There is a little corner of Shettleston that will probably forever be associated with the Healy family – who since taking over The Kirkhouse 18 years ago, has transformed what was a local drinking howff, into a neighbourhood bar and restaurant that locals can be proud of.
When the Healy family took over this traditional community bar it featured a pool table, snug, lounge, dark wood panelling, a red carpet and a central island bar. But today, following a refurbishment which was completed in December, it is a stylish and contemporary bar and restaurant, which wouldn’t look out of place in Glasgow city centre.
“People thought we were mad – putting food into a pub in Shettleston!”
However, it has been a journey. When Frank and his father took on the pub, which at the time was an S&N lease, the first thing on the agenda was creating a place where everyone felt welcome and that meant removing some of the characters that frequented the East End bar. Says Frank, “Luckily I came from the area and I knew who to watch out for. But it wasn’t easy at the beginning.”
Frank Senior has now retired, and Frank now runs the bar with wife Sylvia, who looks after the catering, and sons Frankie (also a director) and Antoni who is General Manager. Frankie also runs his own design agency and keeps an eye on the Kirkhouse branding too.
Over the last 18 years, Frank has become a dab hand at working with his partner (now) Star Pubs & Bars, on refurbishments. He explains, “After we took the pub on we spruced it up and removed the pool table. We also added more tables because we decided to offer food in the pub. We only had four dishes on and they all cost £1.50. We soon realised that food was the way ahead and when we next refurbished we built a kitchen extension, opened the pub up and added more tables… this meant we could offer a bigger a la carte menu. The locals loved it. Then just a few years ago we changed the exterior and the windows which improved it further.
Obviously, when Frank sees things getting a bit tired his mind turns to refurbishing. But he is also aware that in order to get his Star Pubs & Bars buy-in he needs a business plan which shows how it can impact business positively. Says Frank, “This time we went to Star Pubs & Bars with a business plan that included a wrap around extension to cater for functions. We got planning for it, and ST&B’s go-ahead.
It would have cost about £149K and would have increased our covers to 100. But during the process, an ongoing problem with an old pipe underneath the bar, which caused a terrible smell in the pub, came to a head. It was an SP&B issue and they had to repair it.
When they came back and said the pub would be closed for three weeks due to the repair, which would include stripping back the bar, replacing the floor and such like, we realised that the pub could actually be totally refurbished within that time and perhaps this was the time to move the bar, rather than build an extension. So we quickly prepared a new business plan, took it to the company and after a few weeks they came back and said ‘good idea’. We were creating almost the same number of covers but at a reduced spend of £120K.”
He continues, “Their architects Rough Design then came up with three ideas. When I first saw the designs I was a bit apprehensive. I wasn’t sure what all the changes would mean to the character of the pub. But the architects plan to move the bar and create a new L-shaped space, and open up the whole area, grew on me. As the start of the project got nearer I could see what he was talking about. But I also put the plans to my customers to get feedback, after all a lot of people have been frequenting this pub for more than 20 years. Some of them were nervous about removing the bar. However, generally, people could see what we were trying to do.”
Today the bar boasts a new L-shaped bar, instead of the central island bar, and the bar itself has been moved to improve the flow within the pub creating distinct drinking and dining areas. The work carried out by Donaldson Construction, involved moving dividing walls to allow for a subtle partition of the bar and restaurant areas. New freestanding and booth seating with lovely leather upholstery courtesy of LECs installed. There has also been new lighting put in and a new bar and back bar installed. There is new flooring throughout, and a new sound system.
The Kirkhouse also offers freshly made barista style coffees and its range of drinks has been extended with craft ales and premium lagers, like Bier Morretti on draught, and cocktails are now on offer too. The new menu offers different burgers including a fiery vegetarian Thai burger, pasta, pizzas and tapas dishes.
Says Frank, “I’ve lived in the area for 38 years. I’ve seen it change from a rough part of Glasgow to what is now an up and coming area with lots of investment. Over the years we have changed the pub to reflect the changes in society. It’s gone from a male bar to a family friendly local.”
The Kirkhouse now has seating for 95 covers and customers can eat in the bar area or in the restaurant. Says Frank, “We get guys who have come straight from work, had a few pints, and will order something and eat it at the bar.
“The majority of our customers don’t want to get taxis into city centre if they can get the same quality, and the same environment, here.”
He adds, “The majority of our customers don’t want to get taxis into city centre if they can get the same quality, and the same environment, here. We have tried to do that as much as we can but without the city centre prices. I think we have achieved that. Since we have re-opened we have also increased our last food order time from 6.45pm until 9pm. Customer feedback suggested that it was too much of a rush getting home from work and back out to eat within the previous time frame.”
It’s not just the look of the Kirkhouse that has changed but son Frankie, a designer, has put his design credentials to good use with a rebrand and lively social media marketing initiatives. He also had input into the re-design adding his ideas to the architects. Says Frankie, “We were able to bounce ideas off each other and we had regular weekly meetings. It also helped that Grant from Rough Design had worked on the previous refurbishments so he was very familiar with the pub.” Frankie continues, “I got a rebrand done so everything is consistent – we have focussed on the ‘K’ and now we use the branding on our cups, menu’s and marketing material – these things are important. Everything that we are putting out now has the same branding – we have even got a liveried van.”
It also seems like the changes have already made an impact on the bottom line. Says Frankie, “We certainly saw increased sales over Christmas, and although January and February are usually quiet months we’ve had steady business. Obviously our costs have gone up too, but we are certainly seeing the benefits and I am consistently monitoring our progress.”
Frank adds, “We’ve all played a part to get where we are and I think we’ll just continue to grow and grow.”
“We’ve already had planning permission granted for a new private function suite and expansion of the kitchen, so that’s a possibility. We have also considered moving the Beer garden to face a different direction, but for now, the most important thing is to keep improving consistently.”
Frank may not be a designer but he wouldn’t make a bad copywriter. He has thought up a slogan for the Kirkhouse… “Great place to meet, great place to eat…” It certainly is.