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Unicorn boss hopes it won't be a case of 'like father, like sons'

Dublin's favourite lunchtime restaurant, the Unicorn, has admitted that it struggled to survive over the last year.

The Merrion Row eaterie, favoured by politicians, bankers and spin doctors during the boom, has seen a dramatic fall in lunchtime revenues in the bust.

Co-owner, businessman Jeff Stokes, will have the inside track on how best to stay afloat -- he is the dad of Residence 'delinquents' Simon and Christian Stokes.

Jeff and Unicorn's colourful chief Giorgio Cassari has suffered a 30pc fall in turnover from a peak of €5m in 2007.

The Merrion Row restaurant, which has hosted Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera in the past, has cut staff wages by 10-20pc, and have cut prices by up to 40pc.

Stokes and Casari are now converting the ground floor of their adjoining Il Segreto into a tapas and cocktail bar in order to revive the restaurant which they opened in Dublin in 2008 after a €2m investment.

Mr Casari told the Dairy: "It's tough because you have to come up with new ideas. You can't sit back anymore, and we had to readjust like everyone else.

"The pay cuts were only done on management staff, like floor managers, kitchen managers and ourselves. There's still a market out there. The only uncertain area is lunch because the corporate market is gone."

This was a restaurant which hosted the city's bankers during the boom.

These days the only guaranteed visitors at lunchtime are the higher-paid civil servants who occupy the surrounding Government departments and Dail buildings.

The pair of restaurateurs also own a piano bar, two cafes and a delicatessen, all on Merrion Row.

And both men have frozen payments into their pensions, as part of the belt-tightening process.

"This year, apart from January with the weather and no water, has been positive. This year has already brought positivity."

But he added: "It couldn't be any worse than last year. Whoever survived last year will survive this year.

"We're fighting with all our energy, and we've got a lot of regular and loyal clients."

Recently, furious diners who were left with gift vouchers for the brothers' ill-fated Bang Cafe restaurant, owned by Jeff's two sons, have been venting their anger at Il Segreto.

Jeff and Giorgio became a target for angry customers, who were left unable to use gift vouchers purchased at the Stokes brothers' pricey venue before its closure.

The pair had agreed to honour any of the vouchers at Il Segreto but the twins were soon unable to finance the credit for the remainder of the outstanding ones, so they instructed the restaurant not to accept any more.