Belfast Telegraph

Red tape and social change sees Plough Inn nightclub turned into an The Vintage Rooms eatery

By Margaret Canning

A top hospitality firm in Co Down has announced it is exiting the nightclub scene because of government regulations.

Derek Patterson, of The Plough Inn in Hillsborough, said the family firm was transforming its nightclub space into a new casual eating location, The Vintage Rooms.

The business, which already employs around 220 people across three hospitality venues in the county, is investing £500,000 in the transformation, and creating 15 new jobs.

Mr Patterson, whose parents Desi and Muriel acquired The Plough in 1981, said that a revolution in socialising habits and growing government red tape had prompted the change in direction. The trained chef — who worked in restaurants around the world for before joining the family business in the mid-1990s — claimed that nightclubs were losing their relevance in people’s social lives.

“How people engage has changed so much,” he said. “They don’t need the same places for social engagement any more because they are communicating over telephones, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter.

“A nightclub is no longer a very viable opportunity... the whole thing is in decline. It’s hard to manage and it’s so heavily regulated, it’s not profitable.”

Mr Patterson also told how his father Desi had acquired The Plough while area manager for Calor Kosangas.

“He had three children during a turbulent time in Northern Ireland, with the future looking bleak, so he decided to take a real chance,” he said.

At the time, interest rates were 21% and his only asset was a house valued at £40,000. He paid £69,000 for the The Plough, which had a small lounge, a narrow public bar and old Aga scullery kitchen.

Derek’s mother gave up her job as personal secretary to industrialist Leslie Mackey to start working in The Plough’s kitchen, developing menu items such as its homemade wheaten bread and open prawn sandwiches. The business then evolved to include its Simply Seafood Restaurant as well as Bar Retro and a bistro.

“We were close to the Maze prison, which meant we had trouble on the doorstep in one sense — but Hillsborough itself being the Secretary of State’s residence and the Queen’s residence means it was a very secure area,” Mr Patterson added.

The trained chef studied cookery at Lisburn Tech and then went travelling abroad, working in restaurants from Switzerland to Bermuda.

One Swiss location had a live lobster tank — a feature that inspired him to have his own lobster tank in the Plough’s Simply Seafood.

While in London, he worked in Dickens Inn in St Catherine’s Dock, a venue which included a wine bar, pub lunch venue and specialised restaurant.

A stint working in America also educated him about how to make money from catering.

Derek, who returned home in 1997, said of the time: “Marks & Spencer was about to open in Sprucefield. My father said it was a great time to try something as we’d get traffic from there.

Mr Patterson also founded the village’s Oyster Festival.

The company additionally owns the Pheasant in Annahilt — which it acquired 15 years ago — as well as The Tannery in Moira, which it bought seven years ago. The Vintage Rooms are set to open later this month.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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