Historic city pub roars back to life

Exterior of the Griffin pub in Glasgow

Glasgow pub is in good shape as it prepares for its first festive season since 2019

KENNY Webster, the new owner of historic Glasgow pub The Griffin, is upbeat about his first festive season in the on-trade.

Webster, the owner of Isle of Skye Brewing Company, acquired The Griffin in summer of this year, refurbishing the pub before reopening the doors in early September.

The Bath Street pub, which dates back to the early 1900s, had been closed since 2020, its trade having been decimated by the COVID-enforced closure of the neighbouring King’s Theatre as well as the lack of office workers in the city.

Webster told SLTN he had been looking for “a specific type of pub” for around a decade before the opportunity arose to buy The Griffin.

“Isle of Skye Brewery has got its provenance,” he said.

“Skye is iconic; everybody wants to go up to Skye.

“I wanted to replicate that (with a pub).

“The Griffin is an iconic pub. It fits the right criteria that we wanted, and had the right feel about it.”

Having taken the pub on and spent around £40,000 on a refurbishment, which included a new kitchen as well as refreshed interiors and frontage, Webster rehired former manager Jen Galbraith, who had run The Griffin for over ten years.

Galbraith has since built a team of 21 staff as the pub prepares for its first Christmas of trading since 2019.

So far, said Webster, The Griffin has “exceeded expectations”.

“I had a turnover figure that I wanted per week and we smashed it,” he said.

“I thought it was more like a honeymoon period, but it’s kept going.”

And things are looking good for December, said the entrepreneur.

“We are nearly booked out for December,” he said.

“We’ve got very few spaces left, which we certainly cannot complain about.

“We’ve got parties booked in that are maybe going into The King’s. But we just put our Christmas menu out yesterday and yesterday afternoon we got 20 bookings for December.”
As well as the return of shows to the King’s, the pub is also benefitting from office workers coming back into the city, said Webster.

But getting the offer just right has also been vital.

On the drinks side Isle of Skye takes centre stage, with seven taps dedicated to the brewery’s cask and draught beers, complemented by brands such as Guinness and Birra Moretti.

There is also a growing wine and spirits range, with a particular focus on single malts.

The drinks range is accompanied by dishes that include McCaskie’s haggis bonbons with peppercorn sauce; Isle of Skye beer battered haddock with hand cut chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce; and Mull cheddar macaroni and cheese with parmesan herb crumb and garlic bread.

Suppliers include wholesalers Inverarity Morton and Dunns Food & Drinks.

“Both of those companies buy from Isle of Skye Brewing Company,” said Webster.

“They’re supporting us so we want to support them.”

In the new year Webster said the team will be looking at ways to build The Griffin’s trade on quieter nights, which could see the pub hosting events such as cocktail-making classes, open-mic nights and stand-up comedy.

Building on a business’s foundations is nothing new to Webster.

He told SLTN that Isle of Skye’s turnover has grown six-fold since he took it over in 2013, with the workforce more than doubling.

The expansion of the business continued in 2019 when Webster acquired Stirlingshire brewery Black Wolf from Scottish drinks company VC2 Brands.

“Isle of Skye got so busy and there was – and still is – a lack of bottling facilities for small to medium-sized brewers in Scotland,” said Webster.

“Black Wolf had its own bottling operation as well as its own brand. So it made sense for me to have the bottling in our own hands rather than having to rely on anyone else.

“I was really reluctant to start bottling south of the border. I wanted to keep everything authentic Scottish provenance. That’s why we bought over Black Wolf Brewery.”

Black Wolf was followed, last year, by the acquisition of Highland brewer WooHa, which had gone into administration over the pandemic.

“With Skye we were trying to concentrate on the UK market, we weren’t doing much in the export market,” explained Webster.

“Whereas WooHa had done quite a bit of legwork in the export market.

“So we thought that was a good fit; we could try and build the WooHa brand in the UK, and build Isle of Skye in export.”

With that entrepreneurial spirit now focused on The Griffin, it could be a bold new age for the century-old pub.