The man with the golden touch – Andrew McQuade

Lithgow owner

Jason Caddy headed to Greenock recently to catch up with andrew,  the man credited with reversing the fortunes of Lithgows

Licensee Andrew McQuade reversed the fortunes of a rundown Greenock pub during the pandemic to such an extent that Lithgows made it to the Kopparberg New Bar of the Year finalists at the 2021 Scottish Bar & Pub Awards.

He took on the leasehold from Hawthorn Leisure during the first lockdown in March 2020, refurbished it shortly afterward, and brought in a whole new team to run it.  He’s also been leasing The Cabin in his native Clydebank from Rosemount Taverns for four years and employs 20 staff between the two through his company, Quade Leisure.  And all this from a man that is only 32 and who also turned his own life around.

Said Andrew, “I was on benefits seven years ago. I genuinely have come from nothing. I saved up the money for my first lease and have continually re-invested the money I have made back into the bars and it’s definitely paid off in customer loyalty and sales.

“Lithgows had such a tarnished reputation before I took it on that the council were initially very interested in what
I was doing, but they’ve since eased off now that they can see I am running a very different operation to how it’s been in the past.”

Lithgows award nomination was a massive boost to the entire team and Andrew never imagined getting this type of industry recognition so soon after starting his pub company.

“It was such a shock to be nominated let alone make it to the finals against the likes of Moskito in Glasgow when I have only been doing this for four years and am relatively new to the game.

“It was such a massive boost and I was so proud of achieving this and of my team.  A guy from a council estate wouldn’t normally be at an event like that, but I worked hard for it and was honoured and humbled by it all.”

What was it that lit the spark in Andrew to start building his own pub estate?

“I grew up in Faifley just outside Clydebank, in an average family. My step-dad went out to work and my mum was a stay-at-home mum. I wasn’t born into money. I didn’t come into money. I have got where I am through hard work and determination and the spark was lit by me wanting to get out there and make something of myself.

“ I don’t want to be stuck in a job where someone is determining my wages. I would rather work for my money and bring something new hospitality. For example, I created the entire list of 60 cocktails at Lithgows myself and I am extremely passionate about food, drink, and the hospitality industry.

But things haven’t always been a picnic for Andrew – who is extremely hands-on in both businesses.

“This career path has cost me blood, sweat and tears – it can be extremely hard going at times and there are companies out there that have a financial cushion or family legacy. I don’t have that – but this only spurs me on to work even harder and I’m not averse to rolling up my sleeves and mucking in.

“I work in the kitchen every weekend and in the bar at Lithgows, and in The Cabin too. I’m still very hands-on and like to see who my customers are by working six days a week.”

Let’s rewind a bit to when Andrew took on his first lease. After working in Glasgow nightclubs for G1, The Court Bar in the Merchant City, and training as a barber and barbering in his 20s, he decided to ditch his scissors and get serious about his future in hospitality.

“I stopped barbering and was working for Kained Holdings as a manager and loved it and it was then that I decided to spread my wings and do my own thing and saved up enough money as a deposit for my first lease.

“I was looking for a certain type of bar so I emailed the Rosemount Taverns’ MD Craig Bruce, a great guy, and spoke to him and he took me over to Clydebank to show me the Cabin and I took it there and then.”

What was it about the Cabin that captured Andrew so that he was able to make such a snap decision to take it on there and then?

“It’s a great bar and I knew it was for me. It’s got a lovely old traditional bar and the first thing I did was sit at the bar and order a drink as I waited for Craig, and the staff and customers made me feel so welcome and I instantly knew that this was the place for me.  There was another guy interested in it too, but I got it and signed for it before he got a look-in.

“I kept the staff on for a few months, and while they were great, that arrangement didn’t work out so I brought in a whole new team and renovated the place.

“It’s fair to say that it was just ticking over and the sales were below average and the stock was fairly basic. I introduced over 40 gins into the place and this was all done on instinct. No market research or anything, plus the staff told me that it would never work. Now gin is my biggest seller.

“It also had just two whiskies and I now have over 20 odd whiskies in The Cabin. I’ve introduced a lot of craft beers too, like Innis & Gunn, that was never heard of in Clydebank and introduced some beers from the Hidden Lane brewery and they all started going through the roof.

“As word got around, people started to come in and I introduced a quiz on a Thursday which is maxed out and other entertainment, like ‘The King of Swing’ on a Saturday afternoon and you can’t get a seat. Before I took it on you were lucky if there were ever five to ten customers on a Saturday afternoon.”

Finding the right staff and management and adopting a clear training ethos with a customer service focus was ranked paramount by Andrew at the time and still is.

“The staff focus on upselling all the time and I tend to hire people with experience, like manager Heather Fisher, who was previously the manager of Jon Browns in Clydebank and this was a huge player in the town for years. She does all staff training and she’s excellent at her job.”

Then came the opportunity for bar number two in the form of Lithgows.

“I got the lease for Lithgows from Hawthorn Leisure during the first lockdown and it was just ticking along really. That’s all. When I first saw it, it was in a bad way, I’m not going to lie.

“The interior (which is now a lovely grey colour) was bright red, the carpet was all dirty, and the paintwork was manky. The curtains were caked in dust, the upholstery was slashed and there was a big football mural covering one entire wall.  You get the picture. It was such a wasted opportunity but I could see the opportunity instantly.

“I traded the bar as it was for a few months to generate some more money and then I invested it all into a complete renovation and I bankrolled all the cosmetic changes while Hawthorn Leisure paid for any structural repairs like in a part of the ceiling where there had been a leak and it was in danger of collapsing.

“I brought in new staff and trained them and widened the offering behind the bar and started doing food, and when we first opened properly after the restrictions were lifted, there was a two-week wait on tables for food. I think that I’m doing something different not only for Greenock but also for Inverclyde.”

Andrew’s businesses have so far not been affected by the industry-wide staff shortages but he’s fearful of slow, late, and cancelled deliveries soon being felt by the customer.

“I’ve been very lucky with my staff. I’m not facing the same shortages as other operators are and this has been a curse for so many of them. Ryan Noble is my general manager at Lithgows and he’s phenomenal at his job and brings his hospitality as well as events management experience to the role.”

“All my other staff have remained with me throughout the pandemic too, and I incentivise them to stay by paying the living wage, fair rotas, such as no back shifts onto early shifts, and lots of discounts of up to 50 per cent on food and drink across both units. I also run staff bonus schemes at certain times of the year.

“None of my product lines have dried up yet so the customer hasn’t noticed anything different yet, but I’ve had several meetings with brewers lately and they’ve warned me that they are running low on certain products so I fear that it won’t be long before there’s an interruption in my supply.”

What about the future? Any plans for leasehold number three for Quade Leisure or is he quite happy with his lot?

“All I can say at the moment is that Hawthorn Leisure approached me about another lease recently and I have been to see it and I’m very interested but I have to keep it under wraps.

“All being well, I hope to open it in the next six months and I can see me taking on more leaseholds after that too, now that I know how much work is required for each business.”

Andrew’s also been making more of an effort to tear himself away from the businesses as much as he can and take his mind off the day-to-day demands of running two pubs.

“I have just started saxophone lessons to try and switch off from the job. Not easy in hospitality. But I’ve heard that you can get lost in the moment when you’re learning to play an instrument and that’s what I’m hoping for more of in the months to come.”

He’s also got a wee holiday home in Wemyss Bay and was heading down there for some well-deserved time off with friends visiting from Wales once I bid him farewell.

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