John McNulty's love of food and the restaurant business

John McNulty’s love of food and the restaurant business started when he was 13, propelling him to buy The Taynuilt Hotel in Argyll at just 22. A renovation project followed, and the opening of The Snug restaurant awarded him with two AA Rosettes and great acclaim by the time he was 27. John offers an intimate dining experience, which is made possible by the strong team he has built around him and the hours he’s put in to make this project a success.
Since December 2012, John learnt the best way to do business is through application.

What does your business do?

We are a restaurant with rooms and our key selling points are our staff knowledge and execution of what they do. We also have ten letting rooms to provide accommodation for people looking for dinner, bed and breakfast. Really it is all about good food, wine and whisky, we always aim to give the guest / diner an experience, an idea of what we love, be it the food, drinks or service, Etive Restaurant is us, it’s all our favourite things!

Where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea grew organically. At first it was to keep the hotel doors open and get customers. As we built up on our core customer base and began to then push forward with our vision of our restaurant model the idea of Etive as a restaurant with rooms was really born.
A locally sourced menu of the food that I like to eat, cooked the way I like to cook it and then over to David and Lauren who are in charge front of house and look after the drinks menus and delivery of the product with the same ethos; how they expect service to be. It naturally has us striving for the best everyday which is great, and we love it.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Again this grew through our core customers, those who return time after time, this is what they were looking for. I always remember when we opened Etive as a restaurant with its own identity the phrase that stood out was “you’re finally doing what your good at” and also there isn’t anywhere in the region like us, we just had to be brave and go for it.

How did you raise funding, and why?

We initially tried through the banks but that was a non-starter, they pretty much just laughed at us. I was fortunate enough that my family were in a position to back me and the support ongoing has been invaluable.

Describe your business model in brief.

Our old business model was focused on high volume, open all hours with a public bar, restaurant, bar food, bistro style lounge menu, hotel, takeaway food literally trying every available option to increase turnover.
The new model is based on consolidating what we do best. We looked at what the business does, what it is that we love and we now focus on our passion for Scotland, its producers and the really great producers around the UK as well. This means that we close the hotel on quieter nights, stopped serving bar food and just concentrate on making it a restaurant with rooms with the focus on dining rather than the accommodation.

Your lowest point was…

I haven’t really had a “lowest point”, but I have had plenty of setbacks, key equipment break downs, guests fighting at 2am, staff problems, but I think the worst continued moment was listening to what people told me the business should be, what I should do for them, the historical rants of how the place used to be, that’s probably set me back the longest.

Your highest point was…

Gaining 2 AA Rosettes. So far, if I had to put my finger on one thing that really pushed us forward and focused my attentions, it would be that. It is a standard that you must maintain every day, start of the week or end of the week you must achieve that standard and push for better.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Everyone is an expert and will lambaste you with ideas, solutions and directions to take, be true to your original ideas and it is you that will make the business work, you fuel it, you drive it and you can only do that when you are totally focused on doing it the way you want it to be done, stick to your goals.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I would love to have the refurbishment side of the model finished and be fully immersed in building on what we produce in our kitchen gardens and our own sustainability, I would love to be offering a menu that we sourced, we grew and we delivered.

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…

I don’t know if I could work or do anything else as an employee. I’m too impatient, I see what I want to do and I do it. I think I would just be an entrepreneur in another field.

If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?

I would not have spent three years trying to do what everyone told me the business should be, I should have opened and, from day, one started with the same model of Etive Restaurant. I think reputation wise I would be a lot further forward.

What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?

Pick what you’re going to do and if you want to succeed, I mean truly succeed, then it must consume you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, everything else must come second. Enjoy family, friends, personal life, but they must all fall behind your main goals. Both being strong they will benefit each other.

Do you / have you ever felt at a disadvantage or discriminated in the business world because of your age?

At the beginning, before recognition and awards or accolades came my way 100 per cent. People don’t believe you, they didn’t think I could achieve what I was saying. From the outset I said “This will be the best restaurant in the area” not just customers and people locally but official bodies, assessors, inspectors. You can’t let that put you off, use it to drive forward and prove it.