Cathal Quinn, an interview with the supremo

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Interview with Cathal Quinn of Flanagan’s on the Lake Situated on the shore of Lough Derg, in the picturesque town of Ballina, Flanagan’s on the Lake is a must-visit spot.

The restaurant serves a wide range of modern Irish cuisine catering for all tastes and features prime aged Irish beef, fresh fish, delicious burgers and pizzas from their traditional pizza oven. Flanagan’s also boasts one of the finest bars in the country, serving cocktails and craft beers as well as an extensive range of whiskeys. During the summer months, Flanagan’s also offers an outdoor BBQ option so you can enjoy a scrumptious burger with a Sundowner in the outside seating area on the shores of the lake. Cathal Quinn, a proud Tipperary man, is the proprietor of this gem and here he tells us his story of growing the business during the recession, as well as his introducing his new venture in the Limerick, Flanagan’s Townhouse. How did you get involved with the restaurant/bar business? I became unemployed in 2009 as a result of the economic crisis and became aware of an opportunity to lease Flanagan’s on the Lake. Having formerly worked in the construction industry, as a project manager, I was well aware of the how bleak the outlook for the economy was at this time. However, I took on the lease and managed to develop and grow the bar and restaurant business during tough times. People had very little disposable income at this time but still needed to socialise and dine out. So, by being inventive, we managed to increase our business. In 2013, things had improved and the business was growing. With this in mind, I approached the banks to raise capital to buy the premises. It was a difficult time to get funds, however the business was sound, my proposal was promising and I managed to raise the necessary capital and purchased Flanagan’s.

What distinguishing features have you added to Flanagan’s? Over the years, we have tried many things to attract customers and build the business; most notably building ‘The Whiskey Tower’ a purpose-built room in a tower at the end of the restaurant. This is where Flanagan’s Whiskey Club meets monthly and we also arrange private whiskey tasting packages. These can be tailored to suit any palate, from novice to the discerning connoisseur, with a whiskey menu boasting some of the finest whiskeys in the world. Recently, to the make the most of the experience for tourists, I have acquired some self-catering accommodation which is situated behind Flanagan’s, so that those visiting can stay beside the restaurant and in the heart of Ballina, close to the lake.

The Whiskey Tower has become a destination for tourists. How have you achieved this? The tourists that visit The Whiskey Tower at Flanagan’s come for the unique opportunity to attend
a masterclass in whiskey and explore many wonderful whiskeys from around the world. Recently, there has been a revolution in Irish whiskey worldwide and as a result of this, we can see a huge growth in sales, particularly from Europe and USA. By visiting the tower, you can take a trip through time; from the Irish monks making ‘Uisce Beatha’ (the water of life) which led to the birth of whiskey, to Ireland, Scotland and on to the USA, sampling different whiskeys as you go through the story. What else has Flanagan’s done to encourage this growth? The towns on the shores of Lough Derg are vibrant busy places with lots on offer to locals and tourists alike. Flanagan’s has been lucky enough to grow and develop, thanks to these two cohorts. An important part of our growth was our involvement in local initiatives to support our community and in the development of external tourism. The Ring of Lough Derg is a specialist tourism agency catering for visitors to the area and with the help of other local business on the shore of the lake, we can offer an authentic and unforgettable experience of the Lough Derg region. Tailor-made packages are on offer to cater for all tastes. There is also an annual Ring of Lough Derg BBQ Festival and the a BBQ competition is hosted by us at Flanagan’s, where teams of aspiring chefs take to their grills to battle it out for the coveted prize – An Fulacht Fia Cup.

How has your experience in the construction industry helped you in running Flangan’s? If you do not have a good team to work with, it doesn’t matter how many customers there are as you will not be able to offer a good service, or culinary experience. Most of the team that work with me here at Flanagan’s have been here since I took over the business in 2009. My previous experience in project management has given me a good base for running the team here. We split the business into different projects, based on season, and we work as a team. It is very important, particularly in the hospitality industry, to get good people working in your business; to treat them well and keep them. They are the backbone of Flanagan’s. What’s next for Cathal Quinn and Flanagan’s? Our next big development is an expansion into Limerick City, the Treaty City, situated on the banks of the Shannon. We unveiled Flanagan’s Townhouse and Whiskey Cellar in early 2018 to cater for the growing tourists numbers in Limerick during the summer and the local trade in the winter. The premises is in a Georgian building, which has been lovingly restored by specialists and promises a sophisticated, elegant setting for dining. It is an exciting development and as Limerick is on the up, I see this is a natural next step for Flanagan’s.