Galgorm's directors to reopen cafe facing City Hall with a Titanic twist
The directors behind the luxury Galgorm Resort & Spa have snapped up prominent Belfast cafe Robinson & Cleaver as they continue to focus on restaurant trade, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Robinson & Cleaver, which overlooks Belfast City Hall, opened at Cleaver House four years ago.
The venue was named after the famous Belfast department store that once operated from the premises at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North.
Now it is set to reopen under the ownership of Paul and Nicholas Hill as Cafe le Parisien.
It is understood the name has been inspired by the cafe on-board the Titanic - joining the Titanic Hotel at Harland and Wolff's former drawing offices in Titanic Quarter as the city's latest Titanic-themed hospitality venue.
The Hill brothers have formed Cafe Parisien Ltd - a new company with project manager Colin Johnston and Israel Robb - for the running of the cafe.
Group company Tullymore House Ltd already owns the luxury Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena.
Earlier this year, the company sold on the Scottish Mutual Building in Belfast, where it had planned to build a hotel.
Instead, the business has been investing in its Fratelli pizza chain.
It will open its second Belfast Fratelli pizza restaurant next year in the former Holy Rosary Church in south Belfast's Ormeau Road in a £1m project. It also operates a Fratelli restaurant at the Galgorm Resort.
The company was not available for comment on its plans for Robinson & Cleaver.
Economist Andrew Webb, of Webb Advisory, said the move by Tullymore House Ltd could be influenced by the increasingly crowded nature of Belfast hotel sector.
Around 25 new hotels are being planned for the city, and building has already begun on many of them, including the Grand Central Hotel, a project by Hastings Hotels Group, and a Maldron Hotel by Dalata Hotel Group plc nearby.
Liverpool property developer Lawrence Kenwright and his Signature Living business is planning to open a George Best-themed hotel at the former Scottish Mutual Building after buying it from the Hill brothers.
He also aims to convert the Crumlin Road Courthouse into another hotel - along with opening four other hotels at undisclosed locations.
Mr Webb said that the arrival of more and more operators could make the field so crowded that hoteliers could be prompted to look into other projects.
"It does sound like a savvy and timely business move," he added. "In addition to the likes of Signature Living, I understand there is strong interest from other external operators who aren't yet here.
"If these other larger operators emerge to fulfil the projected demand for hotel beds, selling the Scottish Mutual and focusing on restaurants could prove to be a masterstroke."
Tullymore House Ltd announced its plan for the opening of a Fratelli on Ormeau Road in March this year.
Speaking at the time, project manager Colin Johnston said: "The Ormeau Road project is part of an ongoing investment programme in the hospitality sector by Tullymore House Ltd, including planned extensions to Fratelli restaurants in Galgorm in Ballymena and Belfast city centre.
"As a major employer in Belfast and Ballymena, we are committed to the development and enhancement of Northern Ireland's hospitality offering, and this project is one of a number of expansion plans."
Robinson & Cleaver became a top department store in Belfast when it opened in the late 19th century. Such was its reputation for grandeur that it was known as The Old Lady.
It was remembered for its sweeping marble staircase - a fixture that was auctioned off following its closure in 1984.
It was snapped up by the late Lord Ballyedmond, the industrialist and founder of Norbrook Holdings.