By Jack Walsh
The path to becoming your own boss is rarely a straightforward one, especially in the on-trade.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear of those working in pubs setting such dreams aside, or even leaving the sector entirely.
And yet, the on-trade has a way of calling people back.
That was certainly the case for Nick Madigan.
Having initially worked in bars, he went on to have a decade-long career in the finance sector. But, with an itch only the trade could scratch, Nick found himself stepping back into the pub game – only this time as his own boss.
Together with wife Joy, who formerly worked in the nursing sector, Nick took on a pub on Edinburgh’s Lothian Road in 2013.
Leased from pubco Punch and at that time trading as Anderson’s, the unit required some work that may have discouraged other first-time operators.
The area was on the up and it was potentially going to get even better.
But Nick and Joy could see its potential, with its location heavily influencing their decision to take on the unit.
Nick told SLTN that the area was “on the up” at the time and it was “potentially going to become even better”.
“And since we took over there in the last four years Innis & Gunn moved in with the Beer Kitchen, so many new restaurants as well and it really is becoming the sort of area we banked on,” he said.
Work got underway and a six-week refurbishment, undertaken in conjunction with architectural firm Davidson Baxter Partnership and Donaldson Construction, created new venue Moriarty.
Nick and Joy paid for the fixtures and fittings, while Punch picked up the bill for the building work and general refurbishment of the premises.
An overhaul of the bar’s décor led to the creation of an ‘Old Edinburgh’ theme, under the direction of Nick and Joy.
Having opened on Black Friday in 2013, Nick said that they were “thrown in at the deep end”.
And it was here, said Nick, that working with Punch really paid off.
“In hindsight, looking back on it, myself coming back into the trade for the first time after quite a few years out of it, I think going in with a pub company to start with was definitely the right thing to do,” explained Nick.
“They helped us settle in and get into it again.”
After spending a few years building up Moriarty’s reputation as a late-night bar, Nick and Joy decided it was time to take the next step and look at opening a second unit.
This time, the couple was keen to open a more food-focused venue.
Nick said that “it was always something we wanted to get into”.
“It’s something that’s very competitive in Edinburgh and a lot of the bars now are almost bordering on restaurants,” he said.
And it wasn’t long before they found what they were looking for in The Caley Sample Room.
Situated on Edinburgh’s Angle Park Terrace, the outlet was also a Punch-owned site, and one that was perfect for the couple.
“When the Caley Sample Room became available it was somewhere that we knew very well, somewhere that’s actually fairly local to where we live, and we just thought it was the perfect fit,” said Nick.
“It’s a 60/40 split on wet to food – half the bar is set out for a restaurant so it was something that [we thought] this is the perfect one to go onto after [Moriarty].”
While Nick admitted that it “was mainly just by coincidence” that their second unit was owned by Punch, it once again proved useful when the couple took the helm; Nick said that “if there’s anything we’ve ever needed from Punch, they’re always there”.
With a few years experience under their belts, the couple already knew exactly what changes they wanted to make at The Caley Sample Room.
They were keen to retain many of the core features of the pub, which already benefitted from a loyal customer base.
So when it came to drawing up their refurbishment plans, Nick and Joy said it was something of a balancing act between pleasing locals and enhancing the venue to attract new custom.
For example, due to the pub’s proximity to Tynecastle and Murrayfield stadiums, the pub’s televisions and pull-down projector screen remained, in order to continue catering to sports fans. And they were also keen to maintain close ties with the nearby Caledonian Brewery.
But Nick explained that he and Joy were still keen to “put our stamp on it”.
“We wanted to keep it quirky; a quirky local, but still with the character that the Caley people know and love,” Joy explained.
“We wanted to modernise it, but softly.”
To achieve this, Nick and Joy worked with Edinburgh-based Craiglockhart Contracts on various aspects of the project, including the redesign of the back-bar, construction of a partition wall, the installation of booth seating, the refurbishment of the toilets, and alterations made to the external frontage.
Inside, as well as general redecoration, the Madigans had their own vision of how to maximise the available square footage.
There’s never been any interference; it’s a healthy relationship.
They installed booth seating by the windows, and brought in higher tables in the bar area; the venue now has capacity for up to 100 covers.
Having been open for over a year now, Nick said that the benefits brought about by the changes can really be felt.
“I felt the bar was always a really good place – it was just a bit of a sleeping giant that needed woken up again,” he said.
“And I think that’s what we’ve been able to do and I think everyone – customers and everyone – has been really supportive of it and [are] happy with the way it’s going.”
With both outlets going from strength to strength, Nick reckons that for those with limited experience, the leased route can be “the way to go”.
He added that for people “stepping in from a management role who maybe don’t know the business side of things, I would always recommend that it’s a starting point way to do it”.