McKenna cooks a few new ideas as he evolves food business
He may have built up a successful restaurant business, whose trading names are as renowned as his own – but there is no chance of Niall McKenna resting on his laurels.
Instead Niall, who has been a chef since the tender age of 16 and running his own business for 11 years, has just completed a major refurbishment at James Street South, has taken on apprentices and has further expansion plans in the pipeline.
Although several high-profile names in the restaurant trade have fallen victim to the recession, Niall's James Street South restaurant in Belfast has gone from strength to strength and in the few years, he has expanded his offering with the opening of The Bar + Grill and Hadskis in the up and coming Cathedral Quarter.
He also offers private dining at James Street South, and runs the ever-popular Cookery School.
Last week The Bar & Grill was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand, for venues serving good but affordable food.
"As a business, it's important to constantly evolve," said Niall. "We've recently refurbished James Street South.
"As much as I loved the original décor, eating out in Belfast has evolved so much we needed to update.
"We also have plans to expand the business over the next 12 months, as we have recently signed a lease for the Titanic Quarter. It will not be open until the spring of next year but it is going to give our business a new dimension at a different and expanding area of Belfast."
Niall currently employs 70 people across the three restaurants but that figure is set to rise with his growing business empire.
Although the market is competitive with hundreds of eating establishments in the capital trying to entice consumers to spend their money, Niall welcomes the challenge.
"The market is very competitive which is a good thing as it means that there should be more people trying new places," said the award-winning chef.
"There is also a growing market of people who live in the city centre which also benefits our restaurants and both Hadskis and the Bar + Grill are excellent for dining alone.
"In addition to this, we have built a reputation of great food and great service over the years and we have a great number of excellent offers available from the Critics Table at James Street South for all the foodies to the Wine Mondays at Hadskis for those who love food and wine pairings.
"We aim to offer a relaxed and fun experience with the best of local ingredients.
"Our restaurants are hard to beat from brunch at the weekend to that tasting menu birthday experience at James Street South."
But Niall and his team must have the recipe for success, for this month all three of the restaurants were listed and scored in the Good Food Guide, which is a first for Northern Ireland.
"This is testament to the team managing the front of house and the kitchens and is a great pat on the back for us all," he added.
As if the Great British Menu finalist didn't have enough on his plate, he has just employed not one but seven apprentices who are working towards a NVQ through Belfast Metropolitan College.
Niall said: "I spend a Thursday morning with them in the Cookery School working on perfecting a dish and learning new skills.
"Northern Ireland's hospitality industry is going from strength to strength and we want to support that by offering world-class training to the next generation of chefs."