The Bigger Picture

At your service

It’s been 30 years since Trevor Annon created the catering empire that is Mount Charles. Company managing director Cathal Geoghegan tells Emma Deighan about the evolution of one of hospitality’s biggest names and how the firm is on course to hit £50m turnover by 2020

At your service

Cathal Geoghegan

At your service

Cathal Geoghegan is pictured with Gavin Annon, head of Sales & Marketing at Mount Charles

At your service

Diners at George's of the Market

At your service

In 1988 Yazz dived headfirst into the music charts with The Only Way Is Up but away from the fluoro lights and electronic beats of the music industry back then was a man in Northern Ireland with big dreams, who, unlike Yazz, did rise up. And today his company has become one of Ireland’s largest independently-owned catering firms.

Trevor Annon, now chairman of Mount Charles, split himself three ways back then as a cost-saving exercise.

“The market was highly competitive and there was no financial support available so Trevor performed the roles of managing director, operations manager and sales manager himself, due to the fact that the business could not sustain additional overheads,” says Cathal Geoghegan, chief executive of Mount Charles, who joined the firm in the year 2000.

It wasn’t long before the award-winning businessman recruited staff and won some of the biggest catering contracts around. One of his first was with the RUC, which was regarded as the fifth largest catering contract in the UK.

Then followed “a package to supply a full range of services to Parliament Buildings in Belfast,” says Cathal. And so, with some governmental muscle on his client list, Mount Charles took off.

Today it counts Moy Park, Bombardier, Ulster Rugby and Southern Regional College, among many more, as key clients that use many areas of its business.

Its turnover in year one was a modest but promising £183,000 and, three decades later, the firm, which has diversified to add cleaning, security, vending machines and even carpark management services to its offering, is bringing in £34m.

Cathal says it’s Trevor’s “trademark ambition, energy, confidence and hard work” that has trickled through the veins of the company to sustain such success over the years.

And, as a result, that one-man show from 1988 is now a workforce of 2,200.

Father of two Cathal is now in the driving seat of the firm. A big task for the Donegal man but his plans are big.

“We have created a strategy, ‘the road to £50m’ whereby we have committed as a collective to achieve revenue of £50m by 2020,” says Cathal.

“We have sought out some of the best and brightest industry talent and we’re very excited about the experienced and dynamic team we have in place to drive forward on the road to £50m.”

Just ahead of print, the firm showed signs of nearing that target when it revealed that it won a two-year cleaning contract worth £1.5m with the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service. It will be providing its cleaning services to the NICTS’ 40 sites.

So, it would make sense that the target of doubling the workforce would be an organic move.

Staff is a great area of investment for the firm. Cathal says “organisational change” has been rife over the past year. And employee headcount has risen 72%.

“In the last year alone, we have created or safeguarded 225 jobs, with plans to grow from 2,200 to 4,000 by 2020,” says Cathal.

New roles added to the team’s head office on the Ormeau Road, which opened in 2016, include brand and marketing manager, group development chef, group logistics manager and events division manager.

Beyond the lucrative contracts that span NI, RoI and further afield are the company’s own hospitality establishments.

They are George’s of the Market at St George’s Market and the Fed & Watered restaurant chain.

Both are performing as well as the main body of the business and the company has plans to roll out the F&W group beyond its existing sites at Belfast International Airport, City of Derry Airport, Obel Tower, Titanic Exhibition Centre and Exeter International Airport.

When a homegrown firm expands to the level that Mount Charles has, its contribution to the local economy cannot be overlooked.

“All profits generated by Mount Charles are retained in NI, for the benefit of the community and our economic prosperity,” says Cathal.

The company’s average net profit over the past two years was almost £1m. And with purchasing power of £9m per year (90% of food is sourced locally), a labour cost of £17m, generating around £2.5m in National Insurance, tax and pension contributions, it’s doing its bit for our wee country.

And it’s spreading that generosity with the opening of a Dublin base last year to cater to new contracts there.

These include deals worth over €8m (£7.15m) with the Public Appointments Service, Ordinance Survey Ireland, Abbey Theatre, National Aquatic Centre and Custom House, home to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

“We see this market as having major scope for future expansion. We have significant plans for the continued evolution and growth of our business in Ireland, which will likely be achieved through both organic and inorganic means,” says Cathal.

And on the subject of growth, Cathal quotes Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving. Our target for 2018 is £39m and after a solid start to the financial year, we are already ahead of target after five months of the year.”

We still would quote the, probably, less philosophical Yazz if we were to provide a theme tune for the firm born and bred in the 80s.

 

About Cathal Geoghegan

JOB: Financial director in 2000, moving into the role of managing director in 2013.
FALLBACK JOB: If I wasn’t doing what I’m currently doing, I’d dearly like to have been an architect.
FAMILY: Married to Eithne, also from Donegal and dad to Ronan, 14, and Ella, 12.
HOBBIES: Following Liverpool Football Club, Galway hurling and Donegal football team. Golf at Knock Golf Club.
FAVOURITE THING ABOUT HOSPITALITY: The pleasure we, as an industry, afford our customers by the provision of a first-class service.
LEAST FAVOURITE? That’s a difficult one…possibly having to call time on our customers when they are still enjoying themselves.
FAVOURITE RESTAURANT: After our own George’s of the Market, I’d have to say James Street South.
FAVOURITE BAR? The Crown Bar
FAVOURITE MEAL? Steak and winter vegetables.
TIPPLE? Guinness, Rioja, Glayva (Scottish liqueur).

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