Licensee Interview: A Real Ray of Sunshine

June 2nd, 2017 | Posted in:

In a little corner of Milngavie there’s a bustling, lively bar and restaurant that goes by the name of Finsbay. Despite the fact that some local traders told them not to touch the unit with barge pole, Billy Milligan and business partner, former Scotland rugby captain and Glasgow Warriors player, Alastair Kellock, went ahead with their idea anyway. Finsbay is now just about to celebrate its first birthday – and what a year it has been. The business Billy tells me has faced its challenges, but not because it hasn’t been busy, the very opposite. He explains, “We have been busy from the get go. So busy that at the beginning it was really difficult to cope – and our customers are very discerning so it was important we didn’t drop the ball.”

I have to admit that I’ve known Billy for absolutely years he is one of these guys you always find the same way, upbeat, cheery and just lovely, and I don’t think I am seeing him through rose tinted glasses. I first got to know him and Cameron Craig (Cammy – another gem of a guy) when they were working with Carlo Citti just ahead of them opening O’Couture in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, which operated for five years. Now he also owns Pacific in Partick with Ian McComb. There are two things that Billy is certainly not short of and that is ideas and enthusiasm. But he has never ever had the benefit of big bucks. Says Billy, “Everything we do is self-funded and when it comes to build and design we always have a tight budget. But I love that part of it. The design here is 100% my own. I’ve always been interested in design, and when I look around I am really proud of it.”

Billy Milligan

And so he shoud be. Looking around Finsbay you can see the love that went into the design. He taken a retro 70’s look and created a kitch, cool looking place to eat and drink. From the fish tank that is located in an old TV – he had an upcycler make it for him, to the original 70-’s wallpaper sourced online, the G-Plan furniture, the old style telephones that appear as art on the walls, and the original school blackboard which is used to feature the days specials, Finsbay is appealing to old and young. Billy explains, “It seems like our older customers can remember the décor, while our younger customers think it is retro-cool. The main thing is that it is comfortable.”

Billy, now 37, has been working in the trade since he was 18. Although he admits it has been “a bit of a journey.” He says, “I started off running student nights for G1. In fact one of them Juicy Tuesday is still running. I also DJ’d and with Cammy also ran a small promotions company and got involved in festivals. I always DJ’d doing perhaps five or six club nights. Then Carlo Citti approached us to a club which became O’Couture, and so I gave up the nights. I was involved with the O’Couture for four year. It was great. We were lucky because Carlo had a whole back office team, which left us to operate the business. Carlo loved to build his own venues, and I realised that building your own venue was completely possible.”

During his O’Couture days Billy got married, and subsequently left the club because he and his wife wanted to emigrate to America. Says Billy, “I had a job lined up there in a completely different industry. But we couldn’t get a green card. So that was that.”

He then opened Pacific with Ian McColm – four years ago. Billy comments, “I had known Ian for a number of years. I was running a Ceilidh night with a difference – we DJ’d vocals over the ceilidh music. We ran the night at the Tall Ship and we got lots of press coverage. Ian, who was working for Maxxium at the time, was sponsoring unusual nights with Aftershock and he came on board with our next one which was a Friday night at Play and we had a Pole dancing competition which was judged by Frank McAvennie. Aftershock sponsored it. It was good fun.”

“Ian and Ali are quite different sort of business partners. Ali is really hands off, although he brings a lot of the motivational experiences he has had to the business, and we talk ideas all the time. I met him through a friend who played rugby. He has a completely different background to mine, but it also very successful and all his skills are transferable. He has a “growth mindset” and always wants to be moving forward. Ian, on the other hand, has been in the trade a long time and is more hands on. Pacific is a great wee business. It’s a lease, but it comes in at below the Rateable value so it does okay. We had been looking for something else for a while. Still are in fact.”

For a period Ian and I worked with Colin Beattie at the Partick Tavern. He says, “We had hoped to something fresh there, but it didn’t work out. But I learned the importance of longevity from Colin. He believes in building businesses that will be there for a long time. In fact Colin and I have kind of similar background. Ian calls me the Prince of Partick – because I was brought up there, and I know loads of people in the area. My dad, in fact, knew Colin’s dad a way back. He too was well known in the area. Going back further my mum comes from Harris and Colin’s family come from Tiree. I don’t think I have ever told him that!”

Talking of Harris, the Finsbay is named after a place in Harris, and the bar sells more Harris Gin than any other in Scotland. In fact you can order your Harris gin online and pick it up at the Finsbay. The empty Harris bottles are also used for candles. On the back wall of the restaurant you can see a beautiful film of Harris – the beach scene is terrific. Says Billy, “People are always asking where it is.” Harris tweed has also been used on soft furnishings in Finsbay.

As well as working briefly with Colin Beattie he also worked for a few months with Colin Blair at Buzzworks. Says Billy, “I have a huge amount of admiration for Colin. He taught me a lot in a short space of time. He also told me that I was an entrepreneur and needed to be doing it for myself. But I absolutely take my hat off to the company. I absolutely love what they do.”

Billy certainly likes a bit of variety. He agrees, “I like changing and moving with the times. I’ve been doing that since I was 18. My mum and dad were not involved in the industry at all. I’ve always enjoyed being responsible either for busy club nights or for busy outlets. There is nothing better than standing back and seeing the venue busy and running well. I always want to be proud of the places that I have. I wouldn’t build a place I wasn’t proud of. I also want my family and friends to be proud of it.”

He continues, “In Milngavie customers are discerning. There is no margin for error here. Even if we are doing classics they have to be good – whether it is Macaroni or Fish n’chips – we call them elevated classics. Our revenue stream here is good. Although I thought we would build slowly, I didn’t anticipate the fact that we would be busy from breakfast all the way through to dinner. At the beginning the kitchen got really pushed. We had to take tables out to cope, and we had to extend the kitchen. But we are lucky because we have the most laid back chef around. The restaurant evolves into a bar at night, which is not always the easiest transition, but it works here. We put the lights down and the volume up. Our customers come at all times of the day and night too. Sometimes women come in for morning coffee and they will book a ladies night for later that week, and come in the evening for cocktails… it is definitely a female friendly space. Guys should be flocking here! I have to admit I am here all the time. I am definitely hands on.”

His current project is the renovation of the lane beside Finsbay and from the paint visible on his hands, I can vouch for the fact he is hands on! Says Billy, “When we first moved in I was disappointed at how dilapidated the lane was. I discovered it was privately owned and the wall infact was owned by BT. I got permission from them to improve it so we rendered it and plastered it and a local girl, a young mum, has done a great mural. We have had some funding from East Dunbartonshire Council too. So now we have tables and chairs outside, we have strung lights across it and we have made a very European outside space. People have stopped in to say how great it looks and they have compared it to Finnieston too. This now means we can do Vintage Fairs, Dog Festivals, you name it. Suggestions welcome!”

So what next? Says Billy, “People ask me that a lot. I’ve done so many different things but I would like to open something in the Merchant City, although equally I could see myself putting this type of brand into Lenzie, Bishopbriggs or Kirkintilloch. As I have said I am proud of Finsbay, especially of the reviews – even if there are glitches with service, they always compliment the interior. We have nice people here, we serve nice drinks and we are busier than I could have imagined. And of course that means we are making money. But most of all I am really enjoying seeing it busy.”

What I enjoyed was catching up with him. Next time I might even bring my dogs – did I mention Finsbay is dog friendly too!


Design feature: La Vita Spuntini

Thu 15th November 2018

Walk into the La Vita Group's new £800k Glasgow restaurant, La Vita Spuntini Gordon Street, and what looks like a cherry blossom tree recre... Read more.

Swede Talking: Interview with Janne Johansson

Thu 15th November 2018

Janne Johansson has been a Gulf war hostage, slept out under the stars in Glasgow’s George Square and worked in more countries than I’ve... Read more.

Islay’s Caol Ila Distillery submits plans to upgrade visit centre

Thu 15th November 2018

Plans to transform the visitor experience at Caol Ila Distillery on Islay have been submitted to Argyll & Bute Council.... Read more.

Michelin star chef Felice Sgarra to cook at Glasgow restaurant for ‘World Week of Italian Cuisine’

Wed 14th November 2018

Michelin star chef, Felice Sgarra, will be resident at Eusebi Deli on Glasgow's Park Road on Wednesday 21st November as part of ‘World W... Read more.

Scots distillery is first UK company to bag gold at Absinthe Festival in France

Wed 14th November 2018

Loch Ness Spirits came home with the gold medal at the Absinthiades Festival in Pontarlier for its Absinthe Blanche. The Absinthe is distill... Read more.

PRIZE HAUL FOR ORKNEY BREWERY AT SIBA INDEPENDENT BEER AWARDS

Thu 8th November 2018

The Orkney Brewery has taken home no less than six prizes, including three golds, from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) Scotland In... Read more.

Greene King’s Rooney Anand to step down as chief executive

Wed 7th November 2018

Rooney Anand has advised the Greene King Board - parent company of Belhaven - that he'll step down from the role of chief executive at the e... Read more.

DIAGEO ANNOUNCES SENIOR LEADERSHIP CHANGES IN GB AND GLOBAL TRAVEL BUSINESSES

Mon 5th November 2018

Diageo Plc has announced changes to its senior leadership in its GB and Global Travel businesses.... Read more.

Edinburgh city council’s A board ban comes into force

Mon 5th November 2018

A citywide ban of on-street a boards has come into force in Edinburgh. It means that no A boards or other advertising structures including u... Read more.

Design Focus: Cul Cuil

Thu 1st November 2018

Cuil, meaning ‘back court’ in Gaelic’, is the name of a new bar from owners Church Yard Glasgow Ltd, and it’s like it’s been exorc... Read more.

DIAGEO GLASGOW STUDENTS GRADUATE FROM LEARNING FOR LIFE TRAINING PROGRAMME

Thu 1st November 2018

A group of unemployed people from Glasgow have graduated from Diageo’s award-winning ‘Learning for Life’ training programme, with more... Read more.

DRAM Halloween Cocktail Special – The Gorilla s’mores with Jack Daniel’s Fire made at Treacle

Wed 31st October 2018

Happy Halloween! For our final Halloween Cocktail special, Emma ventured out to Treacle Bar & Kitchen in Edinburgh where the charming Andy... Read more.

New Speyside distillery named ‘building of the year’

Wed 31st October 2018

The £140million Macallan distillery on Speyside has been commended as the 'building of the year' at the Institute of Civil Engineers’ S... Read more.

Wetherspoon to add 200 capacity to Galashiels pub

Wed 31st October 2018

JD Wetherspoon is to invest £750,000 in The Hunters Hall, in High Street,  Galashiels  to increase capacity by 50%.... Read more.

DRAM Halloween Cocktail Special – The Bloody Maria with Mezcal Union Tequila made at Topolabamba

Tue 30th October 2018

Trick or treat? Emma headed out to Topolabamba and found herself a wee treat with The Bloody Maria. You may know her sister, The Bloody Mary... Read more.

DRAM Halloween Cocktail Special – The Rebel Hell with Rebel Yell Bourbon made at Van Winkle

Tue 30th October 2018

Trick or treat? Our girl Emma headed out to Van Winkle in Glasgow and found herself another wee treat of a cocktail. The Rebel Hell. thanks ... Read more.

Not a ‘good news’ budget for hospitality industry

Tue 30th October 2018

The Scottish hospitality industry should be feeling put out by this year's inhospitable budget.... Read more.

DRAM Halloween Cocktail Special – The Candy Skull with Bacardi Blanca made at Metropolitan

Tue 30th October 2018

Trick or treat? Our girl Emma headed out to the Metropolitan Cocktail Bar & Restaurant in Glasgow and found herself a wee treat of a cockt... Read more.

Fire & Cane – Glenfiddich’s latest single malt – captures the spirit of experimentation

Fri 26th October 2018

Glenfiddich introduced its fourth concept in its Experimental series: Fire & Cane,  to the Scottish bar industry on Wednesday (24th Oct... Read more.

UK RESTAURANT INDUSTRY TO CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO REVIEW BUSINESS RATES

Thu 25th October 2018

David Moore,  who has owned Michelin-star restaurant Pied à Terre for 27 years, is spearheading a campaign for the Chancellor of the Exche... Read more.