40 jobs going as royal caterers Hamilton and Kirk reveal they're shutting shop
One of Northern Ireland's longest-running catering firms is calling it quits after 40 years in business, with the loss of approximately 40 jobs.
Hamilton and Kirk had a grand send-off last week, catering for around 2,000 guests at the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's garden party at Hillsborough Castle.
Well-known publican Willie Jack (55), who owns the Duke of York and the Harp Bar in Belfast, ran the business along with his friend and business partner Bruce Kirk, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 62.
Hamilton and Kirk provided top-end catering for some of Northern Ireland's biggest events over the years, including food for the peace talks during the 1990s.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Jack said the industry had become "very competitive" and demand for "big corporate dinners had stopped coming".
He added around 40 staff would be hit by the closure, the majority of whom are part-time.
Despite the business shutting as of the end of this month, Mr Jack is continuing to invest in the Cathedral Quarter area of the city, with plans for a new specialist Irish whiskey store, and long-term plans for a new restaurant at the former Northern Ireland Environment Agency building on Hill Street.
"Bruce's sad, premature death really affected me," Mr Jack said. "He was the most honourable and decent man. And we were partners and directors... and we were Instonians. We got people to work during the dark days of the Troubles.
"Hamilton and Kirk are the longest-established caterers in Northern Ireland. We have been around for 40 years. We did prestigious awards like the Baftas, we did the very famous Belfast ball for the late Eddie Haughey - a 14-course banquet.
"(We did) the Taste of Northern Ireland at Hillsborough... we did all the inaugural North-South Ministerial Council lunches in Armagh.
"It was very competitive. About five years ago, during the recession, the big corporate dinners stopped.
"We only specialised in corporate dinners, and then the market dried up.
"We had invested... we were good publicans in the Cathedral Quarter, and we started off with the Duke of York.
"We then moved into the Dark Horse and then we bought Nick's Warehouse. We then made the Harp Bar.
"The next two projects are a specialist whiskey shop that sells 150 types of Irish whiskey, wrapped up in Ulster linen.
"We have bought the old Northern Ireland Environment Agency building, and we want to put maybe someone else to run a restaurant, and we want to have a black and white cinema and an arts and crafts centre."