FOR the last 15 years, Robert and Fiona Byrne have been synonymous with Bobby Byrne's gastropub on Wolfe Tone Street:
Tell us about Bobby Byrne’s Gastropub:
Robert Byrne: We are a neighbourhood family bar, serving both food and drink. We’re extensively involved in both. Sometimes they work together, other times they work apart. There are different strands to the business – we have catering, as well as a food hall, which was formerly our shop. A big emphasis of our business is on food, but we’re still a traditional family run neighbourhood bar. We’re not a restaurant.
How many people does the business employ?
RB: Across the foodhall, and bar, we would employ 42 people, spread between different departments and different areas. It’s a lot of people, but it’s a long day. We would often have people coming in at 7am.
Fiona Byrne: Our early morning catering deliveries start from 7.30am onwards, and the bar is open from 8.30am for breakfast.
Tell us a little of the history of Bobby Byrne’s Gastropub:
RB: The pub itself opened in 1963. We celebrated our 50th anniversary with a number of different events in 2013. It was great fun. Before my father, Bobby, opened the bar with Helen, it was three separate businesses. The food hall was two different shops, then you had the pub. It was a real little corner – you had a pub, shop and butchers. It was a busy corner, bringing a lot of people. My mother and father bought it in 1963. At the time, he had a choice between two pubs — the one which is now Punch’s and here — but he decided on this one as he felt Punch’s was in the middle of green fields at the time.
What do your roles entail?
RB: Fiona and I bought the bar in 2003 from my parents after they had retired. We have operated it since. Our roles involve the day-to-day management and operating of the business, the planning for its future, and its continuous development and growth. We are hands-on, both of us, in running the business. It’s the sort of business where no two days are the same.
FB: There is nothing predictable about it, it’s constantly changing. We are always on the floor at lunchtime to meet our customers. We have customers coming in here five days a week for lunch. You get to know them — they become part of the fabric of the building.
Where were you born and raised?
RB: I was born in O’Connell Avenue. We were here until the early 1980s. Now we live just outside Limerick.
FB: I was born and raised in Cork, before I moved to Dublin aged 16. Then I came back to this side of the country, joining the Shannon College of Hotel Management.
RB: This is where we met in 1991.
How did you get to where you are today?
RB: I graduated in 1995. A lot of my classmates went abroad, to Britain, or the United States. But I stayed in Ireland to begin working for a company called Great Southern Hotels. They were owned by the government, owning hotels in Galway, Dublin Airport, Cork, Shannon, Rosslare and Kerry and around the country. I stayed with them from 1994, at my final year in college, before joining them full-time, staying with them until we came home to Bobby’s!
FB: My journey was a bit more varied. I worked for a while in Switzerland, in Paris and Britain. I joined Jury’s Hotel group first, before moving to the Great Southern group after this. We moved to Dublin two years before we came here, when Robert moved to the Great Southern head office. I wasn’t working, as I was pregnant with our daughter Emily. We moved to Dublin in the year 2000, before moving back here in 2003.
What made you take on the family business?
RB: It is what I grew up in, it’s what I knew. I had always worked here as a teenager growing up. I remember us having jobs here on Saturday morning. As we got older, we served behind the bar. It was what we loved. I had a real grá for it.
FB: You have to love it. It’s not an industry you can just go into just for the sake of it.
RB: While I loved the hotel business, I wanted my own place. I was general manager in several places, but you always had a boss. I wanted to be my own boss, make our own decisions, and decide on our own direction, rather than implementing someone else’s plan.
FB: It was a massive decision at the time. My family all live in Dublin, and Emily was really small. All her cousins lived within five minutes of her. We had to decide to move before she started school, or it would become awkward. We just said: ‘Now is the time’.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
FB: Our main goal would be to keep growing the business.
RB: When we moved here first, we did a major refurbishment. Last year, it was 11 to 12 years on, so we felt the gastropub needed a bit more loving to bring it on for another 10 to 12 years. You need to keep reinventing yourself a little bit to keep yourself fresh and interesting for the customers. We wanted to create a layout suitable to what pub-going people want: a place you can have a drink where there is no food, which is what we’ve done at the top section of the bar. We also installed new kitchens and added more seating for dining.
With the refurbishment, did you create any new jobs?
FB: Absolutely – the new works created nine new jobs.
In business and life, who do you admire?
RB: There are many great hospitality people, and publicans. But it’s more a style of operating I would admire.
We are both into good hospitality, affording a positive customer experience, and that recognising it is all about the customer.
When the customer comes in nowadays, they have worked so hard that when they spend money, they need to feel appreciated. Rather than one individual, I admire people who believe in hospitality and welcoming their customers.
FB: I would admire my father Dermot, who worked for Coca-Cola. Even to this day, I still bounce every business query I have off him. It drives Robert mad!
Are you guided by any particular motto?
RB: We use the slogan ‘Limerick’s friendliest foodie corner’. That’s a statement we are into friendliness.
We hire staff who we feel can be friendly, and would be welcoming and hospitable.
You cannot teach personality – you either have it or you don’t.
FB: Honesty and integrity is a huge thing.
Away from work, what are your pastimes and hobbies?
RB: I have a couple of hobbies. I love to play golf and I cycle.
We have a very active golf society here, with 40 members. I’m also a huge rugby fan.
FB: As a full time working mother, I get no spare time! I love spending time with my family. We have a wonderful 16-year-old daughter, Emily.