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From locks to lattes

February 28th, 2018 | by LCN Editor
From locks to lattes
Venue Spotlight

Peter McCloskey is known to many people as an award-winning hairstylist and the driving force behind local barbering brand, Peter Oliver, but he’s less well-known as an emerging restaurateur and the proprietor of a burgeoning chain of laid-back coffee shops. He’s been speaking to LCN…

Ards man Peter McCloskey (51), is probably unique in local hospitality circles. Long before he set out to build his successful coffee shop and restaurant chain, Oliver’s, he had established himself as an award-winning hairstylist and the proprietor of the Peter Oliver hairdressing brand with five shops and a salon in locations across Belfast and Newtownards.

Diversifying into the hospitality business was something that Peter had never really planned for. After leaving school at 16, he found his “wee niche” in barbering and spent the next seven years learning his trade.

“There weren’t many young guys doing barbering in those days, most barbershops were run by old men, so because I was young, that helped me stand out,” recalls Peter.

Peter was 23 when he branched out on his own behalf and began to build the Peter Oliver’s brand, but it wasn’t until many years later that, by his own admission, he “fell into” the hospitality trade:

“I’d been thinking about opening a coffee shop on and off for years but I’d done nothing about it,” he told LCN this month. “Then one day, I was just walking down the Belmont Road and I saw this place for rent.  For some strange reason, I ended up doing a deal with the landlord. I came away thinking, what did I just do?”

But that was four years ago and today, Peter owns two coffee shops and a deli in Belfast as well as a bistro on the Upper Newtownards Road. Everything is simply branded as “Oliver’s”, which derives from Peter’s middle name.

He describes the initial, spur-of-the-moment decision to open on the Belmont Road as “a moment of madness”:

“It was just that I could easily envisage a coffee shop in that space, anyone could have really, if they were willing to put money, time and effort into it and that’s what I did,” says Peter.

Peter McCloskey (far right) is pictured with the team at Oliver’s Restaurant, chef de partie, Marty Rea; head chef Thomas Wightman; assistant manager, Chris McQuillan and junior sous chef, Adam Devine.

The Belmont Road outlet is a cosy 24-seater and Peter opened a deli just a few doors up in 2015:

“It had been a wee bakery that didn’t do,” he explains. “I was keen to separate the take-away customers in the Belmont Road from the sit-in customers, it could be a little chaotic at times and you had people trying to enjoy their meal two inches away from someone standing in a queue for take-out food.”

In 2015, Oliver’s on the Belmont Road was named winner of the Best Cold Breakfast in the UK Best Breakfast Awards for its delicious scones and later that year, Peter opened a second coffee shop on the Lisburn Road. It has the same laid-back vibe that the Belmont Road outlet is known for and offers scones, salads and sandwiches as well as the chain’s signature sourdough and wheaten bread.

All Peter’s home-made bread is produced in-house by their bakers.  Stephen Chisholm, who won the Great Irish Bake Off in 2013 worked with Peter for the first year which helped set a very high standard.  Rachel (Peters daughter) and Maxine Quigley jointly run the coffee shop, their presentational skills and attention to detail have contributed much to the venue’s success, he says.

Like most people in the trade, Peter knows that change has to be a constant. He’s recently introduced an evening bistro menu at the Belmont Road outlet and a special five-course tasting menu for Valentine’s Night at the venue was a great success.

“We realised that things in the trade are always changing,” says Peter. “We were busy during the day in the shop, but we sought to broaden that and so we introduced out bistro menu. Belmont Road has three skilled chefs in the kitchen and they came up with great breakfast and lunch menus and a menu for a bistro evening which gives them a chance to show off their talent.

For those chasing the full restaurant experience, Peter’s latest project may be of interest. In May 2016, Peter invested £200,000 to open his first licensed restaurant on the Upper Newtownards Road and installed Thomas Whiteman as head chef. Thomas did his training at Michael Deane’s award-winning Belfast restaurants and was formerly head chef Rhubarb restaurant on Little Victoria Street in the city.

Peter says that when he first took on the premises on the Upper Newtownards Road, he had simply intended to create another Oliver’s coffee shop outlet, but when he saw the quality of the food that Thomas and his team were producing, he realised that the venue could be a lot more.

“In fact, I find that the restaurant is actually an easier proposition to manage,” he told LCN. “Coffee shops take a lot more time and you’re on the go all the time with them. With the restaurant, once you get your staff and your menus in place, it’s a little easier, although a lot more can go wrong in the restaurant as customers expect a finer dining experience, and the margins are still very tight.”

At the moment, Peter says that he and his teams have the coffee shops “down to a T” and so the focus is firmly on the restaurant.

“It’s doing well for us,” says Peter. “If you check the ratings on Trip Advisor and Facebook, it’s always very high, people are responding well to what’s on offer.

“Part of the downside though, is that people seem to feel it’s a place that they should go to at the weekends or on special occasions, but this isn’t a fine dining restaurant and we want to encourage people to visit us more through the week and at lunchtimes.”

Going forward, Peter says that due to the ongoing popularity of his original coffee shop on the Belmont Road, he has submitted plans to extend upstairs and, he is considering an extension at the Lisburn Road branch, this might go ahead later in 2018.

“Beyond that, three or four years down the line, I can’t really see us getting any bigger,” he adds. “We’ll consolidate what we have here. What we want to do is to continue to provide a quality service, which requires good staff and continually sourcing the best food and drink that you can find. That’s hard work, but we know it’s very important to all the people that come in here.”


Oliver’s coffee shop on the Belmont Road.

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