Saturday 20 December 2014

The unlikely entrepreneurs

Andrea Smith talks to the brave – or foolhardy – Irish men and women who fought against the downturn in an unusual way: by launching new businesses mid-recession

'Never waste a good crisis,' goes the old adage. This lot certainly saw the opportunities that a recession offers.

'Weekend' met the courageous owners of six new and innovative businesses that are bucking the economic trend.

rock lobster

The business

Rock Lobster is Dublin's first fish and prime cuts house, serving cocktails to a regular backdrop of live music. It is owned by Niall Sabongi (35) from Clontarf, Dublin. He is engaged to Natalie Dowling and they have two children, Callum (seven) and Max (two).

Niall's dad is George Sabongi of George's Bistro. Niall previously co-owned Romanza restaurant on Leeson Street, and was general manager of Ivan's Oyster Bar & Grill in Howth.

Starting off

"We opened on November 22, 2012, as I wanted to open a restaurant that specialises in fish and prime and was waiting for the right premises to present itself," says Niall.

"We only had about 20 days to get it up and running from the day I first viewed the premises, as I really felt that a pre-Christmas opening was essential.

"We had had next to no support from the banks, but luckily I had a lot of equipment from my old restaurant, and have a very trusting friend who helped with financing the start-up.

"I acknowledge that opening a restaurant at any time is very risky, but if I was to wait for the perfect time, I would never start this business."

The progress

"We are comfortably paying all our bills so far, and the availability of really top-notch staff was an advantage. Having said that, I think the most important part of having a successful restaurant is the right location matched with good food that is reasonably priced, hence our idea of serving lobster to the masses for €20.

"As suppliers have been stung badly by restaurants closing down over the past five years, we have had to operate with short credit terms. Balancing work and personal life can be difficult, especially as my fiancee is working full-time in the same industry. I'm very lucky to have such a supportive partner."

The future

"People are still spending money and still eating out, but they want to know that they're getting value. We plan to keep giving our diners great luxurious food, such as lobster and aged steak, rocking cocktails and VIP treatment, but at a really reasonable cost.

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