How simple good value can pull in the punters
People told Michael Stewart he was mad to get involved in a bar in the Smithfield area of Belfast.
But today The Hudson on Gresham Street, which Mr Stewart co-owns with three other businessmen, is thriving.
The success of the three-story premises has surprised a lot of people who couldn't understand why anyone would open up such a business in what is perceived as a rundown area of the city in such tough economic times.
But Mr Stewart and his partners had a simple formula that they stuck to and, eventually, it paid off.
"I'd been out of the licensing trade for five years when The Hudson idea came up and it was certainly a challenge, especially in the first few months after we opened in September 2011," said Mr Stewart, who cut his teeth in bar management with Botanic Inns.
"Thankfully, we've managed to build up a decent customer base and things are going reasonably well for us."
So, what's the secret?
"These days, people don't want cheap; they want good value," he said.
"'Cheap' is a £2 drink offer, or all you can drink for a tenner.
"Good value is a bowl of quality chicken wings and a good pint for £8. Good quality, good atmosphere, good environment; it's simple, but it's what people want."
All well and good, but you have to spread the word to get customers and The Hudson – named after Gresham Street's previous, 18th century incarnation, Hudson's Entry – uses both traditional and modern methods.
"Any pub needs good old-fashioned word-of-mouth to get people in, but we also use social media such as Facebook," said Mr Stewart.
"For me, the days of giving out flyers are long gone, and social media reaches out to so many people."
Acquiring the disused mini-arcade at the back of the pub for al fresco dining and a smoking area has given the place an extra dimension in recent months.
The versatility is essential because pub-going trends have changed since the economic downturn.
"In the olden days, some people were hitting the pub four times a week but now it's invariably a Friday or Saturday," said Mr Stewart.
"These days when people go into pubs at lunchtime they expect food as well as drink to be on offer; otherwise it's just the old-style image of men drinking."