Pub group axes two dozen jobs at north Belfast bar and restaurant

Shutters down at The Chester in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Ryan McAleer

THE group behind some of Belfast’s best known pubs is to permanently lay off a number of staff currently on furlough.

The Kane Group is to make around two dozen people at The Chester in north Belfast redundant, just over six months after it bought the premises. It’s believed jobs have also been axed in other parts of the group.

But it has emerged that the company could reopen the Antrim Road premises later this year following a refurbishment.

The hospitality group, which includes Muriel’s, The Spaniard, Pablo’s, The Jeggy Nettle and Panama City in Belfast, closed all its premises on March 18.

The following day it said 90 jobs would be axed across the group.

The announcement came just one day before the UK Government announced the Job Retention Scheme. All staff in the group were subsequently furloughed at 80 per cent salary.

On June 15, Stormont announced that bars, restaurants and cafes in the north could reopen from July 3.

But on June 23, furloughed employees from The Chester were contacted via video conferencing, told the premises would not be reopening and presented with a 30-day redundancy notice.

A Facebook announcement in the days after, indicating the bar would soon reopen, sparked a wave of online criticism from customers and former long-serving staff.

The Chester Facebook page was subsequently removed.

The pub group, headed by Janine Kane, bought the Antrim Road bar, restaurant and off-licence in December 2019.

The Chester had been part of the Braidview Group portfolio alongside Dukes at Queens and the Marine Court Hotel.

At that time, the new owners spoke of plans to invest £200,000 in a revamp.

While the bar and restaurant remained closed during lockdown, the off sales side of the business had continued to trade.

But the shutters went down on the premises in recent days.

The Irish News understands that some former staff have been told by the Kane Group that it will commence a refurbishment programme within The Chester in August, with a view to reopening the venue in December.

The Kane Group has been contacted for comment.

Meanwhile a report from the directors of one of the north’s largest independent hospitality groups has outlined the challenges facing the sector as it emerges from lockdown.

The latest set of accounts from the Beannchor Group showed a turnover of £23 million for the year ending June 30 2019. Revenues were 11 per cent down from 2018, but that was largely the result of internal restructuring, which saw the Bullitt Hotel ‘demerged’ from the hospitality group’s combined accounts.

Beannchor’s gross profit percentage for 2019 remained on par with 2018.

The group’s portfolio of bars, restaurants and hotels, including The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, all closed on March 19, with Beannchor boss Bill Wolsey warning that 800 jobs would have to go.

The latest report from the directors reveal that the majority of staff were instead placed on the furlough scheme, announced on March 20.

But even with a significant proportion of running costs covered by government assistance, the group said income between March 19 and July 3 had been “negligible”.

The report concludes: “It is not currently possible to confidentially assess the full impact of Covid-19 on the businesses’ revenues. Demand recovery is expected to be slow as social distancing restrictions are gradually relaxed.

“While the near-term outlook is uncertain, we believe the business is well-placed to overcome these challenges.”

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