Poco Blu brings a pizza pizzazz to Newtownabbey
Colin & Lisa Brown
A vibrant and imaginative refit with nautical accents has transformed the top floor of Shore Road stalwart the Bureau Bar into a family-friendly Italian restaurant specialising in pizza, pasta and seafood. Alyson Magee speaks to owners Colin and Lisa Brown.
Colin & Lisa Brown
A new family-friendly Italian restaurant, with a focus on good food and good service, opened above the Bureau Bar in July, following an investment totalling almost £300,000 which has transformed the space.
Husband and wife team Colin and Lisa Brown, together with Colin’s brother Stephen, took over the Bureau Bar in July 2015, having previously worked as a team to launch 21 Social in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and Tate’s Bar & Grill in Holywood.
Colin and Lisa are well seasoned in the hospitality sector, having met while working in the Wellington Park Hotel. Colin previously worked for Bass Taverns and was in Café Vaudeville in Belfast for five years before setting up 21 Social, while Lisa trained for a year at Claridge’s in London and worked for a year and a half with Sean Muldoon of The Dead Rabbit-fame when he was at The Merchant, perfecting her mixology skills.
The site of Poco Blu was already kitted out as a restaurant, Lanyon’s, but with very different décor and operating from the same kitchen as the Bureau Bar downstairs with the two floors totalling 200 seats.
“We had to do a reduced menu for a while downstairs and try to concentrate up here,” says Lisa. “And people were afraid to come up here because it had a different name and they thought it was fancy.”
Recognising one kitchen could not adequately serve the two floors, the team decided to install a new kitchen and refocus the upstairs restaurant on pizza and an authentic Italian offering. “It seemed to be a good market to try and hit around here,” says Colin. “There are no Italians in Newtownabbey or sit-in pizza restaurants.”
Keen to make the most of their views over Belfast Lough, the Browns enlisted Belfast-based designers We are Brill, having previously teamed up with Michael Hughes and Michael Quinn on 21 Social.
Restaurant design concept by We are Brill
“They’re also both parents of young kids and when I mentioned the pizza idea to them, they said, ok, we eat out at least once a week in pizza restaurants,” says Colin. “They had ideas of their own straight off the bat and then we went and did quite a bit of research in Dublin.
“The design brief was to be really family-friendly, fun and bright to try and uplift the place, and to try and steer people away from the alcohol side of things because we’re trying to attract young families who maybe wouldn’t feel comfortable in a bar atmosphere. We just wanted to focus on the food and make sure everybody felt comfortable coming in.”
“We wanted somewhere really cosy,” says Lisa. “As soon as people get into these booths, they don’t want to leave.”
Keeping the kids happy with a FroYo machine supplied by Hugh Jordan
Antrim-based Marcon Fit-Out was the main supplier of the interior fit-out with Stephens Catering of Broughshane installing the new kitchen; both, again, former partners on 21 Social and Tate’s. “There’s a good relationship there, and everybody knows how to work with each other,” says Colin.
A pizza oven was, meanwhile, shipped over from Italy and took two days to construct on site. Wood-fired, it is stoked 24/7.
Pizza oven supplied by M&M Services; glass brick work created by Glass Block Co
A fan of Pinterest, Lisa conceived many of the design ideas herself. “We wanted to stick with some sort of a shipping theme throughout it with the ropes, being so close to the sea, and that’s where the copper comes in too in the lighting,” says Colin.
Belfast-based Kaizen Brand Evolution developed the Poco Blu concept and branding, which is carried throughout the restaurant, menus and aprons, and got the website and Facebook up and running for the Browns.
“We sat down with Kaizen in April,” says Colin, and after the consultant came up with eight to 10 names, Poco Blu was selected as the standout. Translated as Little Blue, Poco Blu is a little ghost girl who lives in a castle on a hill in Italy and the concept will be developed further in the future.
While power upgrades by NIE held up work at the start, it was underway by the beginning of July, and took seven weeks. Details such as fitting the raw-look chipboard ceiling into the joists were among challenges for the fit-out team although, overall, the project progressed smoothly.
A booking already in place for the opening week in late August ensured the fit-out team pushed ahead, working evenings to finish the restaurant.
As the kitchen was only completed three days before the opening, bookings have been slowly increased to ensure Bureau Bar Executive Chef Alan Hope and Poco Blu Head Chef Gregory Ferguson – both alumni of 21 Social and Tate’s – are not overburdened while they find their feet.
“The first week, we started with 35 for dinner, just to make sure they could actually cook pizzas in the oven properly,” says Lisa. “Our first weekend, we did about 55 and last weekend, we upped it to 100 so we’re gradually creeping up the numbers and doing sittings now as well.”
Poco Blu, Shore Rd, Newtownabbey, BT37 0ST.
For booking enquiries please contact:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 028 9099 6414 Web: poco-blu.com
Mon-Thurs: 17:00 – 21:00
Fri: 15:00 – 22:00
Sat: 13:00 – 22:00
Sun: 13:00 – 20:00
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