Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Little Wing set to soar as Wolsey business gets a pizza the action

Pub entrepreneur Bill Wolsey has spread his wings even further with a multi-million pound investment.

The head of the Beannchor Group has opened Little Wing, his first pizzeria in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter with plans to roll out the new brand across Ireland.

He has also snapped up another five pubs across the province and one of the capital's oldest buildings, which he has earmarked as a cultural centre.

Earlier this month Little Wing, which has 26 staff, quietly opened its doors for business in Ann Street and since then the seven-day-a-week operation has seen a steady rise in trade.

The 44-seater licensed trattorie, as Wolsey describes it, is open from 8am to capitalise on the breakfast trade and at the weekends takes its last table order at 1am but continues to serve takeaway pizza slices until 3am.

Despite competition from other pizza outlets including Pizza Express, Wolsey is adamant there was a gap in the market for a venture such as Little Wing.

"It has been trading just a matter of weeks but we are delighted with the way things are going," said Wolsey. "We have been watching trade and the demand for slices has gone up and up every day."

A number of sites have already been identified for the extension of Little Wing, including two more in Belfast and one in Dublin. However, Wolsey is confident they will also feature in many towns.

"We are evaluating it and have already been approached by a number of people regarding franchises," he said.

The economic downturn which has caused heartache for so many businesses in Northern Ireland, including the hospitality industry, has not proved a barrier for the Beannchor Group - in addition to Little Wing, Wolsey has extended his pub empire to 38.

He has just signed contracts to purchase five bars from PBN, including The Sandpiper in Ballywalter, The Stove in Dromara, The Lighthouse in Ardglass, The Auction House in Rathfriland and The Tavern in Carrowdore.

Wolsey acknowledges that many businesses are having difficulty accessing credit, however, he says Ulster Bank has been an ardent supporter of Beannchor. "We brought Ulster Bank, which has been an enthusiastic supporter, a sound business proposal that it liked."

The five bars, which will have tenants, will now undergo major refurbishment and will be opened for business early next year. "It does not matter whether the bar is in Belfast or Ballywalter, we pay the same attention to detail to all our pubs."

Wolsey has also just bought a Grade A listed bonded warehouse in Waring Street in Belfast which will become a cultural centre in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter.

The early 17th century building will be home to the McPeake School of Music and will also feature an Irish bar called The Dirty Onion, which will have live traditional music.

Wolsey, who has a love of old and historic buildings, says the end product will be 'absolutely amazing'.

The entrepreneur is hoping that the new facility which will include a recording studio, classrooms and a performance room will be opened late next year, subject to planning permission.

"This has probably been one of our busiest years," said Wolsey. "We have launched a pizza restaurant, we have purchased eight pubs, we are doing phase two of The Merchant, which is a £16m expansion due to be completed in July. We are also waiting on planning permission for The National Hotel, which is imminent."

The businessman of 32 years has in the last year invested millions in projects which will create over 300 jobs and he continues to be on the look-out for other opportunities.

"Because we have so many pubs, people come to us with opportunities, however, we turn down about 75% of those offers."

Beannchor employs 300 people but indirectly the group has provided jobs for 1,000 people.

"We have created all these jobs. We are a local company and we have achieved this growth without a single penny of government assistance.

"We are very proud of having built up this business and the contribution we have made to the local economy."

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