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Anne Hailes: Back to the future for Holywood landmark

The Lynchpin team of Joe McGowan, pictured left, and chef Ethan Jerrome

ISN'T it hard to believe we are a week into December already? The party season we used to call it, offices and shops festooned with early decorations, little Christmas trees brightening up corners and an air of anticipation.

The air of anticipation is now one of worry and concern when you turn on the news or open a newspaper, despite what Boris Johnson says, the thought of a happy, free, fun-filled Christmas slips away. But for the children's sake we must keep the beautiful spirit of Christmas alive.

And it's not just the doom-mongers at work, there are very real sadnesses to address and as I type the wind is blowing, the big laurel bush in the garden is in a frenzy and it's cold and wet.

And I think of those men, women and children in the camps in France trying to squeeze on board an inflatable boat, soaked to the skin and shivering, clutching their children not knowing their fate, only that they have to get away to a safe place to make a new home, travelling perhaps for months, leaving their families behind, their homes and possessions, their pets and their parents.

So when we are faced with closures, disappointment with cancellations and frustration with Christmas shopping, stop and think - by an accident of birth, you are not jostling for a place on a tiny inflatable boat en route for the English coast, or worse.

The Belfast Hotel and Bar on Holywood's Main Street, where today the Lynchpin café has opened

Take The High Road

ONCE upon a time High Street in Holywood boasted a seven-bed hotel, beside it a bar, a restaurant, a petrol pump and a Guinness bottling store.

The Belfast Hotel was the half-way point between the docks in Belfast and Bangor town. Ladies and gentlemen travelling by coach would rest at the hotel to break their journey and the men driving their horse and cart made the bar their place to stop for a drink and a bit of craic as they made their deliveries.

Lynch's Bar was a landmark, a smoking room off to the right, pool tables upstairs and Granny Lynch in charge. She owned the bar and the menfolk in the family kept it and all the other services going.

Muriel McGowan is now 100 years old and delighted that her grandson is keeping the family name above the door of the latest business venture. No longer a bar or a hotel but a café with a stylish air about it.

Joe McGowan has named his café Lynchpin; once the smoking room of the hotel - no smoking allowed today... - and next door is a laundrette where once the restaurant was bustling with diners.

Hospitality is obviously in his blood. At only 31 years of age he has been involved in catering since leaving school, first at Newcastle Catering College and then on to London and the Anglesea Arms in Hammersmith where as a commis chef he honed his skills and learned his trade.

He worked as a butcher with the famous Kerryman Jack O'Shea, a tenth generation butcher from Cahersiveen with shops in Knightsbridge and Brussels where he specialises in grass-fed Black Angus cattle bred in the South West of Ireland.

Working with O'Shea brought another aspect of catering to Joe's attention - the importance of satisfying your customers and managing your staff. But then so did his days of fishmongering in South Kensington, going to the market at 5am and serving the discerning customer in the shop.

This man has a thirst for knowledge which then took him to his most recent job in London, setting up three cafés for a family business based in Brighton.

Sitting in his neat little café in Holywood, opened only two months ago, his enthusiasm is infectious, his clientele in the mornings is mostly women taking advantage of meeting together when the children are at school but there's no shortage of gentlemen enjoying their late breakfast and for me an added attraction was a couple of seagulls circling outside bringing a taste of the sea inland to number 49 Main Street.

All was going well for Joe but he was restless, he wanted to expand his knowledge and to travel so between his other jobs, he spent five years in New Zealand and Australia where he learned the art of Australian-style coffee, he doesn't tell me the secret but it involves a lighter roast of bean and steaming the milk plus plus...

He benefited in another more practical way however; he met chef Ethan Jerrome. They worked well together and when they came home, Ethan to London and Joe to Holywood, it wasn't surprising that they decided to go into business and it has turned out to be a good partnership, and with Joe's wife Abi looking after the administration, business is thriving and the future looks bright thanks to Joe and Ethan and their vision of good food well cooked.

The Art Of Management

Joe has learned his craft, learned to manage people and he leads by example; he likes responsibility, he's happy in his skin and likes his staff to be happy within themselves too.

"I will tell the truth, be open and honest in my house, if it isn't right I won't serve it and I will explain to the customer. We have a small menu with everything prepared 'in house'. Our basic brunch menu includes vegan and vegetarian dishes, avocado on toast, veggie hash Benedict and a ham hock mash and, of course, our special coffee menu."

And something new - the Gobble Dog - it involves turkey sausage...

At the moment Joe welcomes customers from 9am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday, but he has big plans to open evenings in the New Year and a drinks licence in February. No wonder his Granny is proud of him. Watch this space on Holywood Main Street.

More on Instagram @lynchpinholywood

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