Couple hoping for time to plan reopening of pub

Barbara and Stuart Hughes, the husband and wife team behind the award-winning Stillhouse Gastropub in Moira, Co Armagh, have invested heavily in preparing the large outdoor area behind their premises in anticipation of being able to welcome customers again soon.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 12:23 pm

The enterprising couple’s hope that they’ll soon be allowed to open is also reflected in their recent decision to launch a recruitment drive.

It’s been a really tough time overall for the enterprising and progressive hospitality business with its stylish restaurant and gourmet menu. In addition to the popular bar and restaurant, the family-owned business had to shut its successful Gin School and close the doors for tours of its distillery producing RubyBlue Irish Potato Vodka and fruit infused liqueurs for Irish and international markets, sales of which have been hit by the closure in bars, restaurants and hotels virtually everywhere and Brexit hurdles.

“While the past year has been an absolute nightmare for us and the wider hospitality industry that makes such an important contribution to the local economy, we’ve continued to invest in operation and especially the vast outdoor area behind the bar/restaurant. This hasn’t been easy especially since we had to shut everything after Boxing Day,” Barbara says.

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Their investment in the future of the business has included an impressive outdoor facility.

“We are hoping too that the eventual go-ahead to reopen the outdoor area at least will be see some decent weather to boost the business and also lift everybody’s spirits,” she adds.

“We all need a lift. What we need now from the Executive - and urgently - is a date which will enable us to start planning for reopening. The whole hospitality industry needs hope from the Executive.

“We are all anxious, of course, to avert another lengthy lockdown. Another total shut down would be disastrous. The last opening which was followed by the lockdown after Christmas led to costly waste in terms of food and beer. We simply can’t afford for this to happen again.

“Opening the outdoor area is likely to be a step in the right direction. While we are fortunate in having such a large and attractive area outside we still need sufficient time to plan to maximise its potential,” adds Barbara. “For instance, we have one draught beer delivery a week. The last thing we want is timing which means we could have to open without our draught beers. We also need food and other essential supplies.”

The company, Barbara continues, furloughed most of its 32 employees but lost a number, especially part-timers, to different roles including jobs in retail. “We’ve endeavoured to hold on to as many of our staff as possible for eventual reopening,” she says. “We’ll need experienced people to enable us to ‘hit the ground running’. They also need to know when they’ll back at work.”

The couple brought a vast wealth of experience in hospitality to the business in Moira. Transforming an existing bar/restaurant in Moira into the Stillhouse Gastropub has certainly been a labour of love for the couple who launched their first small business, the production by hand of Boozeberries, a range of innovative fresh fruit based liqueurs and grain spirit, from the garage at their home in Dromore, Co Down in 2010.

The novel liqueurs proved hugely successful in Northern Ireland and further afield and collected a host of national and international awards for quality and outstanding flavours.

This successful track record led the couple to launch RubyBlue, Ireland’s first potato vodka, and, in 2013, the creation of the Hughes craft distillery in Lisburn. The liqueurs were subsequently rebranded under the RubyBlue identity. Their venture was a key player in the revival of distilling in Northern Ireland in the past few decades.

The small business flourished under their dedicated and skilled management and imaginative marketing. Sales for RubyBlue vodka and liqueurs were secured from luxury retailer Fortnum and Mason in London and Marks and Spencer. Sainsburys, Tesco and Supervalu also listed the drinks. Exports to countries such as Russia, Australia, Lebanon, and Finland were secured for the vodka and liqueurs.

The need for much larger premises led the couple to acquire an established bar/restaurant in the Armagh village and to invest extensively in the creation of a business complex featuring a revamped bar, a quality restaurant, a large outdoor area, a modern distillery for RubyBlue vodka and liqueurs and Ireland’s first gin school.

“We’ve realised our ambition to create an imaginative food destination in the village that would attract visitors as well as appealing to locals. We’ve put everything into the complex. While we’ve got a solid foundation, it’s clear that we’ll have work harder than ever to rebuild everything when we are eventually able to reopen,” adds Barbara.

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