After best part of 40 years in the game, Bill Wolsey could be thinking about slowing down, spending time with his family and generally enjoying the spoils of a career that has seen him amass a portfolio of around 50 bars not to mention creating Belfast’s grandest hotel in The Merchant.
Just last week, sons Connel and Luke helped him mark his sixtieth birthday with a soccer game – not down the leisure centre mind – the boys hired the Oval for the event and then got their dad there with a cock and bull story about someone wanting sponsorship.
But there’s no sign at all that he’s lifting his foot off the throttle as the opening this week of the Grand Café proves.
Besides, he positively thrives on being annoyed by small-mindedness, officialdom and a host of other things that prompt wife Petra to roll her eyes silently to heaven.
Anyway, there’s a lot to do for the pair as they prepare for the opening this weekend in the former First National Bank building on Belfast’s High Street, just around the corner from The Merchant.
As well as a real apple tree in the beer garden, the Grand will also feature the wares created by the French chef drafted in specifically to bring Belfast a taste of the continent.
In due course the, bakery will also serve the patisserie Mimi’s next door and eventually the three floors above the Grand will be opened as an extremely classy and sophisticated club.
Then there’s the other bar in development nearby in a historic commercial building bought during the good years of the boom at about the same time as the National.
That was then of course and the world is a different place now but, despite frequent rumours doing the rounds of the city, the Wolsey empire is not crumbling around his shoulders.
“There’s always rumours about everybody but were I in trouble I wouldn’t be opening three new places.”
Plans to develop the National as a sister hotel to The Merchant are now out of reach and Wolsey has cut his cloth to match new times.
“We’re doing the National and right beside it is a patisserie called Mimi’s which has a fully equipped commercial bakery behind it.
“We are producing artisan breads, Viennoiserie and a whole range of pastries. At the front there’s a shop and we have already signed deals to supply some of the better end restaurants in the area with the breads.
“It’s a fairly ambitious project because what we’re trying to do is what lots of publicans have tried to do and failed. It’s the holy grail; to make your premises produce some sort of profitability at times outside the night time economy.
“Belfast is as far advanced as most cities. It’s a capital city with a well-educated population who travel a lot and we think they’ll understand completely what we’re doing.”
So, what about the Oval? Did he win?
“Yeah, 6-4,” he replies. “And I played the whole game.”