Duo invests in the future of hospitality post-lockdown

Husband and wife team Stevie, a talented chef, and Cristina Higginson, responsible for front of house, is investing in their popular eatery in Lisburn and hoping that the current lockdown ban on hospitality will be lifted as soon as practicable.

By Sam Butler
Saturday, 20th February 2021, 5:00 pm
Cristina and Stevie of Square Bistro with one of the awards won by the successful business
Cristina and Stevie of Square Bistro with one of the awards won by the successful business

They own The Square Bistro, an award winning restaurant that’s been at the heart of Lisburn since 2016.

“We are spending over £50,000 on a further extension of the existing restaurant,” Stevie says. “This is our second significant expansion since we opened and it’s being made to provide the additional space for tables and other facilities that we will need when the restrictions are eventually lifted. We expect that the requirements on social distancing will continue to apply when are eventually allowed to reopen.”

They invested extensively in safety measures for customers and staff including the reduction of 58 tables to around 30 before the first lockdown.

Stevie continues: “The extension will enable us to take our tables back to the 58 before the first lockdown. We are determined to do whatever we can to ensure the survival and growth of our restaurant in both short and long terms. It’s our livelihood, after all, and also provides employment to around 20 people. We value greatly their skills and commitment and have kept them on-board.”

The expansion will enable the enterprising couple to introduce several new features including a unique wine dispenser.

“We’ll have a cabinet for around eight premium wines for diners to taste before ordering,” he explains. “We know that diners are sometimes hesitant to order a pricier wine from our list in case they don’t like it. They’ll be able to sample the expensive wines in advance.”

Another response to the lockdown is the entrepreneurial couple’s investment in a food truck with a well-equipped kitchen for premium convenience snacks. The Square Pop Up, which opens mostly at weekends and mid-week, is in the car park of Christ Church in Lisburn, a location agreed with the church.

“Our focus is on delicious food made with quality ingredients. It’s definitely not cheap and cheerful food,” he adds.

The food truck follows his successful introduction of a ‘cook at home’ meal collection service at weekends and special occasions such as Valentine’s Night. In addition, Stevie is planning an online cookery school. Quality food, creative menus and exceptional service have led to Square Bistro’s ranking among our very best restaurants. Premium ingredients for the consistently high quality meals on its extensive menu are largely sourced from local suppliers.

“Consistency is at the heart of everything we do. It underpins our food and our customer service,” he says. “There so many wonderful artisan food producers here for the creation of really memorable dishes. We are always keen to hear from potential local suppliers.”

The menu focuses on local quality produce like salt-aged lamb beef from Hannan Meats in Moira; other meats from Mulholland’s butchery in Lisburn; organic Glenarm salmon and other seafood from Ewing’s in Belfast; cheese from Ballylisk in Portadown; milk, cream and ice cream from Drayne’s Farm outside the city; and butter from Abernethy in Dromara.

Stevie began his food journey working in Mulholland’s butchery after school and during the holidays: “I started in Mulholland’s at the age of 11 for pocket money and to gain experience of work. I learned a huge amount about meat before going on to develop my culinary skills and knowledge at local restaurants such as The Pheasant run by the late Derek Patterson, a great chef and mentor.”

He also met Cristina there.

Stevie’s inspiration came from his late father: “My dad always taught me to work hard and the rewards would follow. This influenced me in my passion for food and the decision to set up a snack bar in the city with Cristina. We were confident that it would be a success…and it was. I was only 25 at the time. It subsequently led to decision to invest in creating the bistro. Cristina designed the front-of-house space and I redesigned the kitchen. It was all completed within two weeks.

“We’ve never been afraid to take risks. Another example of this is their decision to take over a shuttered restaurant in Ballynahinch and develop a new quality eatery. He aims to open the restaurant, Coulters, once restrictions are lifted.

“Our investments in Lisburn and Ballynahinch demonstrate the strength of our commitment to the future of hospitality here. We would appreciate Executive support for the industry especially in rates and the continuing low VAT rate for a longer period. Hospitality needs a package of support to gets back on its feet.”

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