Business

Loan fund seeking to claw back £430,000 from failed restaurant owners

The Bubbacue restaurant on Belfast's Callendar Street shut its doors in late July
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE biggest creditor to failed Belfast restaurant Bubbacue says it will be seeking recovery of nearly £430,000 it claims it is now owed - even though the owners have less than £18,000 in assets.

The barbecue pork joint, opened six years ago by Philadelphia businessman John Blisard and his Co Down-born wife Karen, closed its doors suddenly last month, leaving behind debts of more than £1.2 million.

The NI Growth Loan Fund, which is managed by Whiterock Capital Partners and whose investors include Invest NI, was stung heaviest of the 30 or so creditors.

While around half those creditors are owed amounts of less than £500, the loan fund is out of pocket by a six-figure sum.

In a statement to the Irish News, a spokesman for Whiterock Capital Partners said: "The owners of Bubbacue approached us for the loan of £400,000 in January 2017 for business expansion purposes.

"Whiterock conducted their normal lending procedures which involved presentations to our investment committee, which included financial due diligence on the business. The loan of £400,000 was approved by Whiterock and was drawn down into the Bubbacue account on March 20 2017.

"The company went into creditors voluntary liquidation on July 27 past - 16 months after the loan was provided.

"During the loan application process, we considered the previous successful roll-out of the Boojum restaurant chain by John and Karen Bisard, along with their personal financial contribution, as evidence of their management ability in this sector, and commitment to the business.

"Bubbacue spent the £400,000 loan on leasehold improvements, including amalgamating and renovating two units to create a 4,200 sq ft unit, refurbishing an office, purchasing equipment and licenses in Botanic, plus ongoing capital for both Northern Ireland outlets.

"At that time it was anticipated that Bubbacue would return to Whiterock after 12 months and seek follow-on funding for the opening of a third outlet in Dublin as they sought to expand the business across both Northern Ireland and the Republic into a multi-outlet business.

"But trading in Botanic did not achieve forecast sales levels, and coupled with declining sales in Callendar Street, it resulted in the business not being viable prior to the directors putting the company into voluntary liquidation."

The statement added: "Whiterock is seeking recovery of their outstanding loan of £339,000 and their forecast return of profit share/accrued interest of £90,000 from the appointed liquidators."

The privately-owned Whiterock said it exclusively manages the Growth Loan Fund, and Invest NI does not have any responsibility to collect or recover the Bubbacue loan.

The company's affairs are currently being managed by liquidators Keenan Corporate Finance.

A statement from Keenan filed at Companies House shows that Bubbacue has debts of £1,201,758 but assets of just £17,610, which will make recovery of outstanding monies difficult for creditors.

Other major creditors include Close Brothers Asset Finance (£40,528) and Henderson Foodservice (£30,352), while £4,787 is owed in redundancy payments to staff.

Before setting up Bubbacue, the Blisards opened the north's first Boojum outlet in Botanic Avenue in 2007 before later selling on the burrito chain.

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