Interview: Dennis McGettigan
McGettigan's opened its doors just over four years ago and is on a path of steady expansion
The first McGettigan’s pub opened its doors just over four years ago in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. We spoke to its founder Dennis McGettigan on the eve of its birthday to find out what’s next for the Irish brand
Why did you decide to open McGettigan’s in Dubai?
My parents bought a piece of land in 2005 in JLT and then we put up the Bonnington Hotel. I came over here in 2009 and I had a year to look at all the different offerings, so far as the bars and clubs. There was a huge gap because I felt there were a lot of five-star beautiful wine bars — and then at the other end there was terrible stuff. I saw a nice gap in the middle for a really good, very cool bar, doing good food, service, and entertainment. I wanted to get away from the whole stereotypical ‘Ireland in the 50s’ bar.
And do you think you succeeded?
Yes, the reaction was phenomenal, it really was. I won’t go into figures but I remember saying to our head chef and bar manager at the time that if we can do XYZ, that would be absolutely phenomenal. In the first year we doubled what I was hoping to do. We probably got a better reaction than what we wanted.
What challenges did you face in terms of running a successful bar in this region?
Trying to stay on top of everything. This region is quite transient; we’ve been lucky with staff retention but sometimes from the kitchen point of view, trying to get the produce that we want has been challenging from time to time. On the opposite side, when you’re dealing with entertainment, people just start adding zeroes because they have this perception that there’s so much money. Competition is certainly increasing, although I don’t see that as a challenge, I see that as a further demand and further footfall will come to us.
When it comes to competition, do you find a lot more casual bars and pubs coming up?
For sure. There have been a lot more casual bars and that’s what I saw as an open market in 2010. I think a lot of people have now gotten into that space — particularly new Dubai. Old Dubai has always had a couple of places, which I don’t equate myself to. But I’m saying the market was catered for down there.
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You’ve expanded a fair bit over the last four years, tell us more about that?
It all came about on the back of JLT. So JLT opened in November 2010, then two years later we opened up at the airport where a major drinks company and distributor came to us and said, ‘look would you consider putting McGettigan’s at the airport?’, and that was a no-brainer. Then we went for DWTC. Then we had two in Ireland, one in Limerick and Letterkenny, County Donegal. That was a test because you know it will work in a place where people have high expendable income, but to bring that same concept back to Ireland where people wouldn’t have the same expendable income… it was hugely receptive, and there are two bars over there doing superbly. Then we opened Fujairah. What we’re doing now is Singapore which should open on March 17, 2015, St Patrick’s Day. The New York branch I’m hoping to open on February 28. We’re also doing an AED 7 million [US $ 1.9 million] expansion in McGettigan’s JLT, where we’re going to create a gig room by adding an extra 3000 square feet to the existing premises on the same level.
Did you plan for this expansion back in November 2010?
No, not a chance! When I opened in 2010, it was in recession. I really needed something from an F&B offering that was going to support the hotel. I didn’t think of tomorrow, never mind a few hours’ time.
What would you say is your long-term goal for the brand?
I want to continue to expand. I’m going to look at London and Doha. We should have these open by September. I want to expand in Europe, and the United States in a large way. I would like to get into Africa and India. I want to try and have a situation whereby whatever airport you’re in, or whatever city you’re in, you know there’s a McGettigan’s not too far away. We want to aim for 50-70 McGettigan’s over the next five years.