Licensee Interview John Ogilvie: Climbing the Ladder

by Nicola Walker

When I visited Montagues in Kirkcaldy on a Tuesday afternoon the place was already bustling. The first thing that struck me when meeting operator John Ogilvie was his passion for his pub and his customers. In fact, he knows every customer’s name, what they drink and where they are from. This is a place that has clearly established itself within the heart of the Kirkcaldy community.

F6825208-310A-4353-8F36-A0398F0E7515Montagues has been open nearly 2 years and sits proudly on Kirkcaldy High Street on a site that was formerly a Burtons/Dorothy Perkins, hence the name Montagues, after Burtons founder Sir Montague Burton. Although originally from Greenock, John has seemingly been adopted as a Kirkcaldy native and proudly tells me, “This is a historic Grade B listed building. We found all these old advertising posters onsite and we have these framed on the walls. We also have engraving on the stone wall on the side of the building in honour of Sir Montague Burton, so we wanted to keep that history of the building throughout the design of the pub. It’s important that that the local community see that and the amount of talking points we get from the customers about the history and the décor is great.”

John has just turned 30 and uprooted his life to move to Kirkcaldy with his fiancée 2 years ago, so I was keen to find out the career journey that led him to Fife. He tells me, “I didn’t originally plan to go into hospitality. I had always wanted to join the armed forces, but failed the medical. So, when I left school, I got a job as a glass collector at Word Up Nightclub in Greenock moving onto the bar when I was 18. Then I became supervisor, and I took over as Deputy Manager when I was 21. At that point I was responsible for four rooms, four bars and over 60 staff.

“There was no background training, you just got thrown in at the deep end and they saw how you dealt with it. So, I just built myself up and I learned everything on the job. It was a baptism of fire and I think the hardest part for me was trying to lead such a diverse age group when I was still young myself. But luckily we had built up a decent team and they already respected me as I had been there a while and had worked my way up through the ranks. Suddenly I realised I was actually quite good at the job and most importantly I enjoyed it. I loved the responsibility, and I loved the respect that came with it.”

After three years at Word Up, John decided it was time to move on and accepted a Deputy Manager position with Greene King. He says, “At that point, I was hoping Greene King was going to be my career. I’d stay as deputy there for maybe two or three years and then take my own site, but that’s not how it turned out. I had some personal issues going on and felt I needed a change of industry and left to join Admiral Casinos.”  But it was a brief interlude.

Explains John, “It was a great company to work for, but I soon found myself bored and missing the buzz of hospitality. I was used to things being nonstop, I needed to be productive, keep busy and push myself.

“At the time, Amber Taverns were just moving into Scotland and had just opened their first Scottish site, The Northern Way in Paisley and they were looking for people to be self-employed in their own pub. I decided to give that a go and when I went for second interview to meet Nikki Beaver, the Scottish Area Manager she told me she had a site in Kirkcaldy she thought would be perfect for me.

“I went on a six-month training programme to learn Amber Taverns business model, back-office systems and how they want the site to be run. One of the things I like most about working with Amber Taverns is that they are very community orientated and I think there is a very different ethos behind the business compared to other pub companies.”

But things did not go that smoothly to begin with. The refurbishment of the Kirkcaldy pub was delayed by construction issues and then COVID hit. Says John, “I ended up working around eight different English Amber Tavern sites. I enjoyed the travelling more than I thought I would, but it was often last-minute emergency cover. Amber Taverns were great though, they said if the travelling ever got too much then just to let them know and they would keep me in Scotland for longer period. No company had ever treated me that way. That’s why I have so much respect and loyalty to Amber Taverns – if anything they gave me my mojo back!

“I learnt something new at every site I went to and the travelling experience was invaluable. One of the places that surprised me was when I did emergency cover in a small town in Cheshire. It was a beautiful town, but I thought it was going to be way too quiet and laid back for me. But, looking back, it’s probably the site I miss the most. It surprised me how lively it was, plus I got to make basic changes that just really made a difference to the pub, the staff, and the customers. It was a great learning curve.”

In December 2021 John finally got his own pub when Montagues threw open its doors and he says, “it’s been nonstop ever since.”

“We wanted to make it a community hub that was very customer orientated and we now have a great bunch of regulars. We made it clear from the start that we were not here to take over the town, we were here to help build up the circuit again, bring some revenue back to the High Street and try and rejuvenate it a bit. You need to have lots of pubs open and doing well in Kirkcaldy as otherwise people will just go to drink in Dunfermline or Dundee to socialise. So, it made sense for all the publicans to work together as a team.


“Straight away I met with the local licensing sergeant. Then I met with Blythe and Dallas who run The Duchess – a very well established a local business that do a lot for local charities. The three of us have worked together to bring back the Kirkcaldy Pub Watch Scheme, get the Street Pastors back out at the weekends and we’ve even had meetings with Kirkcaldy Cabs to work together to try and improve both safety for customers who are waiting on taxis and the number of taxis available.

“We have joined the local Best Bar None Scheme. I was the first Amber site in Scotland to do so and we achieved a ‘Gold Award’ in our first year as well as winning ‘Best Newcomer’ which was amazing.”

John has also been keen to find other ways to get involved in the local community. He says, “We’ve been helping some local charities. Every year for Armed Forces Day we help out at the local SSAFA Branch. We’ve also worked with some local charities such as Respite Fife doing fundraising, raffles etc.

“Another thing I wanted to do was to get involved with local sports clubs. I thought it would be good for people to see how much we are trying to help the local community. We started sponsoring the Kirkcaldy Blues football team by becoming a shirt sponsor for them and helping with their awards. Now they come here after every game. We aren’t just here for the business. We want to be a social hub for the community.”

John is also very passionate about is the way his staff are treated. He says, “My belief is that if you treat your staff with respect then they will respect you in return. It’s about building morale. I ask two things from my staff, loyalty and honesty, and if they give me that I will run through fire for them. I don’t expect them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself and lead by example. I’ve always got their back. I’m not a shift manager, I’m there for the staff 24/7.

“They’ve got to feel safe in the workplace and that includes when they are arriving or travelling home. If they are stuck, lost, stranded, or even just worried they know they can call me, and I’ll go and get them. I’m also in the process of speaking to a local gym and as part of a deal we’re working on I would give them sponsorship fees and in return we will get free self-defence classes for all the bar staff.

“Staff training and development are important to me. I have worked with both the Springboard Charity and Diageo Learning for Life. I have one member of staff through this scheme currently and she’s doing incredibly well. We’ve also managed to get some of our staff onto courses with Johnnie Walker in Princes Street and they have now been offered scholarships. Giving the staff incentives is very important whether that be through training opportunities or sales incentives. I have such a good team and it’s nice to reward them.

“I think it’s great to keep learning no matter what level you are at. I trained to become a Whisky Ambassador recently. I love whisky and bourbons, it’s a real passion of mine. Even when you operate your own business, you still need to do stuff to push yourself forward.”

Montagues seems to be doing incredibly well with John at the helm and recently won Best Licensed Premises in Fife at Scotland’s Business Awards. John adds, “We beat some great venues and established businesses and I’m incredibly proud of that. We were also honoured with a parliamentary motion. That was a very big surprise. I’ve certainly had an incredible year.”

“I like being busy, but I do enjoy having a dram to relax, even though I’m not actually a big drinker. Plus, I always try and go home at least once a month, even just for a day or two to catch up with family and friends.”

So, what is next for John? Well firstly a wedding it seems. He and his fiancée got engaged in June this year whilst in Amsterdam celebrating his 30th birthday, making it a double celebration! Workwise, he is very committed to both Montagues and his ongoing relationship with Amber Taverns. He says, “I’ll probably stay at Montagues for at least five years, then, moving forward I’d love to remain with Amber Taverns. Even if it meant moving into a training role or business development role.

“I’d also love to be a multi-site operator in the future. I’ve got lots of notes on my phone about all these ideas I have for the future, so I have plenty to plan ahead with!”


Category: Bar & Pub, Interviews, Licensee Interview, News, People
Tags: Amber Taverns, John Ogilvie, Kirkcaldy, Montagues