August 10, 2022

Zaika

Livingston

Ayrshire restaurant boss on plans to reopen one of the region’s largest venues

6 min read

Positivity during a pandemic can be hard to come by — especially from the beleaguered folks in the hospitality industry.

While bars and restaurants across the country have closed for good or struggled to make ends meet, David Davidson has continued to invest during the coronavirus crisis while retaining a sunny disposition throughout.

And it’s all the more remarkable when you learn that the hospitality chief’s last bar — Barga in Paisley, Renfrewshire — opened six weeks before lockdown hit last year and hasn’t opened since.

Now the entrepreneur is on the brink of opening a huge venue in the heart of Kilmarnock — The Urbanist.

Better known to some as Franklin and Sloane, the Dapper Squirrel or the Little Steakhouse, the hulking London Road property has taken many different forms in the past six years; all ultimately ending prematurely.

Explaining how The Urbanist came to fruition, Mr Davidson said: “I was looking for another opportunity and we tend to trade in provincial towns rather than big cities although we have one project we’re about to start in Glasgow.

“I tend to think that towns like Paisley and Kilmarnock are sort of missed out when people are investing in our industry; it tends to be in city centres although Buzzworks are an exception in Ayrshire because they’re very Ayrshire-driven, which is great.

The venue now looks very different
The venue now looks very different

“I like Kilmarnock, I think it’s a nice town and there’s a lot happening and a lot of good initiatives in the town and its a beautiful property so it ticked a lot of boxes for us because it has a big external area which is going to be important for hospitality after the pandemic and it’s located in a nice part of the town.”

With the previous ventures at the location failing, Mr Davidson gives an assessment on why he thinks this time will be different for the venue.

He added: “Our focus isn’t going to be entirely on food. I think the mistake previously, if I can call it that, the focus on this destination was previously mainly food and we’re going to try and strike the balance across that.

“For us, it’s all bout being inclusive in the community and I don’t think the previous offerings really had a spot like that. I think there’s been much more of a food focus for the high-end market.

Managing director David Davidson is excited to open the venue
Managing director David Davidson is excited to open the venue

“I think where we’re going to sit, it’s going to be accessible and affordable. We want to recruit locally and we want people from Kilmarnock to make up the majority of our team and we want them to feel proud to work here.”

With around 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Mr Davidson, managing director of the YesToAll group, also counts The Cardross Inn among their portfolio.

The industry expert has spearheaded numerous ventures over the years including: The Budda Group, Red Lizard, Brunswick Cellars, Velvet Rooms, Ocho, The Cooler, The Institute, Barfly, CrowBar.

The Urbanist has been ready to open for a few months now and only government restrictions have halted the new venue from opening. They’ve used the spare time to tweak their offering.

And with the Scottish Government’s recent roadmap out of lockdown revealed, the dog-friendly venue will open from Monday, April 26.

The Urbanist will be dog friendly
The Urbanist will be dog friendly

Mr Davidson has said the pandemic has been horrendous for the industry but has faith that it will play a big role in lives returning to normal.

“We looked at the pandemic by trying to focus on the good stuff rather than the bad by trying to developing our business and be ready for pushing on once we’re allowed to,” he added.

“We’re really excited about opening The Urbanist. We think it’s going to be a great addition to what Kilmarnock already has.

“I don’t know what normal is going to be but I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years and I know that people in hospitality are fairly resilient and we’ve faced a lot of challenges in my time in the industry but nothing like this. There’s going to be a need for hospitality and people want to get back out and socialise with their friends and go for a meal and a nice drink.

“I think there will be quite a big demand when people are allowed to go for a beer again and it’s a real shame that some won’t survive that.

The bar area
The bar area

“Barga was only open for six weeks and we don’t have any outside space so really we’ve been closed since March 20 last year.

“It’s been horrendous but we were in a reasonably fortunate position when it all started last year and we’ve managed to keep our heads above water and keeping developing properties but it can’t go on forever.”

Mr Davidson reckons hundreds of guests could be accommodated at The Urbanist between their outdoor facilities, indoor dining and bar and their two private dining areas.

And The Urbanist is aiming to sit alongside Ayrshire hospitality giants Buzzworks with Mr Davidson saying that his firm will aim to better the family business behind nine Ayrshire venues including Scott’s in Troon and Largs along with The Longhouse and The Duke in Kilmarnock.

A number of ventures have opened at the London Road spot since 2015
A number of ventures have opened at the London Road spot since 2015

“I know Colin and Kenny Blair [Buzzworks] and I’m looking forward to trading in the same town as them,” Mr Davidson added. “They’ve raised the bar in Ayrshire, other operators won’t mind me saying that. Them along with Bill Costley have really put Ayrshire on the map in terms of hospitality.

“We’re quite confident that we’ll sit at a fairly high level. Our offering will be as good as anything they’re offering at the moment. “That’s not being disrespectful to them, I think they’re doing a fantastic job but we can sit alongside them and be of a similar standard and strive to be better.”

A team of around 30 people will work out of The Urbanist with the recruitment drive now underway and the menu has almost been finalised by their head chef.

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Commenting on the menu and cuisine, Mr Davidson added: “It’s basically Scottish cuisine but without the twee Scottish-ness. We want to use Scottish and local ingredients and it’s not going to be super expensive but it’s not going to be at the bottom of the market either.”

For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/theurbanistkilmarnock

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