Belfast Telegraph

The Goat's Toe owner outlines secrets for success

By Rachel Martin

The secret to a good pub is to specialise and stand out, according to the owner of 2014's Pub of the Year. Johnny Gedge runs The Goat's Toe, the Bangor nightspot named Hospitality Ulster's Pub of the Year last November, with his brother Andrew.

The pair acquired their first nightclub - Cafe Ceol - in Bangor just over a decade ago and since then have built a portfolio of three bars in east Down, with several other venues also passing through their hands over the years.

The pair currently run The Goat's Toe, The Frisky Bear in Holywood and newly opened Bangor hang-out The Hop House.

Mr Gedge said pubs should be selective in their mission. "A lot of pubs try to do too many things," he said. "Do what you do and do it well. We always try to be innovative and think outside the box."

That has including placing a caravan on the roof of The Goat's Toe as the brothers have made a running joke of combining the weird and wonderful in their venues.

Their most recent acquisition, The Hop House - which they took over in 2014 - features a real telegraph pole complete with council prohibition signs.

Similarly, the roof of The Goat's Toe is now home to a disused caravan which has been re-purposed to become a seating area in the rooftop beer garden.

By focusing on key elements such as sound, light, heat and atmosphere the pair have tried to create a fun, inclusive atmosphere. The aim is to provide a comfortable, unpretentious experience, achieved with exposed wooden beams and live music several nights a week.

Group operations manager Nigel McNeely said: "The Goat's Toe started trading in November 2012. The premises has been licensed for years with varying results.

"It was the lay-out of the bar with a large staging area and substantial disused area on the roof which give us the idea to create a live music venue and outdoor beer garden. This fitted in to our original objectives when we were searching for premises."

Mr Gedge said the biggest challenges facing the industry are expensive overheads as well as a change in social culture here.

He added that customers are staying at home a lot longer and aren't coming out until later in the night, a practice which is for obvious reasons problematic for publicans. To encourage customers to come out earlier the group's pubs have started to run early bird drinks promotions and reduced entry charges.

The 2015 Hospitality Ulster Pub of the Year Awards take place on November 11 at the La Mon Hotel and Country Club outside Belfast

Belfast Telegraph