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28 October 2014

Featured Business: Kay's Kitchen Group

Posted By: AIB Business

Name: Bart Glover, co-founder of Kay’s Kitchens and Glover Catering  

Employees: 120-150 (seasonal)

Since: 1979

Life Stage: Established

Company Background:

Having experienced emigration in his youth, one of the driving forces for Dubliner Bart Glover in keeping the family business going is exactly that – to have his family close by.

Nowadays he works alongside wife Bernie and two of his children in running several Kay’s Kitchen restaurants in the Dublin area

Kay’s Kitchen, named after Bart’s late mother Kay, was established in 1979 when Bart, Bernie and Kay seized the opportunity to set up a small restaurant in Donaghmede Shopping Centre

Kay had already run a small sandwich bar in the Dunnes Stores outlet there, and found that there was demand for hot food. People were asking for a decent breakfast, or sausages and chips. The obvious thing was to call it after Kay, as she was known in the area.

It was a time of transition. Bernie, who was being made redundant, had been reared in a busy bar in Skibbereen. Bernie did background work while Kay was front of house.

Back in the 1970s, Bart says he was “a working-class guy from a working-class area of Dublin”. Having started out with Chrysler Ireland in an office job, he had a career selling heavy commercial vehicles, and a good bank record. He studied marketing in Rathmines College of Commerce by night and was able to get a business loan to open up a restaurant in Donaghmede. Since then, he feels that Ireland has become mired in bureaucracy, and wonders whether the same opportunities would be available to young working-class people now.

Once the business was established, Bart returned to the motor industry. Meanwhile, Kay’s Kitchen traded through the awful recession of the 1980s, and in the early 1990s there was a pick-up. The kind of vehicles he was selling were wiped out, so Bart got back into the restaurant. That was his saviour, he says.

He did maintenance and cleaning, and then looked after the books and wages. They had to use their skill to cook themselves out of trouble. A philosophy evolved; if we were going to up-skill in the kitchen, we would up-skill everywhere else, says Bart.

Donaghmede Shopping Centre was bought from liquidators by Pat Doherty (Fitzwilliam Place Management) who decided to redevelop it. Pat backed Kay’s Kitchen as the restaurant operator, rather than established names like Kylemore or Bewleys. That deal formed the foundation for other opportunities.

Since then, the business has expanded into other retail centres such as The Blanchardstown Centre and, in November 2014, will open a new restaurant in Supervalu Lucan.

The business has plans for an app to allow customers to see what’s on the menu for that day as well as all allergen and nutritional information to allow them make healthy choices.


Interview with Bart Glover


What was the inspiration for setting up your business?

My mother had worked in the centre, and there was a requirement for cooked food. That was the opportunity.


How did you initially fund your business?

I was in a position to get it launched because of my high earnings. We were an ordinary working-class family, even though I was doing well. I borrowed £9,000 from one bank, then I borrowed another £9,000. One was operating [capital] and the other was against the equipment. So I had five years to pay £18,000 back. I bought a house for £7,250 and had 20 years to pay that back.


Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?

It’s a lot different now. We were cooking for local people whose requirement wasn’t anything fancy. Their palate was traditional Dublin fare. As time went on, with people travelling abroad and getting to taste pizza in Italy and paella in Spain, tastes changed. We grew at arms length. We were in Donaghmede, and an opportunity came when they were building Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. We went looking and they knew of us, and we had a good record of paying our rent. Now we’re in Donaghmede, Clare Hall, we’ve two places in Blanchardstown, we do the catering in Java Republic’s HQ in Ballycoolin, and we’re just about to open in Supervalu Lucan.


What have been the highlights to date?

Each time you open a restaurant is a highlight. There were different steps along the way. There were two key factors: one was Pat Doherty’s faith in us to do a good job and pay our way in Donaghmede Shopping Centre. The other was Susan Cahalane, a bank manager with AIB trusting us to do the job in Blanchardstown and getting us the money to make that move. If these people hadn’t the faith in us at those critical times, we wouldn’t have moved forward.


What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?

Freedom. You make your own decisions. It’s a freeing up of yourself, your intellect, your being. You look at life, make your own decisions and hopefully move ahead.


How do you achieve a work-life balance?

By not working at it. You go with the flow. Sometimes work is going to take over and you’ve got to give it everything you have, especially in the early years when the work is about survival. I know what it’s like to work for a lodgement, get the money in and get it to the bank as fast as you can. Now, as I’ve gotten older, I have grandchildren around me and family in the business; I can decide, if it’s a sunny morning, to do a couple of hours on my bike first. It’s about going with the flow. Don’t fight life.


Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?

I don’t put people on pedestals. There have been people who made the world a much better place: Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, for example. In a pure business sense, Michael O’Leary. He calls it as he sees it. You don’t have to buy a Ryanair ticket and you know what you’re getting when you do it. He’s revolutionised that industry. I remember as a young lad working in Chrysler, I had to spend three months working in the UK and they would pay for a ticket back for me once a fortnight. I was earning £15 per week, and it was £260 for the return ticket to London. A manufacturer who quietly did great work was Martin Naughton of Glen Dimplex. He has thousands of people working around the world and he did it all from here. There’s an inspiration for any Irishman.


What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?

When it comes to the cooking, it’s finding out what you really need and then buying the best. That gives you the ability to make sure that your product is at its absolute best. The other thing was computerisation. In the early days, it was Excel. When I first got a computer, I would sit up in bed every night and read two pages on how to use Excel. Excel was, and still is, a fundamental tool of this business. We could not exist on the margins we exist on if we had not got computerisation. As we’ve grown, we’ve invested heavily. We have our own programmes and systems. I don’t wait for an accountant to tell me how I’m doing. I know at the end of each week, and if I wanted to, I’d know at the end of each day.


Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?

I’ve become more remote from the counters, but I never stay too far from the information that’s coming out of the tills and what people want. Everyone takes cappuccinos and lattes for granted these days. I remember putting in a coffee dock in Donaghmede with a brand new espresso machine; all the bells and whistles and these beautiful big cups in brilliant orange and red and nobody was asking for a cappuccino. I remember going down the middle of the restaurant and saying, “For Jaysus sake, will one of you ask me for a cappuccino?” And now if you don’t have coffee art, they’ll turn up their noses at it. Trends change, so you stay ahead of them and invent a few yourself.


What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?

Recessions – we’ve been through three of them now. At the minute, I would have to say governance. The country has a form and a department for everything. You’re just overwhelmed with bureaucracy. It’s a bureaucratic nightmare being in business. I don’t know how an ordinary working man can even fill in a tax form. I don’t think there’s a politician in the country who is a friend of any everyday working man. We have to do this because “we’re in the EU” is the answer for every question. The quality of the governance doesn’t improve but the bureaucracy keeps on getting bigger and bigger.


What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?

The squandered opportunity of what happened.; not getting to grips with the fundamentals of what caused that recession.


What part of running a business comes to you naturally?

The actual business of running a business. The deals you do, the buying and the selling. Generating new products. Seeing what way we’re going to do it in the future. The training and the staff. I’m not a chef, I employ chefs. Frank Boland, someone I looked up to when I was a young man, said many years ago: “If I need brains, I’ll buy them”.


What has been the best reward in running your own business?

I’ve kept my family together. My family were blown away to the four winds in the 1950s when we had to leave Dublin, and my mam, dad, aunts and uncles got work in England. When you’re so young and have to go from one new school to another school, it’s crushing to a young child. I’ve no childhood friends. None. Now I have my own family around. Two of them (Ciara and Steven) are working in the restaurants and my eldest son, Barry,builds them. I also have my grandchildren, Ava and Ruby, close by. We left in 1958, and mam and dad came back in 1967. I wouldn’t come home there and then as I had a job in the Birmingham Fire Service. With all the Troubles in the North, I came home in 1971. I got an office job in Chrysler Ireland.


What was the main catalyst for growth?

We’re not reinventing the wheel. The main thing is we stay very true to what we’re about and use our skill sets to compete. All our restaurants have professional chefs. Our skills factor is important. Our central kitchen is like a hub, we send the prepared food out to the chef in each restaurant and he finishes it, so he has time to be a chef.


How did you scale/grow your business?

We did the best we could each day. We didn’t have long-term plans. I always believe you start off with a dream and you turn that dream into an aspiration. You work towards it and give yourself some foundation and some tools to get there. Once you have an aspiration, you form several objectives to get you there. On a few occasions we got distracted. We lost focus. We were distracted from our own restaurants and what we should really be doing. When your business gets more successful, it’s easier to get distracted.


What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?

Every obstacle I’ve had has been to do with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is enormous and has grown exponentially since I was a young man.


How do you get ideas to further your business?

Listening and going out. Just by being interested. Staying interested. I never went to work. I never woke up in the morning and said “I’m going to work now.” I was living my life. Work was my life. When myself and Bernie go on holidays, we’re always looking around and seeing different things and trying them out.


What motivates you to stay running a business?

I have my family around me. That’s the reward above all. You can have the nicest car, the biggest house and, at the end of the day, you can only sleep in one bed. Nothing gives you as much joy as holding a grandchild. They’re the things that motivate you.


What’s your vision for the future?

We want to establish our own cloud, which will not only enhance the efficiency of the business and the people in it, but it will also bring huge dividends for our customers. These will be in the form of information, recipes and, by knowing about allergens and daily allowances, it will allow us to change menus much more easily.


Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?

No, but I knew some wonderful people. I learned how to say “help”. The best words in the world if you want to progress are: “Can you help me with this?” To have the strength to be able to say I need help. I met oodles of Irishmen who gave their time to me and that was all I needed.


What’s the best business advice you’ve received?

What was relevant at the time.


What would be your advice to businesses starting out?

With us, it was a necessity. We had to keep going. If somebody’s starting out, be sure of it. Research it, research it and research it and then commit. There’s a saying: “When it comes to a breakfast, the hen is involved but the pig is committed.” Friendships have to go and relationships come under pressure. But you’ve got to do that, and there is no work-life balance. If it’s the kind of thing that needs a big market, leave, do it somewhere else. Go to London, go to New York. Ireland is stifled with bureaucracy.


What’s your favourite motivational business quote?

I gave myself one: “People make business, business does not make people.” I don’t know a single business that ever manufactured a human being. But I know lots and lots of people who built businesses.


What, if anything, would you do differently?

You couldn’t, you wouldn’t. It’s as simple as this: life is not a plan, it’s not a programme, it’s a journey. I’m not the same man today as I was when I started out. I changed. Everyone has their own journey to make. It’s how you deal with things on that journey that makes you the person you are today. Nobody knows what’s on the journey. I was obnoxious. I learnt humility. I learned how to say I need help. You look at other people and try and model yourself on what they do and they give you little tips along the way. You meet some sort of adversity. You get to deal with it and, all the time, you’re growing as a human being.  If you went back and said I’d change this, you’d turn out to be a different person. You are what you are because you’re here.


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