Mount Charles to open restaurant on ground floor of The Apartment in Belfast
Northern Ireland outsourcing giant Mount Charles is planning to open a new restaurant in part of one of Belfast's most famous bars, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The company has lodged a planning application for a change of use from bar to restaurant for part of The Apartment in Donegall Square West.
It's understood Mount Charles would operate on the ground floor, with The Apartment continuing to run as a bar and separate restaurant upstairs.
The company is thought to have reached an agreement with the building landlord, a company connected with the McLean family of bookmakers.
Mount Charles already operates five cafes under its Fed & Watered brand, including one in Exeter Airport, as well as restaurant George's of the Market at St George's Market in Belfast.
A spokeswoman for Mount Charles said the "fresh and exciting concept" would open in the summer.
The Apartment is run by Co Londonderry brothers Seamus and Henry Downey, as tenants of the owners.
It was one of a number of Belfast licensed properties which they bought over in 2013 following the administration of former operators, Botanic Inns.
The Downeys were not available for comment.
Colin Neill, chief executive of licensed trade organisation Hospitality Ulster, said operating an additional restaurant on the premises was a logical move.
"Food has become an increasingly important part of the overall offer of the hospitality industry so people are looking at how to deliver that in a cost-effective way," he said.
"In this case, a ground floor restaurant would attract people into The Apartment's offer as well."
And he said a Mount Charles restaurant need not detract from another eatery upstairs.
"You could have a more complex food offer or a bigger variety in one of them," he said.
"Something like this is good news for both businesses and shows how the pub trade is being innovative and delivering better experiences for their customers."
Last week, Mr Neill said that the trade was facing rising costs including a 1.5% hike in rates and around 3% in water bills.
"The hospitality sector is working for NI and continues to grow despite the lack of decision-making due to the collapse of the Assembly," he said.