City operator has a route to growth

Oli Norman plans to expand his estate of seven venues

On your bike: Oli Norman owns seven pubs, including Brel
On your bike: Oli Norman owns seven pubs, including Brel

By Dave Hunter

GLASGOW entrepreneur Oli Norman has applied a strict rule to any venue he adds to his bar and pubs group.

The operator, who last month took sole ownership of seven venues he previously co-owned with business partner Stephen White, told SLTN he is determined to add more sites to his stable. But any acquisition would have to meet one key qualifier.

It would have to be on his bike ride home.

“I’ve never taken on any places outside the route from my workplace to my house,” he said.

“If they are on my bike journey home it means I can pop in, enjoy them, but also get to know them without geography being a barrier.”

It’s not as strange as it might sound.

In addition to owning seven quite diverse Glasgow venues Norman is also the founder of deals website and events company Itison, which now operates in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Manchester.

Running that company – which is based in Glasgow city centre – is bound to be a considerable undertaking without adding venues that require additional travel.

Norman’s seven outlets are all situated between the city centre and west end, consisting of pub and events space Sloans; Ashton Lane beer bar Brel; traditional city pub The Griffin; rock bar and club Maggie May’s; and the Epicures Group: bar and restaurant Epicures of Hyndland, Nick’s Italian Kitchen and Finnieston bar Jacques.

Oli Norman
Oli Norman

Though each venue is quite distinct they all have a quality in common (besides the aforementioned cycle route).

Norman said: “For me, each venue has got to have its unique voice and an offering that it’s famous for. If you don’t have those core ingredients you’ve nothing to differentiate yourself and you’ve nothing to shout about.

“So, for me, it’s always been about establishing an amazing team you can trust, and then a core product – and be sure you have a real differentiation in the marketplace.”

Although acknowledging the trade has its fair share of challenges, Norman said he thinks it is “a really exciting time to be in hospitality”.

“There’s huge pressures on costs, whether it’s salaries, utilities or the general cost of food and drink,” he said.

“But that just means you have to run an even tighter and more dynamic operation. So I think it’s challenging, but a really exciting time to be a publican.”

The Epicures outlets were the most recent additions to the stable, having been taken on last year, and refurbishing these units is likely to account for the first half of this year.

Then it’s back on the acquisition trail.

“Thereafter the plan is very much to look at more acquisitions that are in line with the goal of keeping it very much a local group, based on each venue being unique and interesting in its own right,” said Norman.

And probably also on his route home.