Belfast Telegraph

‘If my late dad was here I’d tell him I respect him even more for having his own business’

The owners of two high-end firms in the catering world tell Lisa Smyth about the trade’s challenges and opportunities... and why a quality product is always a must

When chef Nick Clough decided that the time had come to find a new job, his wife happily agreed to move their family wherever required.

Joanne, a trained solicitor, could never have imagined the decision would mean a return to Northern Ireland and setting up their own gastropub in Co Down after 20 years living in England.

However, after first moving to Northern Ireland to take up a job at The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn, 43-year-old Nick has now opened up the Aniseed Lounge in Ballynahinch with Joanne, serving restaurant quality food in a laid-back and relaxed venue.

The couple have two children and also keep horses as a hobby.

Joanne said that a few years back, the time came for a change for the family.

"It was just one of those things where Nick came to the top of his career ladder in the area where we were living and I told him I would go wherever we needed to go," said Joanne (40), who is originally from Co Tyrone.

"He was getting fidgety in work - his last job in England was a management role in a four-star deluxe golf resort hotel (De Vere Slaley Hall) and he had a team of 30 chefs.

"I was hoping it would be somewhere exotic like the Seychelles or Mauritius, but we ended up coming back home when he got a job at The Old Inn.

"Nick is a chef. Basically he was one of those kids around the table who wanted food off the adult menu, he always had a real interest in food.

"One thing we have always said was different between England and here is that here people think nothing of travelling for an hour and a half to get a decent steak. You wouldn't get that in England.

"Nick always wanted to run his own gastropub and once we got home, the opportunity came up to look at the premises we are now leasing last April and we immediately saw potential.

"It just felt right and basically we went home that night and starting putting together a business plan. It was ready about five days later and we signed the lease by about October."

While Joanne, who trained as a solicitor, was ideally placed to negotiate the terms of the lease, she was less experienced when it came to other areas of opening up a gastropub.

The premises required a complete overhaul and Joanne had no interior design experience but with a requirement to keep costs to a minimum, the job fell to her.

"We wanted it be modern and neutral, and I did a lot of looking on the likes of Pinterest and taking photos everywhere I went.

"I was still going back and forward between Newcastle in England for a job and I remember standing taking photographs of a wall in the airport that had mirrors on it.

"With the branding, I knew what I wanted and someone was helping me out, but it just wasn't what I had in my head.

"In the end, I sat down in front of the computer and got on Word and went through all the fonts until I found the one I liked and it was the same with the colours we ended up using too.

"I think we got the finished product right and I hope our customers think so too."

They now have a gastropub that can seat 80 people at a time but are already looking at ways to increase capacity and improve the customer experience.

There is the potential to develop an outside area with a pizza oven in time for summer.

And they're also considering refurbishing the upstairs of the building.

"We are in the middle of applying for our entertainment licence so we can have live music at the weekend," Joanne said.

"We could do up the upstairs and have more tables there for diners or we could make that the restaurant and the downstairs would be the bar.

"We are thinking about maybe opening up the kitchen, as it is upstairs.

"They are all ideas that we need to sit down and consider."

Getting to the stage they are at now, where they are looking at making improvements, has been challenging.

"Starting up your own business is a lot harder than I ever imagined," said Joanne.

"Nick was still working in his old job, I was working as a lecturer, we have a four-year-old and a yard full of horses, so there was a lot of juggling.

"We opened for drinks on December 7 and my 40th birthday was the day before and I spent it running around getting everything sorted, trying to find grey paper and printer ink, in between teaching and looking after the children."

Her experiences make her look back differently on her late father's career.

"Knowing what I know now I look back on what my father did in a very different way.

"He opened up his own butchers and worked extremely hard to make a success of it. I remember my sister and I sitting in the car on a Saturday afternoon while my mum was in helping him and she still runs it now after dad passed away two years ago.

"Now I know and understand the responsibility of having employees, of paying their wages, and I think about every single person who walks through the door.

"You suddenly look at everyone who comes in because you know they are spending their money and that means you can pay wages and it makes you feel like you are really part of the community.

"I definitely look at the world in a different way now. I know my dad worked hard and kept standards high and he is an inspiration really.

"I wish he was still around so I could tell him I have full respect for everything he did."

Belfast Telegraph

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