herald

Monday 18 December 2017

My dad was a Guinness rep, but there's none for sale in this pub

PULLING POWER: Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin talks to Luke Byrne about his ambitious plans for our bar trade

HIS pub chain famously decided against selling Guinness at its first Irish branch - but JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has revealed how his father did sell the black stuff.

Eyebrows were raised when it emerged that the famous UK pub chain had not included Guinness on its drinks list for it's first Irish pub - the Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock.

The company said that the decision followed a disagreement over pricing, when the pub opened its doors earlier this month.

Mr Martin, whose estimated net worth was €910m in 2010, was at the Three Tun Tavern this week, where he explained to the Herald how his father was actually a sales rep for Guinness.

"I grew up mostly in Northern Ireland, until the age of 10. My old man was the Guinness rep in Derry.

"He was posted to New Zealand when I was aged 10 to 15. When I was 15 we came back to Belfast," he explained.

Guinness

Mr Martin said he grew up in Dungannon, Derry and Belfast. He said that his father's career may have subconsciously influenced his decision to enter the pub trade.

And he said the decision not to sell the drink that his father promoted was not a conscious one.

"We initially intended to sell Guinness here but we couldn't agree a price with the brewery, so we thought we'd just run with Murphy's and Beamish.

"Guinness know their business, they're a good company. We thought we'd try and do something different.

"We're not trying to have a big pitched battle with Guinness, or teach them the error of their ways, they're not trying to do the same with us, I don't think," he laughed.

Speaking about his upbringing, he said that moving back to Belfast after living in New Zealand was somewhat of a culture shock.

"We lived on the beach in Auckland more or less, it was a bit different," he said.

"I went to school in Ireland, in Belfast until 1973, when I was 18 and that's when I left Ireland really," he added.

Mr Martin also spoke about opening up his first ever pub and said that he had never intended to get into the pub trade.

The opportunity arose while he was studying in Nottingham University.

"After I finished studying each day I used to go for a pint in a pub in north London. It was one of the first ones in Britain to be converted from a shop. It was a very small.

"I got to know the guy who was running it. It had a bigger range of beers than most pubs because in that era they belonged to breweries.

"He said 'I don't like running this,' and I said I don't like [studying] the law.

"So, basically, I took over the lease of his pub a few months after it opened. It was an eight-year lease of a tiny pub and it's been downhill ever since," Mr Martin joked.

He eventually went on to sell the pub in 1983, but has since managed to amass an empire of more than 950 watering holes.

Mr Martin said that he was optimistic about his company's expansion in the Irish market.

Wetherspoon purchased its second Dublin premises earlier this month - the former Forty Foot pub in Dun Laoghaire.

Mr Martin said that he hopes that the venue can be open before Christmas, assuming that everything goes as planned.

competitors

He is also planning to open up a pub in Swords and is considering a venue.

Behind Mr Martin's trade is a passion for pubs and he said that he enjoys visiting his own premises for a drink, as well as competitors.

"I really like going to other people's pubs as well as our own," he said.

Mr Martin said that, as with coming into Ireland, his model was to create individual pubs that absorb the culture of their surroundings.

"All of our pubs have individual names and we try to absorb a bit of the culture and the character of the area in the way we design pubs.

"We're sourcing for example, a lot of food products from Ireland, so we try to absorb some of the local culture, wherever we go," he explained.

"In a way, I don't think it matters whether you're a chain or not a chain, but I think if we're good we can open quite a few pubs, if we're not we won't be able to."

He said that his plan for Ireland was to open up to six new pubs in the next 15 months, but admitted that this was "pushing the boat out a little bit."

"At the end of that, we'll have a reasonably good idea of where it's going," he added.

The deal for the Wetherspoon pub in Dun Laoghaire was completed earlier this month. It is unclear how much was paid for the site, which has more than 10,000ft of space and previously included a nightclub.

It is understood the asking price was around €1.5m - the same price that the chain paid for the site of Tonic in Blackrock.

Wetherspoon has also previously confirmed that no nightclub will operate at the Dun Laoghaire site.

The bar menu will be the same as the operator's menu in the Three Tun Tavern. The company has also purchased a site in Cork, which is also likely to be open by Christmas.

lbyrne@herald.ie

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