Glendola eyes further growth

UK bars group adds to Scottish estate with Glasgow venue

• Alston Bar & Beef is located in a former storage space in the vaults beneath Central Station.

By Gillian McKenzie

IT opened Alston Bar & Beef in the vaults beneath Glasgow’s Central Station and adjacent street-level licensed coffee shop Gordon Street Coffee at the end of May.

The launch marked the end of a two-year planning and refurbishment project. It also reinforced Glendola Leisure Group’s presence north of the border, taking its Scottish estate to five.
Glendola, which was founded in 1973 and operates a further 15 bars and restaurants down south, has run Irish pub Waxy O’Connor’s in Glasgow since 1999.
But it was a further 12 years before the firm added to its Scottish estate with the acquisition of Frankenstein bars in Edinburgh and Glasgow – the latter of which was revamped and launched as Horton’s later the same year – from Saltire Taverns in 2011.
As operations manager Matt McKenna told SLTN last week, the company has taken a “considered” approach to growing its estate.
“One thing Glendola has never done is rush a decision,” he said.
“It’s been going for about 40 years as a company and it’s built a considered portfolio.
“Scotland is currently about 20% of the group’s revenue and we’re hoping to push that to 30%. Scotland has been a great opportunity for us to buy freeholds. But there are no plans in terms of numbers [of outlets]; if opportunities come up we’ll look at them and if the right opportunity comes up we can move.”
Alston Bar & Beef was one such opportunity.
Named after Alston Street – the main thoroughfare of the village of Grahamston which was demolished in the late 1800s to make way for Central Station – the bar and restaurant was created in a vaulted former storage area beneath the station, while the vacant ground floor space, previously occupied by Boots, was turned into Gordon Street Coffee.
McKenna said it took a fair bit of vision when he, group sales manager Euan Robb, who, like McKenna, is based in Glasgow, and Glendola MD Alex Salussolia first viewed the unit.
“We were down here with torches because it was just a storage space at the time and when we first looked around we thought ‘this isn’t for us’,” he said.
“And then we saw the numbers passing (Alston’s main door is located in the Gordon Street entrance to the station) and we thought ‘actually, this is for us’.”
Two years and an extensive refurbishment later, Alston Bar & Beef opened its doors.
Majoring in steak and gin – the restaurant menu offers ten different cuts of beef while the bar stocks 55 gins, 12 of which are Scottish – Alston is said to have enjoyed strong trading since its launch.
But unlike Glendola’s Waxy O’Connor’s brand, which also has a presence in London and Manchester and which the group aims to take to Edinburgh, there are no immediate plans to take the Alston Bar & Beef brand further afield.
“We’re delighted with how Alston Bar & Beef is going so far,” Robb told SLTN.
“But I don’t think we’ll see Alston Manchester or London, for example.
“It’s quite specific to Glasgow but we might take elements of it and do something.
“We’re always looking at sites but there’s no plan as such; we assess each opportunity as it comes along.
“We have a very varied portfolio; it’s great to have different brands and styles of outlet.”