Velvet Elvis & Amore Dogs
How to beat the neighbours as a restaurateur
Opening up next door – in competition with yourself – used to be a restaurant no-no. Donald Reid sees it happening in Glasgow and Edinburgh
As a restaurateur you’re always interested in what’s going on around you. Who’s busy, who’s not, who’s hiring, who’s lost their chef. When Allan Mawn opened up Pintxos two years ago he had no such issues. He was so far west along Dumbarton Road there wasn’t anything going on around him. Still, Pintxos made its mark and folk came. Mawn’s original idea of a bar serving tapas in the classic Spanish manner didn’t really take off and it mutated into a more familiar restaurant layout.
Then two things happened. Firstly, Mawn was given an option on the next-door shop – at that time selling second-hand furniture. He says he had nothing else on his mind other than ‘protecting his left flank’ – having some control over the type of tenant – and making an investment. Secondly, his regulars told him they needed a place to go before or after. ‘It was then I turned to this idea that I’d been carrying around for years, to create a non-corporate, neighbourhood place with personality, interesting food and music,’ says Mawn.
He was inspired by places in the States, including a bar called Velvet Elvis in Savannah, Georgia named after the portraits of Presley printed on velvet which have acquired a certain kitsch cache.
When work started on the fitting, Mawn discovered that the shop had been a butchers for much of the last century. They were able to make use of many of the original fittings, including the tiled walls and ceiling hooks. Such discoveries, combined with an aim to deal with proper, local food, lent conviction to the enterprise. ‘Velvet Elvis isn’t a restaurant, it’s more of a grazing space,’ he says. ‘A place you can dip in and out of for food and drink as you wish through the day. Nothing is delineated.’
Interestingly, Mawn says he was impressed by places such as the Dogs in Edinburgh. Coincidently, around the same time The Dogs’ David Ramsden was also opening up on his own doorstep, setting up Amore Dogs – serving straightforward good food, this time with an Italian bent – in the vacant restaurant space at street level right next to the original. Also – again like Mawn – he’d looked elsewhere before the obvious option was almost literally staring them in the face. ‘At the end of the day, I didn’t want someone else coming in here and taking business away from us,’ Ramsden says.
Having once run restaurants simultaneously in Glasgow and Oban, Mawn says there’s ‘something important about owners being around their spaces.’ In an era of thinly spread celebrity chefs and the grinding expansion of chains it’s reason enough to cultivate good neighbours.