Cafe Andaluz. The pair also teamed up with Paul Sloan to open Topolabamba on Lothian Road in Edinburgh. Looking ahead, the group revealed it is to open a new venue in The Registers in Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square with work starting in October. The duo

The duo are investing £2m in the venture which will see the former banking hall of the historic RBS HQ transformed into a 200 cover restaurant and two bars.The pair are also set to expand the popular Cafe Andaluz concept with new openings in Edinburgh and Newcastle. The DRG Group currently comprises of 18 venues, including Anchor Line and Atlantic, and employs 950 staff. We also understand there are plans to install a new aparthotel in the St Vincent Place building The DRG purchased last year, above The Anchor Line and Atlantic Bar and Brasserie.

There are also plans to install a new 64-room, £8m aparthotel in the St Vincent Place building The DRG purchased last year, above The Anchor Line and Atlantic Bar and Brasserie, which is due to open in 2018.

Buzzworks’ Colin and Alison Blair (middle)


Ayrshire–based group Buzzworks Holdings, spearheaded by brothers Colin and Kenny Blair and sister Alison, enjoyed a strong 2016, during which they broadened their already impressive portfolio of properties to include The Corner House in Kilwinning, formerly the Stag and Hound pub. Last year, the company also secured themselves a place on The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For.

This year will see Buzzworks step outside of Ayrshire for the first time with an opening in Bridge of Weir, West Renfrewshire. Work has already begun on a £1m project to transform the former Weir pub and restaurant into a stylish bar and restaurant called The Coach House. It will create more than 40 jobs and is due to open in the summer.

In 2017, Buzzworks will also invest £500k in a major refurbishment and transformation of Scotts in Troon and have hinted that yet another major investment or refurbishment is on the cards for later in the year. The company owns nine venues including Scotts in Troon and Largs, Lido venues in Prestwick and Troon, The Treehouse in Ayr, The Longhouse in Kilmarnock, The Mill House in Stewarton and the new property in Kilwinning. Buzzworks now employees more than 400 employees and reported a turnover of more than £15m in the last financial year.


Steve Graham’s Manorview Hotels & Leisure Group enjoyed a busy 2016. The family-owned business bought over Cornhill House in Biggar last March, and re-named it Cornhill Castle. This month it revealed a £750k refurbishment of the hotel’s function suite. Last year, the group also opened luxury boutique hotel Boclair House Hotel, in Bearsden, which included an expansive ballroom, a Parisian-styled restaurant and lounge bar, a private dining room and 12 bedroom suites.

The group also closed out 2016 by adding The Star & Garter Hotel in Linlithgow to its growing portfolio in December. The three-storey Georgian mansion, known locally as ‘The Star’, was bought from local businessmen Ross Wilkie, David Kennedy and fellow director John Ward. A six-figure refurbishment of the popular hotel’s bar and restaurant is planned for Spring 2017. Manorview employs 450 staff across its portfolio of nine hotels, which includes The Busby Hotel in Clarkston, The Bowfield Hotel & Country Club in Howwood, and The Lynnhurst Hotel in Johnstone.

The company recorded a turnover of £11m and a pre-tax profit of £1.1m for the year ending March 2016. It has since reported total sales revenues up 33% on the previous year and a like for like increase of 6%, with gross profit margins remaining in line with the previous year.

Forth Wines Passion for Wine Award. Winner: Nic Wood, Signature Pub Group (L)


Signature Pubs were on the acquisition trail last year and shows no sign of stopping. Last May it completed a deal which saw it take on five former Thistle Pub company pubs, formerly part of the Maclays estate. The pubs bought were The Raven, The Hope and Munros in Glasgow; The Wick in Prestwick and Clerk’s Bar in Edinburgh. Just prior to that it also purchased The West Port Bar & Kitchen in St Andrews, which represented their first business outwith Edinburgh.

The company also opened Badger & Co in Edinburgh after a £1.35m redevelopment, refurbished the hotel rooms at the Rutland and launched new apartments. It also bought The Fountain in Edinburgh. And finally, at the end of the year it bought the business and freehold of the Spiritualist in Glasgow’s Miller Street.

It’s estate also includes The Rutland Hotel, Edinburgh, The Rutland Apartments, Edinburgh, The Huxley, Edinburgh, Kyloe, Edinburgh, Heads & Tales, Edinburgh, Badger & Co, Edinburgh, The Basement Bar, Edinburgh, Black Bull, Edinburgh, Element, Edinburgh, The Queens Arms, Edinburgh and The West Port, St Andrews. The company in its last audited accounts had a turnover of just under £12m and made a profit of just over £1.5m. It currently employs 300 people.


R Group restaurant and bar owners Rahul and Pravesh (Bubbles) Randev had an industrious 2016, expanding their portfolio to six with the opening of two successful neighbourhood bar/restaurants. They focus on capitalising on the growing trend of people choosing to dine out locally. The brothers merged former restaurant Irrocco in Lenzie with next door Carriages through a £1m investment and year–long renovation to transform the properties into one stylish pub restaurant, The Grove. They also opened The Larder in the centre of Bearsden, replacing Spanish restaurant Las Ramblas. Both venues are proving a success and have had a great response from customers and critics alike.

In 2017, they plan to open a roof terrace on the top of The Grove which will have its own bar and will be accessible by a lift within the restaurant. There are also plans for an extensive refurbishment of both the bar and restaurant at The Eagle Lodge in Bishopbriggs, which they opened in 2013. This is scheduled for the summer. The R Group operates six venues across East Dunbartonshire including Garvie and Co in Milngavie and Oregano at The Eagle Lodge in Bishopbriggs.


Late 2016 saw business partners Stephen White and Oli Norman (above) bring together their collection of bars under a single umbrella, called Great Glasgow Institutions and Taverns. Last year the pair purchased the freehold and trading business of landmark Glasgow bar The Griffin in a deal worth around £1.2m.

The bar was relaunched in September 2016 after a £300k refurbishment, which involved the installation of a new kitchen, new function area and the restoration of original features, plus an incredibly popular ‘Gin Palace’ bar. They also announced the latest addition to their portfolio, Maggie Mays on Glasgow’s Trongate, which was another plus £1m deal. 2017 will see the pair redevelop the popular bar – keeping the best bits and improving on its existing features. Both join a portfolio which also includes Brel, Blackfriars and Sloans in Glasgow. Worth watching…


Edinburgh entrepreneur Billy Lowe sold his Saltire Taverns business back in 2015 in a multi–million– pound deal, which saw venues including the Le Monde and Angel’s Share boutique hotels in Edinburgh move into the portfolio of the Glendola Leisure Group. But with a 35–year career behind him, it wasn’t long before he was lured back to the trade.

In 2016, Lowe acquired the Links Hotel at Bruntsfield and Malones Irish bar in Forrest Road, which has been renamed McSorley’s. We hear he intends to refurbish both and believes McSorley’s could become Edinburgh’s answer to Colin Beattie’s popular Oran Mor in Glasgow. Lowe also plans to invest over £1m to transform and rebrand the Links Hotel, which he bought in July last year. The revamp is due to start at the end of February. The refurbishment of McSorley’s bar will happen this summer.

Lowe has named his latest business Caledonia, following the Scottish theme set by his previous ventures, Thistle Inns and Saltire Taverns. Lowe also aims to pursue other properties in Edinburgh, so watch this space.


Tommy McMillan flies under the radar, most of the time, and that’s the way he likes it. But the former footballer has been steadily building up a successful pub estate since 2000, and his estate now has some 30 plus pubs. Most of his estate is leased out or run under management, But he also runs a wholesale business Alchemy Drinks supplying pubs and clubs.

But in true entrepreneurial spirit, he is also involved in various other businesses too. His estate includes the Dumbuck Hotel, The Black Bull in Polmont and The Canalside Pub & Grill. Future acquisitions are on the cards.


Andrew (Macky) McMahon and Jakub Zakrzewski, who co–founded The Bon Viveur Group, opened their fourth Dundee venture in March 2016, an innovative tapas bar restaurant and art gallery called Gallery 48.

Capitalising on Dundee’s vast creative community, the multi–function venue operates as a bar, restaurant, art gallery and creative hub with a focus on Spanish tapas dishes and creative gin serves, and also runs language and cooking classes. Gallery 48 opened after a £50k refurbishment of The Westport Gallery, and features work by artists from across the city rotated every six weeks. It even won Innovative Business of the Year at the 2016 Scottish Bar and Pub Awards.

For 2017, the pair plan to open another venue in Dundee in the summer, and will be staying close to the West Port area, but are keeping plans under wraps for now. They run four Dundee venues in total, including The D’Arcy Thompson, The Tinsmith, Gallery 48 and The West House and employ 90 staff.


Posted by Kinnettles Castle Exclusive use venue on Monday, 16 January 2017


Adam Newth, Arbroath–born chef proprietor of The Tayberry in Broughty Ferry, has plenty in the works for 2017, with two new ventures opening in Fife and Angus. The 26–year–old has taken on the catering at Kinnettles Castle near Forfar, which has been relaunched as an exclusive use wedding and private events venue.

He is also to open a second restaurant in St Andrews in April within Kinnettles Hotel, called The Tayberry at Kinnettles. Newth is leasing the new 40–cover restaurant from the hotel’s owners Ogstons Holdings Limited, which is spending around £1m on the refurbishment. The two new ventures will see the young chef triple his dozen staff, and all three will operate under his business Newth Hospitality Ltd.

Newth is a former Scotland’s Young Chef of the Year and Scotland’s Young Seafood Chef of the Year. He opened his first restaurant, The Tayberry, in 2015. In 2016, it recorded a turnover of £250k. Newth also worked as head chef at Castlehill, helping the restaurant become the first independent eatery in Dundee to hold two AA rosettes.


In 2016, Paul Sloan and business partner Mario Gizzi opened Chaakoo Bombay Cafe (above) on St Vincent Street in Glasgow, not far from their Mexican eatery Topolabamba. Chaakoo, located on the site of the former Irish theme bar Failte, serves up fusion tapas style Bombay, India and Indo–China inspired dishes. It’s been a huge success so far, and currently ranks as Glasgow’s No.1 restaurant on TripAdvisor, so no surprise there are also plans in the works to roll out the concept in Edinburgh.

The pair also opened a new Topolabamba in Edinburgh on Lothian Road in 2016. In 2017, there are plans to open a new Glasgow venture, Mezzidakia on St Vincent Street, which will operate under Sloan’s Hunky Dory Dining (HDD) company name, and negotiations are ongoing over two other city centre sites. They have set up a company called Fabulously Scottish Hotels (a joint venture between HDD and The DRG) and are planning to open two new hotels in 2017, The Roury in Fort William and another hotel in Oban, joining The Ranald Hotel. Paul Sloan operates a total of nine units across Scotland with additional units let out to tenants. HDD employs approximately 200 employees with that number set to rise to 270 by 2018.

Paul Sloan operates a total of nine units across Scotland with additional units let out to tenants. HDD employs approximately 200 employees with that number set to rise to 270 by 2018.


Kevin Campbell and Toni Carbajosa added another successful Greek eatery to their roster in 2016 with the launch of Halloumi on Hope Street in Glasgow, an 80–cover, tapas–style restaurant with a Mediterranean feel and focus on casual dining. The pair then moved into Asian fusion cuisine by rounding off the year with the launch of Temaki, also on Hope Street, in December, which is notable for introducing the ‘sushi burrito’ to Glasgow.

They also have big plans for this year, having just opened Mezze, a new Greek seafood restaurant on the top floor of the North Rotunda, just above La Rotunda, which they also own. The 100–cover restaurant will serve small plates, with an emphasis on Scottish seafood and will have a Mediterranean feel.

There are also plans for a Korean BBQ restaurant in Glasgow’s West End, and the pair also have their sights set on Glasgow’s southside. Their Glasgow portfolio also includes Rioja and Pickled Ginger in Finnieston, city centre restaurant Athena, and La Rotunda.


This up and coming group now has leaseholds on 10 premises the majority of which are based in the Finnieston area of Glasgow. These include Lebowskis, Porter & Rye and The Finnieston, with another bar set to open shortly, as well as a deli.

Openings in 2016 included the Kelbourne Saint in the city’s West End, The Drugstore Social and Lebowskis South Side, all in Glasgow. The group has said that it wants to open two venues per year between now and 2020.

Reporting by Susan Young and Laura Smith

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Laura Smith

Laura Smith

Journalist at DRAM Magazine
Laura Smith writes across our flagship publications, including DRAM and The Wee Dram. Dedicated to her craft, Laura took part in the world's first whisky diploma crash course as research for The Wee Dram – and the whisky novice very nearly passed too! Laura has previously worked as an online journalist for STV and Glasgow-based charity INSP.

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