Bubbacue shuts Belfast outlets year after receiving £400,000 growth loan
The closure of what appeared to be a thriving restaurant business in Belfast has been met with shock and sadness.
Barbecue chain Bubbacue announced to its 30,000 followers on Facebook yesterday that it had closed its two outlets - one on Callender Street and the other on Botanic Avenue.
The news followed on from a creditors' voluntary liquidation notice that appeared in the Belfast Telegraph last Friday.
One former staff member said employees learned of their redundancies last Wednesday, which marked their last shift with the company.
On its Facebook page owners John and Karen Blisard said: "Regretfully, Bubbacue is now officially closed. We want to thank all of our amazing employees and customers for all of their support over the years. It has been a pleasure serving slow smoked barbecue to Belfast."
Thousands of comments expressing support and disappointment flooded the feed.
One user said they were sorry to hear of the closure and remarked on the "amazing" food.
The post added: "Good luck with future projects all the best."
Others wrote that the news was "devastating" and they were "gutted".
Bubbacue opened in 2007 as a pop-up venture. Its owners were the previous founders of Boojum, but they sold the business to brothers David and Andrew Maxwell in 2015.
Last June, the Blisards opened a second Bubbacue on Botanic Avenue, taking on around 15 staff.
They also received a £400,000 growth loan fund last year and planned to expand into the Republic and potentially open a third store on the north coast.
In November, Mr Blisard said: "The market is heading in one direction and that is towards fast-casual dining.
"It is something that has been in America for the past 10-15 years and Northern Ireland is only now starting to grasp the concept.
"We're going to be opening the first Bubbacue in Dublin within the next nine months and we have plans to open a third store in Northern Ireland.
"We have customers who travel from Coleraine and Ballymena so opening a third store around the north coast is the next logical move.
"It'll be a new concept to the area and we're excited about our future expansion plans."
However, despite its popularity, the owners made a decision to shut up shop.
They could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
Economist Graham Brownlow tweeted: "So Bubbacue closure may make for a good teaching resource/cautionary tale. Certainly feel sorry for how the staff were treated.
"Are the lessons that a successful business model was tinkered with and over expanded? Quality dipped?"
But restaurant critic Joris Minne hailed Mr Blisard as a "visionary" for bringing the concept to Northern Ireland, adding that pressures on restaurateurs including rising costs made hospitality businesses vulnerable.
He said: "I loved Bubbacue, its concept, the slow roasted meats and the actual restaurant space in Callender Street.
"The owner John Blisard is a visionary who created Boojum before selling it on and when he opened Bubbacue it seemed a winning certainty he would do the same.
"I am very sorry Belfast has lost both Bubbacues as they added colour to our broad restaurant portfolio."
Mr Blisard moved to Northern Ireland from Philadelphia in the US with his Co Down-born wife Karen in 2007 when he opened the Boojum outlet in Botanic Avenue.
Bubbacue's closure follows on from the shock news that the highly-acclaimed Bull and Ram restaurants in both Belfast and Ballynahinch would close.
Recently, Armagh restaurant The Moody Boar also announced that it was closing after a rent hike by its landlord, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.