The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI)’s grim count of foodservice business closures hit 71 last month, the lobby group reported on Thursday, with nearly 1,500 jobs lost as a result. And February was the shortest month of the year.

The deep restructuring under way in Ireland’s hospitality industry ran through The Currency’s coverage over the past week. Business owners pulling down the shutters for the last time, as tallied by the RAI, were part of this.

Tom reported on Tuesday that the Mulligan & Haines bar and restaurant on Dublin’s Dame Street was going into liquidation, having failed to secure a deal bringing together new investors, the pub’s landlord and its debt backer. Yet the same story also revealed that another Dublin establishment previously owned by businessman Colm Wu, the Lock Keeper gastropub in Ashtown, was rescued by industry expert Alan Murtagh through his company ATM Hospitality Services.

The hotels, bars and restaurants shutting down for good, while they are legion, are only part of the picture. A quieter, wider reshaping of the hospitality industry is taking place, with new investors coming in to snap up assets or lend to handpicked businesses.

This is likely to be the fate of the four Dublin healthy fast-food outlets directly owned by Brian Lee’s Freshly Chopped. They first entered the small company administrative rescue process (Scarp) process last month before moving on to an examinership now expected to clear the way for new owners, as Niall reported last weekend.

Deep-pocketed players

One of the deep-pocketed players building up their Irish hospitality stake is JP McManus, acting through Novellus, the lending unit of his family office Leicosa. The Co Limerick businessman not only owns the luxury Adare Manor in his native county, through Novellus, he has also bankrolled numerous property owners, including families behind prominent hospitality businesses.

Last Friday, I revealed how Novellus’s loan book included the redevelopment of the landmark Co Meath Tara Na Rí pub into a significant tourism business, the Glenroyal Hotel in Co Kildare and the Bonnington Hotel in Dublin.

Another investor quietly building a significant presence on the Irish pubs’ scene is London firm Attestor Capital. I covered its progress towards acquiring the Rearden’s Group, Cork’s largest pub portfolio. This adds to a string of bars Attestor already owns in Dublin. In this case, there is no indication that the Rearden’s Group was facing difficulties. Attestor is clearly thirsty for more deals.

Then on Thursday, another investment firm, US-based Värde Partners, advanced €70 million to refinance the debt of the Red Cow Moran Hotel and adjacent pub the Red Cow Inn. Crucially, the Moran family also pledged an apartment development in Blackrock worth over €50 million to clinch the deal.

The examples above show that global money is willing to bet on Irish hospitality, but only for carefully selected assets: well-organised, efficient pub groups; established hotels, preferably backed by additional collateral; food outlets with a strong brand as part of a well-known chain.

This will give little hope to the many independent small businesses where owners cannot offer those assurances. A busy, affluent urban location offers no guarantee: The Lolly and Cooks cafe on the corner of Merrion Street in Dublin 2 has just shut down. It was the location where the Strahan family started the business over a decade ago, expanding to a busy chain of seven cafes across the capital before the pandemic. Having liquidated the central catering company that supplied them with food at the end of last year, Lolly and Cooks is now reduced to just two locations.

Rural locations are expecting similarly tough trading conditions, if not worse. Stuart wrote eloquently about their deterioration on Friday, which he summed up in one word: “entshittification”. He borrowed the term from author Cory Doctorow’s observations on the decay of the internet under the weight of self-serving online giants.

For many Irish SMEs, especially in the hospitality sector, anywhere they look, everything is getting worse, Stuart convincingly argued.

Hope from Hostelworld

Hope came from Tom’s interview with Caroline Sherry, the chief financial officer of the Irish-headquartered global hostel booking platform Hostelworld. After struggling to recover from the pandemic, the listed company has refinanced and reduced its debt and is on a renewed path to growth, annual results released on Thursday showed.

Hostelworld’s turnaround happened in part thanks to a deal with Revenue to spread the repayment of warehoused tax debt over three years, and to new ways of engaging with backpackers, mostly through its own social network Solo. On a very different scale, both lessons are valuable for small Irish hospitality businesses too.

Hostelworld is also riding the wave of increased demand from tourists who are hungry for travel, to meet new people and do so more sustainably. Many will hope that this global signal picked up in the company’s bookings will manifest itself domestically, too.

In my own rural town, Oldcastle in Co Meath, a furniture shop closed down during the winter, adding to the local list of vacant units. However, the ever-busy Happy Cup café next door has already taken it over, launching its second expansion since lockdowns ended. Maybe not all is lost for Irish hospitality, but the face of the industry is changing fast.


Elsewhere this week, Tom spoke with Will Prendergast, partner at the Dublin venture capital firm Frontline, as it announced it had closed two funds totalling $200 million (€183 million). The news will give a boost to start-up founders pitching for funding – especially those doing business between Ireland and the US, which is Frontline’s niche.

As Ireland prepares to defend itself against infringement proceedings brought about by the European Commission over failures to protect peatlands, Niall crunched data revealing that turf cutting was still ongoing at 14 protected bogs last year. There was no monitoring at many other sites. Does the State have a leg to stand on in court?

On Tuesday, I broke the news that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) had launched High Court proceedings against the Phonewatch group as the watchdog conducts an investigation into the home alarm industry. While the legal action is procedural and concerns the admissibility of some evidence, it reveals that Phonewatch and its subsidiary Homesecure, both owned by Norway’s Sector Alarm, were the companies targeted by enforcement agencies in dawn raids last month.