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Northern Ireland cafe business setting its sights on Republic after slowdown


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Growth plan: Adrian Garvey

Growth plan: Adrian Garvey

Growth plan: Adrian Garvey

The owners of Northern Ireland cafe business Synge & Byrne are scouting for the chain's first location in the Republic as they seek to Brexit-proof their business.

Director and co-owner Adrian Garvey said the chain hopes to open its first outlet there by the second quarter of this year, and will target regional and commuter towns for expansion.

Synge & Byrne has seven outlets in Northern Ireland, in towns and cities including Belfast, Newry, Derry and Dungannon.

In 2018, a number of stores owned by the brothers were temporarily closed in the wake of an investigation by the UK's Revenue & Customs that involved a raid by as many as 120 revenue officers.

The outlets reopened within days. Solicitors for the pair said the probe related to accounting technicalities and that the brothers were confident they would be vindicated.

Adrian Garvey said the matter continues to be the subject of discussion between BWL Group's accountants and Revenue & Customs.

Mr Garvey, who runs the business with his brother Damien, said that the chain had put expansion in Northern Ireland on hold in the last few years due to a more subdued business environment there.

He said that finding staff in Northern Ireland also remains difficult, although with near full-employment in the Republic, the chain is likely to encounter similar difficulties here.

He confirmed the company's plan was always to expand into the Republic. "That's where the growth is for the future," he said.

Mr Garvey added that Synge & Byrne believes growth will be in what he called "community cafes", that have deep local roots and which become focal points in the towns and villages in which they operate.

"We have done very little in Northern Ireland in the last two years," he said, citing business uncertainty here. "But you have to move on from that."

He said that around Dublin, Synge & Byrne would steer away from locating premises inside the M50 due to the higher costs associated with stores closer to the city.

The Garveys, whose BWL Group also operates the O'Brien's Sandwich Bars chain in Northern Ireland, developed the Synge & Byrne concept in 2013 and initially opened three outlets with plans for almost 20 by 2018.

The group is the latest company in Northern Ireland to reveal its plans for 'Brexit-proofing'.

This week Co Londonderry company MCL InsureTech announced it would be opening premises in Swords, Co Dublin, to service its 900,000-strong customer base in the Republic.

The Coleraine-based firm, which is behind brands Its4women, 25Plus and BoxyMo, said the move would Brexit-proof its business.

The company had been servicing around €70m of gross written premium in the Republic from Coleraine for the last 10 years. But MCL said it is switching support for its customers over the border to the north Co Dublin town after receiving regulatory approval from the Central Bank of Ireland.

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