12th March 2021
Q & A with Bob McCoubrey of Mourne Seafood Bar
Tell us about your business?
Mourne Seafood Bar opened its doors in Bank Square in 2006. It was set up in conjunction with my business partner Chef Andy Rea. My role is to track down the best seafood that NI has to offer - and we have some of the best in the world. Andy then works his magic with his team and turns it into memorable seafood dishes. Front of house is looked after by Scott and his team. Onsite we also have the Belfast Cookery School which is managed by Chef Ian Hunter. The cookery school is a fun environment where customers can learn to produce restaurant quality food. In total the two businesses employ 30 people.
Why did you choose Belfast City Centre to open your business?
I had opened the original Mourne Seafood Bar on the ground floor of my house in Dundrum in 2005. It became clear very quickly that the Dundrum restaurant was going to be very seasonal and that to survive we would need a site in Belfast that was all year round. When we started to look for suitable premises there wasn’t much within our price range. We eventually came across a derelict bar in Bank Square which we purchased, We gutted out and refurbished the building ourselves with a tiny budget. Andy put together a great team of young chefs and we opened in August 2006, Thankfully we were busy from day one serving a mixture of tourists and locals
Path to this position?
I studied Marine biology at Liverpool University. I then did some postgraduate research for a couple of years. After that I had an oyster farm in Carlingford Lough which led to the creation of Mourne Seafood.
Workwise, what are you most proud of?
I am super proud of how our team adapted from operating a hospitality business to operating a retail business. It has been a massive change from dealing with customers face to face to dealing with online orders and logistics.
What are you most proud of in your life?
When I turned 50, I took part in a White-collar boxing bout for charity. I fought and beat someone who wasn't even born when I last climbed into the ring. It was nice to roll back the years, but I definitely won't be coming out of retirement again!
How has lockdown impacted you?
Lockdown has been challenging personally and workwise. I am very fortunate in that I haven't lost anyone in my immediate family. The hospitality industry has been severely affected in the past 12 months. The grants process hasn't been easy to navigate, and we are still struggling with some aspects of it. In March 2020 we were debt free but that certainly isn't the case now.
How have you innovated over lockdown?
When lockdown hit, we decided to open our fish shop to support the shellfish farmers and inshore fishermen that supply us. In the first week our old website collapsed but thanks to Belfast City Council we were able to replace it with a new website suitable for e-commerce. We then added a range of oven ready seafood dishes - Mourne @ Home, which has proved very successful. We are also now able to deliver across NI. We will probably continue to offer this service even when the restaurant re-opens for normal service.
What are looking forward to the most after lockdown?
I am looking forward to the most is sitting in the sunshine, outside the restaurant, with a creamy pint of Guinness and a dozen Strangford Oysters.
If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be?
If I could be anyone for a day, I would be Boris Johnson and I would resign.
What do you most love about the Belfast City Centre?
What I love most about Belfast City Centre is its hospitality. The City Centre is so compact that you can enjoy such a wide range of restaurants, bars, cafes on foot. I cannot wait until my first evening out.