JIMMY MARR: THE COMEBACK KING

May 15th, 2018 | Posted in: Features,People

Jimmy Marr is certainly a legend in his home town of Dundee. He is a well known businessman and was also a past owner of Dundee Football Club. Over the years he has had business highs and business lows, but when I caught up with him at his Dundee offices, he tells me that he is now in the best place he has been for years.

Today he has several pubs, a taxi company, a recruitment company and a security company, a far cry from the days when he had 47 pubs and was in his own words, “like a hamster on a wheel.”

He has not been shy about publicising his business woes, and when we met he was still smarting from the treatment he had received from the banks.

He tells me, “The recession hit the licensed trade really hard. We had to batten down the hatches. I’d been with Allied Irish Banks for years, and we had a substantial loan with them, which we were repaying the capital on. Then one day our bank manager said they had sold our debt to Clipper Holdings a Luxembourg-based company. We weren’t the only company to find ourselves in this position many other Scottish companies also had their debt sold to Clipper. Their attitude was not good from the start. They just wanted their money and even though we raised £2.4m to buy the entire business back it wasn’t enough. Despite the two companies being solvent they then appointed an administrator who took over the running of the company. Even to this day I don’t know what they paid for our loan, but they were certainly not nice people to deal with.”

He continues, “For instance they told me, ‘we are going to bring a pub expert up from London to go around your estate’ and then told me it would cost me £25K. When I said ‘I’m am paying for it’, they then told me they would do it anyway and add the cost to my loan!”

He continues, “My wife Karen did say to me when I tried to buy the whole estate back that it was my heart ruling my head and that I would be paying the new loan off for the next 10 years. She was right. Now I have moved on and we are not laden with debt. Our estate is smaller and more manageable and we have two of the best and busiest pubs in Dundee – 172 at The Caird on Nethergate and Nicholls. Now I am looking for quality and not quantity. When I my pub estate was 47 pubs strong – I was obsessed with barrelage and was always trying to get to the next level. We got to 10,000 barrels but at the time I was buying pubs just to get more barrelage. Now I’m probably in the best position that I have ever been in. We have six pubs under management, 6 tenanted and a nightclub in Peterhead that I have had for 20 years.”

He has also just received planning permission to open a new 1920’s style ‘speakeasy’ nightclub in the basement of 172 at the Caird.

Jimmy bought the business from a Glasgow developer a year ago. He told me, “When I bought the Caird it was more of a fine dining restaurant and it was very quiet. When I came in I changed the menu, so now the food is better than pub grub, but below fine dining and we introduced cocktails. I also put new signage up – it used to be care home, and people just used to drive past it without realising it was a restaurant. The previous operator was from Glasgow and he tried to operate The Caird like a Glasgow venue, but Dundee is a completely different market.” He continues, “We will be starting work on the Speakeasy soon, and I expect to have that up and running around October. We have also applied for a 300 seater function suite out the back, but that is definitely work in progress – we still need planning. We are right in the heart of the university area and it would be great to have that facility.

His other success story is Nicholls. Says Jimmy, “I originally bought the building in 2001 and opened it as a Sports Bar which I then sold to S&N. Then four years ago I bought it back and rebranded it Nicholls. We do a lot of food there. I have heard reports that there is a downturn in casual dining but I have certainly not seen it. At Nicholls we sell 350 dishes of fish and chips and mushy peas a week. There is certainly still plenty of demand for quality traditional dishes that are good value. I think people are coming back to independently owned places that are friendlier rather than going for branded restaurants.”

He continues, “I generally work in Nicholls on a Saturday because it is so busy. We generally do 300 meals between 12pm and 3pm and all cooked from scratch! It is quite pressurised. The majority of our customers are regulars so they know that there will be a bit of a wait. We are definitely very customer focussed, in fact the first thing I do in the morning when I open my eyes is go on Trip Advisor. I had a woman last week saying the food was great, the service was great, but her tea cup was too thick! How do you answer that? However I do generally call the manageress right away if there has been a problem and find out what happened before responding. Sometimes it is genuine and sometimes it is just people being people.” http://wwwnicollsbarandrestaurant.co.uk

Obviously there is a lot going on in Dundee at the moment particularly with the excitement around the imminent opening of the V&A. Says Jimmy, “Expectations are high, my fear is that although the V&A will attract people, what else are we going to offer. Around 1,600 hotel rooms will soon be available and we need to think about how we get visitors to come not just for the day but to stay for a while. They are expecting 800,000 visitors the first year and between 300-500,000 thereafter. We need to have a full package that can attract people.”

He adds, “I think the city councillors have done a great job at attracting hotels but I think they could be doing more for local businesses. It can’t just be all about the waterfront. For instance the policy of the licensing board has been that they are not releasing any more licences unless it is at the Waterfront. Any new operator coming to the centre of Dundee wouldn’t get a licence. I’m also surprised that they allowed a Marriot to be built right across from the V&A – it totally ruins the view.”

Jimmy’s next project, due to open imminently, is a new community pub in Whitfield. He tells me, “I’ve owned the building for 15 years. It was an old social club, and I’ve split it into different units – and I am opening a community pub in a space that we originally ran as a tanning shop. It’s around 2,000 sq ft and will have a 120/130 capacity. The area used to have a bad reputation but now it is an ‘up and coming’ area. There are lots of new houses and a new school too.”

I asked him if he had any plans to retire. He smiles, “My son Peter works with me in the business. He enjoys the trade and I am glad that we are now in a position where he will not be under the same pressure as I put myself under. He’s been working with me since he was 14 and he is now 28. When I eventually retire he will take over. My other son Lee runs the taxi business – you always have to do other things and the taxi company is a good add on. My daughter is not in interested in the business – she is a schoolteacher. But things are certainly not going to change for a few years.” Certainly with Jimmy life is not dull… www.172@thecaird.com 

The following two tabs change content below.
Susan Young
Susan Young is a journalist who has spent the last 20 years editing the DRAM. Prior to that, she spent a decade working in Public Relations and Events dealing with clients as diverse as Cumbernauld Development Agency and James Burrough Distillers. Her knowledge of the Scottish licensed trade is extensive and she also instigated the first ever Scottish licensed trade awards which have evolved into the Scottish Bar and Pub Awards.


SCOTTISH BAR AND PUB AWARDS FIRST FINALISTS REVEALED

Fri 13th July 2018

It’s been a top scoring year for the 2018 Scottish Bar and Pub Awards with more than 3,000 nominations for bars and pubs received for ... Read more.

MCEWAN’S BAGS IRVINE WELSH FOR CAMPAIGN WITH PROSTATE CANCER UK

Thu 12th July 2018

McEwan’s has recruited Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh to bare all for a major new campaign in support of Prostate Cancer UK – th... Read more.

Winner crowned in Buzzworks Chef competition

Mon 9th July 2018

Chefs from Buzzworks Holdings just went head to head Buzzworks Cook ‘n’ Crown, with Chef Gabriella Crawford from the Millhouse in Stewar... Read more.

First core range of aged single malts from GlenAllachie Distillery

Mon 9th July 2018

The GlenAllachie Distillery has released its first core range since the distillery was acquired by Billy Walker last year. The release inc... Read more.

Quieter trading for pubs in the shadow of Glasgow School of Art

Fri 6th July 2018

Pubs in and around Sauchiehall Street have reported quieter trading since last month’s Glasgow School of Art fire, DRAM can report. Ac... Read more.

BBPA’s Brigid Simmonds slams proposed PPL fee hike

Thu 5th July 2018

British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds (pictured) has described a 480% fee hike proposal from PPL as “eye... Read more.

Edrington and Wm Grant’s crack Sunday Times Top 100 Private Company League Table

Thu 5th July 2018

Glasgow-based Edrington, has joined Wm Grant & Sons in the annual Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100 league table which ranks Britain’s 1... Read more.

Smirnoff the first ‘truly’ Global Brand but Jinro is the most popular

Thu 5th July 2018

Smirnoff vodka, owned by Diageo,  is ‘the first truly global brand in the world’ according to a list of 100 top brands compiled... Read more.

Turnover steady but profits dip slightly at Inver House Distillers as brand investment grows

Thu 5th July 2018

Airdrie-based Inver House Distillers Ltd, the Scotch whisky subsidiary of International Beverage Holdings Ltd, saw turnover hit £62.7m for ... Read more.

MIXED RESULTS FOR GREENE KING BUT GOOD WEATHER AND SPORT PROVIDE A BOOST

Wed 4th July 2018

In its year-end results, Greene King (the parent company of Belhaven) has announced that pre-tax profit is down 11% at £243m. This follows ... Read more.

Best Bar None Scotland to deliver and promote 125ml measure campaign

Tue 3rd July 2018

The Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership (SAIP) and Best Bar None Scotland are working together to raise the awareness and promotion of 125... Read more.

Funding available to encourage staff to cycle to work

Mon 2nd July 2018

Bike sheds could soon become as familiar a sight as smoking shelters outside Scotland’s pubs thanks to a shot in the arm of funding to... Read more.

Stonehaven Beer Festival Charity Boost

Mon 2nd July 2018

This year’s Stonehaven Beer Festival (28th – 30th June) raised £29,200 for charity – taking the total raised since it be... Read more.

Running out of Gas – The Carbon Dioxide Shortage

Tue 26th June 2018

Bars across Scotland are running out of gas! The Carbon Dioxide shortage facing the UK and Europe is taking its toll on the bar industry, wi... Read more.

Buzzworks on the East Coast

Mon 25th June 2018

Work has begun on the new Scotts Bar and Restaurant at Port Edgar Marina in South Queensferry, which will be the first East Coast venue for ... Read more.

Mangoes on the Run for Innis & Gunn

Fri 22nd June 2018

Scottish Craft Brewer Innis & Gunn has launched its first ever tropical flavoured beer in the shape of its limited edition Mangoes on th... Read more.

Back on the Docks – The Dockyard Social Returns!

Fri 22nd June 2018

The Dockyard Social, Glasgow’s newest street food market and bar hub, will be making a return this weekend. This return follows a sho... Read more.

New Prospects for DJ Prospect – 4042

Thu 14th June 2018

It’s not a club, but it’s not a bar either…Edinburgh’s first ever ‘3am hang-out’, 4042, has now launched... Read more.

Check out the new look Candy Bar

Wed 13th June 2018

Edinburgh’s Candy Bar has just been given a makeover by owners Montpeliers.... Read more.

The new Red Sky Bar at Radisson Red, Glasgow

Wed 13th June 2018

If you are looking for a bar with a view there can be no better venue in Glasgow than the new Red Sky Bar at the Radisson. Owned by Forrest ... Read more.