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Historic double win for Armoy’s Scenic Inn

June 27th, 2017 | by LCN Editor
Historic double win for Armoy’s Scenic Inn
Venue Spotlight
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The Scenic Inn made its presence felt at this year’s LCN Awards when it carried off two of the top titles, including the inaugural LCN Community Bar of the Year. Now, with plans already laid for a new 140-seater restaurant at the venue, the future couldn’t be brighter…

The Scenic Inn, a long-established bar and restaurant in an idyllic country setting near Armoy in County Antrim recently celebrated a rare double at the Licensed & Catering News Awards when it carried off the new Community Bar of the Year title as well as Pub Food of the Year honours.

The bar’s owner, Pamela McFettridge was at the Europa in Belfast to lift her awards in person along with her daughter, Shirley McKinley, who manages The Scenic with husband, Steven.

And the pair were delighted with their success:

“I’m absolutely stunned, in fact, I’m almost crying,” Shirley told LCN. “I can’t believe it, these awards will have pride of place in our bar.”

Both awards are recognition of the welcome investment that Pamela and her family have made in the rural venue since taking the lease on in November 2010. At that time, with the economic downturn biting hard, business in the bar had fallen away and Pamela concedes that “basically, we had to build it back up from scratch”.

The family immediately invested £20,000 in an urgent revamp of the bar’s interior – many of its most dated elements were removed, contemporary exposed brick sections were added to the walls, the bar itself was redone in oak and there was extensive redecoration and re-plastering.

A smaller space at the back of the bar, which had contained a pool table, was converted into a snug which is now used to screen live football on a Saturday.

Shirley and Steven McKinley with their LCN awards.

The improvement marked a welcome resurgence in the fortunes of the Scenic and the family hasn’t looked back:

“Year-on-year, business has been growing,” confirms Pamela. “We thought that after about five years, it would level out, but every year, it just grows.”

 

For Shirley McKinley, who has worked in the licensed trade for more than 30 years, taking the lease at The Scenic Inn was a dream come true.

The family comes originally from Cloughmills, not far from Ballymena, and Shirley began her career in the Toll Bar at the former Fort Royal on the Coleraine road. Spells followed at the Bridge Bar in Dunloy and the Corner House in Cloughmills then on to the bar at the Tullyglass House Hotel in Ballymena.

When the lease for The Scenic Inn came up in 2010, Shirley’s contract with her employer at that time had just come to an end:

“She had always said that she wanted her own bar and it was always this bar that she had in mind,” recalls Pamela. “It came up and that was that. It was fate I suppose.”

The bar is currently run very much as a family business and fresh development outside and inside the premises means that it now looks very different to the venue that Shirley, Pamela and Steven took on in 2010.

In June last year, they ushered in a new era at the bar when they added a bespoke beer garden at the rear of the venue. The space can accommodate up to 100 people at a time and features a children’s play area and a comfortable covered section complete with a wood-burning stove.

But the big focus for the family at present is the plan for a brand new 140-seater restaurant and up to 10 guest rooms at The Scenic. Valued at around £200,000, the new scheme is currently in the planning stages, but Pamela and Steven hope to see the new eatery open for business by next summer:

“It’s by far the biggest thing that we’ve undertaken since taking on the bar,” confirms Steven. “It’s a lot of money but we’re very confident in the business. At the weekends, we can sometimes feed upwards of 1000 people and on a Sunday, we might have to turn 100 people away because we just don’t have the capacity to feed them.

“Also, at the moment, we have to do everything in the same space and it can be hard to find a balance sometimes in terms of things like noise…And it can be the case that some people just don’t want to eat in a bar, but they will go to a restaurant.”

The award-winning food at The Scenic is described as a mix of British and Irish dishes with a modern twist. Some of the staple items on the menu are so popular with the bar’s customers that they have been on offer for more than 20 years!

“To be fair, in places like Belfast, you’ll find a different type of menu in many places but where we are, here in the country, we can’t offer customers the same type of dish that they might expect in Ox. What they are after here is good, healthy, home-cooked food and that is where we have our focus.

“Everybody now is much more aware of what they are eating and where it comes from and we are aware of that,” adds Pamela. “Our potatoes are grown just two miles down the road and it’s the same for a lot of what we cook here. We buy a lot of locally-sourced ingredients.”

The Scenic Inn was also the winner of the LCN Community Bar of the Year title in this, the first year of the award.

It’s a reflection not only of the efforts of the team at The Scenic to ensure that the bar is a friendly home-from-home at the heart of its own community. It also marks the very real efforts that the owners have put into raising considerable sums of money for various worthy causes in the area.

In the last three years alone, The Scenic has raised more than £95,000 for charity. Much of that comes from an annual family fun day event which it holds in a marquee at the rear of the premises and among other exploits, both Pamela and her mum have undertaken fundraising parachute jumps.

The next event at the bar will be in September when they’ll be raising funds for the Gillian Adams Angel Foundation, which aims to help families affected by cancer in the Ballymoney and Ballycastle areas.

For now though, the immediate priority is to see the new restaurant scheme safely through planning and get construction underway. Beyond that, the long-term plan is to develop the private function and wedding business potential of the venue.

“All of this is very challenging, but it’s exciting,” says Pamela. “We’re looking at investing a lot of money and time in this, but we are very confident that we can make it all work.”

 

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