Signature Pubs Group, the independent multiple operator with more than 20 units across Scotland, is having a busy year.
In addition to opening new venues and refurbishing some of its established estate, the company bought seven units earlier in the year from Speratus Group, the company behind the Boozy Cow brand which was founded by Garreth Wood, brother of Signature boss Nic.
The acquisition brought seven additional units into Signature’s estate and, in March, Nic told SLTN that some of those units were likely to be rebranded as the company looked to get the most out of its new venues.
I think there’ll be a lot more footfall and also a lot more time spent in the venue.
“Boozy Cow is a great brand and it works in certain places, but I don’t think in that area – which is high office footfall – that there was the demand for naughty burgers and alcoholic milkshakes,” said Nic.
“So it was thinking of something that would suit that venue, would suit the customer base round about it and would provide the Aberdeen customers with something different.”
Brightening up the space was the first priority.
Previously blacked-out windows were uncovered, metal features were replaced with glass, the more industrial-style Boozy Cow furnishings switched out for velvet and leather.
Working with contractor Bentleys, Signature created what Nic described as “a much more glamorous and comfortable space to spend time in”.
“I think that means there’ll be a lot more footfall and I think also a lot more time spent in the venue,” he added.
Despite bearing the same name as the company’s Glasgow cocktail bar and restaurant, The Spiritualist in Aberdeen is very much its own venue.
Nic said that, in terms of design, the two units are quite distinct, with the granite city outlet much brighter than its Glaswegian sister.
The menu, too, has a lot that’s unique to Aberdeen, featuring fresh produce from local suppliers in dishes such as cullen skink and chicken Balmoral kiev, as well as the venue’s signature ‘hanging grill’ dishes: skewered chunks of meat and vegetables seared by a Synergy grill.
On the dairy side, there’s a through-line with the rest of the estate, with products such as milk, cream, butter and soft cheeses supplied by Scottish firm Yester Farm Dairies.
Director Jackie McCreery said there are similarities between the two companies.
“Yester Farm Dairies is delighted to be working with The Spiritualist in Aberdeen and the rest of the Signature Pubs group throughout Scotland to supply their dairy requirements,” she said.
“As a family-run, small dairy producer our ethos fits very well with the objectives of Signature Pubs – to be the best in Scottish quality and service.”
The drinks side of the menu is where The Spiritualist veers closest to the offer in Glasgow, with a strong focus on cocktails.
Signature’s own beer, Cold Town, features on the bar, with The Spiritualist the first venue in the estate to serve Cold Town’s new pale ale.
Cold Town, brewed in Edinburgh, is now in 18 Signature units, but the pale ale is only currently in three (The Spiritualist in Aberdeen, The Raven in Glasgow and Element in Edinburgh).
Nic said that – as with Cold Town’s 4% ABV pilsner – the aim with the 3.7% ABV session ale was to create a beer that was almost an introduction to the craft style, and which customers could enjoy but “not have their tastebuds completely wiped by having something that’s incredibly pungent or hoppy”.
The new venue is operating in a competitive market. Aberdeen, which was once considered ‘recession-proof’ because of the North Sea oil industry, has had several tough years because of the oil sector’s woes.
But Nic is confident the market is picking up – and that The Spiritualist is well positioned to capitalise.
“I think it’s been pretty tough for the last three years,” he said.
“Compared to anywhere else in the country I think Aberdeen has had it a lot tougher. There’s definitely a bit less money in Aberdeen than there was in the past. But everyone seems relatively optimistic that things are just beginning to turn in the last six or seven months and things are beginning to pick up again.
“You’ve got your people of Aberdeen and you’ve got your students. The students are the same through and through – different students every year but there’s still a good market.
“But I think people in general are starting to go out more and spend a little bit more than they have been.
“There’s an air of optimism, I would say.”