Cat Thomson talks to Gavin Price – the Aberfeldy landlord making his mark and recognised for his efforts with an M.B.E.
Aberfeldy is a small Scottish town, populated with kind-hearted and compassionate people. One such individual is publican Gavin Price who runs The Fountain Bar, The Schiehallion Hotel and Pub and the Black Watch Inn and Croft Restaurant. He also finds time to manage Elgin City Football Club.
With over two decades of involvement in owning and leasing pubs, they play a central role in his life; even his two Bichon Frisé dogs, (Deacon and Brodie) are named after Edinburgh’s Deacon Brodies, where he used to drink. He says, “It is something I’ve enjoyed doing and have got better at over the years. I like to think I have got a wee bit of experience.”
His Twitter bio reads; ‘Family, Fitba, and Pubs in that order!’ but football has always been a huge part of his life, he played with North Muirton U18s, Forfar Athletic, Kinnoull Juniors, Meadowbank Thistle and Brechin City.
After he graduated from Edinburgh University, with a Bachelor of Commerce in Business Studies he moved to Holland for a two-year spell playing for the Dutch second-tier football team ADO Den Haag. He says, “It was an incredible experience from a professional footballing point of view but also culturally. It is a time I look back fondly on.”
He then moved back to Scotland and played for St Johnstone, and Stirling Albion before playing in Hong Kong for a year and also in England for Altrincham. But it was a move back to Holland that brought him into hospitality. He explains, “I always had one eye on a career outside football and after going back to play football in Holland on a part-time basis when I was 26, I decided to go into business with two other guys and took over a large Irish pub called O’Casey’s in the Hague. Because I knew the bar well the role as manager fell to me.”
“It was a bit of an eye-opener. I didn’t have any experience at that point, apart from being on the other side of the bar. I learned from my mistakes at first, but soon got to grips with all the systems like stock control, payroll, how to do staff hours, the cash books, which I still use today.”
After a few years he returned home. He explains, “I have strong ties to Aberfeldy, my family’s still here and I wanted to settle. I bought The Fountain Bar but also began football coaching with Kinnoull Juniors and Jeanfield Swifts at the same time.”
His passion for football continued and he joined Elgin City, as the assistant manager in November 2014 and taking over from the then manager Jim Weir in October 2017. However, Gavin was also expanding his licensed trade business taking on both The Black Watch Inn, and Schiehallion Hotel. He says, “ I bought the hotel site with a couple of other guys and we refurbished the rooms and re-joined it back onto the pub.“
Then along came the pandemic. His pub, The Fountain Bar became the hub of the ‘Feldy Roo’ project (named after Aberfeldy and Deliveroo). The idea was to supply older people in the area who were stuck at home isolating with a free cooked meal. The day before lockdown was announced his team sprang into action.
”It was great to see it all come together so quickly. We began delivering just ten meals on the first day to use up excess food from the kitchen. It was just quite an instinctive response, but we put a film out on social media and it just exploded.”
Overnight it went from ten meals to 20 and within a couple of weeks, they were delivering 200 free meals twice a day, with the help of ten local businesses and at its height 140 volunteers. He adds, ““It really was a team effort, we didn’t ask anyone to get involved – they all volunteered. We had the best fed over seventies in Scotland.” In all, ten local hospitality businesses helped to provide lunches or evening meals.
He embarrassedly admits, “Normally we wouldn’t have much to do with the competition, but the ‘Feldy Roo’ project really brought everybody together. We have good relationships today and that is another benefit.”
Julie Dunbar, the Schiehallion Hotel manager was heavily involved, and Gavin tells how important she is to his business, ”She does pretty much everything and without her, I would struggle.”
‘Feldy Roo’ project has been given many accolades, it was awarded the 2022 Scottish Charity Awards for Community Action and honoured at the Perthshire Chambers of Business Community Hero Awards. The Fountain Bar also won Greene King Pub Hero of the Year 2020.
His work over the pandemic earned him a an M.B.E in 2020 for his services to the people of Aberfeldy during this time. Says Gavin “I didn’t feel right about accepting the M.B.E. as a personal award, but my parents persuaded me that it was really an honour for the whole town. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to attend the ceremony but was delighted to receive my medal in the post.”
After the pandemic it was the Ukranian war which next took his attention. Gavin was moved to help Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country and tweeted an offer of accommodation and work for two refugees at his Schiehallion Hotel. It started a snowball effect with the whole Aberfeldy community responding which led to the formation of the initiative Highland Perthshire Welcomes Ukraine.
Gavin modestly downplays his part saying, “It just mobilised a lot of people.” People from Aberfeldy and surrounding areas certainly opened up their hearts and homes, with more Ukrainians being welcomed to Perth and Kinross, per head of population than anywhere else in Scotland.
However now Gavin is really focussing on driving his hospitality business forward. He says, “Over the last five years, hospitality has faced a lot of challenges, one of my biggest challenges has been staffing, and I would like to see the service industry promoted more as a career choice for youngsters. It is such a big part of the economy and you can now be properly rewarded, so Scotland should be proud of how good our hospitality is.
“In both football management and hospitality you need to motivate teams of people, it’s important to have a fresh and positive attitude and that can be hard at times.” He tells us the secret to his success, “Is to trust in folk, and know what people’s strengths are rather than worrying about their weaknesses. It’s quite important, not just in football but with regards to the business. And being able to delegate, well, that is massive for what I do.”
He employs many of the same skills in both areas but enjoys the challenge of juggling their competing demands, he says, “I don’t think I know any other way, to be honest. I have always got full days which challenge me.”