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Colum McLornan: 'We wouldn't have sold half the firm on Dragons' Den'

By Margaret Canning

Published 18/08/2015

Colum McLarnon in The Fourth Wall with Margaret Canning
Colum McLarnon in The Fourth Wall with Margaret Canning

Hotelier, food manufacturer and singles travel impresario - now Colum McLornan can add reality TV to his CV after a memorable appearance on business reality TV show Dragons' Den.

Viewers watched in horror two Sundays ago when he and business partner and friend Claire Hunter missed out on £60,000 of investment from Deborah Meaden for their food company Rule of Crumb.

The firm has been on the go for a year though Colum cut his teeth with his own travel business, Friendship Travel. He was on his placement from catering college in Portrush when inspiration struck.

"I did my placement with Falcon Holidays and was in one of their hotels in Turkey. But Falcon dropped the hotel and I thought to myself, is there a way that I can step in?" He resumed doing business with that hotel but with his own firm instead - and Friendship Travel has been going ever since, now with turnover of around £3m.

That began 22 years ago. Now - as he grinds black pepper onto my plate - he tells me it's far from a Club 18-30 set-up, catering instead for the 35 to 65 cohort.

He and Claire stepped in to buy Ballycastle's Marine Hotel in 2013 after it had been on the market for two years, initally at an asking price of £800,000. It now has turnover of around £2m per year, he tells me, and has been restored to a bustling hotel in the community. "It's felt really great to do that, especially because we are able to attract more tourists who are able to stay overnight. "Next year the Manor House on Rathlin Island is going to reopen, so people will be able to spend two nights in the area, which is great news for the economy."

He's still only 39 and admits he has a good role model, courtesy of father Tony, who still runs alloy wheels business Performance Alloys.

Colum says he has capable managers looking after the Marine Hotel and Friendship Travel, but will be working at the hotel for the Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle on the August Bank Holiday. "The fair is still huge for the hotel and we are completely booked out for it. When our guests leave after the fair is over, we usually have many of them rebooking straight away."

Rule of Crumb makes gluten free food convenience for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. He and Claire used an Invest NI innovation voucher to develop some products - including a gluten-free Chicken Kiev. The holy grail of kievs is a crumb which will adhere correctly to the chicken, he informs me over his own roast chicken and mustard mash. I am manfully making my way through a dense mass of tagliatelle.

He and Claire took the plunge to appear on Dragons' Den in May. But Deborah Meaden withdrew an offer of £60,000 in return for a 40% share after Claire suggested she and fellow dragon Sarah Willingham could both go in on investments.

Colum is quick to make clear that the 25-year-old friendship wasn't on the rocks as a result. "We would never have given away 40% for just £60,000."

The Bill

The Fourth Wall, St Anne’s Square, Belfast

Margaret had: Chargrilled chicken Caesar salad ...............................£5.00

Tagliatelle with courgette, spinach and parmesan ............................£5.00

Diet Coke x2 ..................................................................................£4.00

Colum had: Caesar salad ................................................................£5.00

Roast chicken breast with green beans and mustard mash .............£5.00

Diet Coke .......................................................................................£2.00

Total: .............................................................................................£26.00

Belfast Telegraph

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