“Never open a business and have twins in the same year,” warns good-natured Ginger Bistro owner Simon McCance.
A successful local entrepreneur, McCance has inspired a winning formula several times over, and owns and runs the bistro, located close to the Europa on Hope Street, Belfast.
As the lead chef at Nick’s Warehouse, Simon always harboured ambitions for his own restaurant, originally opening the small, cult outlet Ginger on the Ormeau Road with backing from Nick Price.
Then in 2004, McCance opened the elegant, relaxed and slightly bohemian Ginger Bistro on Hope Street. That year also marked a key change in his personal life, as wife Abby gave birth to twins Teddy and Zak.
Despite the current climate, Ginger Bistro has had three strong years in a row. So what makes McCance’s eaterie different to Belfast’s other offerings? Well, firstly there’s the award for the Best Restaurant in Northern Ireland 2011 in the Which? Good Food Guide. Then there’s the name Ginger. “Ginger was the one name everyone smiled at when we were whittling down the list of potential names” says McCance. “It’s short, sharp and I have red tones in my hair, so people find that amusing.”
The quirky, stylish interior also stands apart, translating well from lunch with business acquaintances through to dinner with friends. Pieces of local art hang on the walls along with Moroccan and South East Asian-inspired lights; plenty to entertain the eye.
“I wanted a friendly, casual dining place that will look good in 20 years’ time, nice simple timeless furniture, a bit bohemian; and we try to make it as comfortable as possible,” explains Simon.
And, of course, there is the food, which is excellent, reasonably priced and locally sourced. “I’m very much about the ingredients, keeping it simple and really tasty,” he says. “I cook what I want to eat and use local produce.”
Adding in McCance’s business skills and charismatic, down-to-earth personality into the mix, and you can see why the Bistro has a loyal clientele and is popular with tourists, rating well in the Belfast Lonely Planet guide.
Simon employs 22 people, with a freakishly low turnover rate for the industry, having lost only two employees in 24 months, one to return to Argentina and another to France. “I can’t do this on my own and as far as I can help the staff, I’ll do that,” he observes.
There is little doubt that the next year will be tough for all in the hospitality industry. “Prices going up are the most challenging thing for everyone running a business right now,” he says. “Whether you are making furniture or selling food, margins are tighter. You have to work as hard for less money — I’m certainly never far away from Ginger.”
And it’s true that every lunch and dinner McCance can be found either in the kitchen or mingling with diners. He says for the rest of the year he will be focusing on Ginger Bistro’s core product: “Ginger is about having a good time and a good meal — it’s clean, night-time entertainment.”