Jason Horkan, co-owner and MD of the Red Bank restaurant in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, on growing up in Mayo and great people being the secret to a great restaurant.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in October of 2022.
Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.
I’m a proud Mayo man, having grown up in Charlestown, and really love GAA. I have been working in hospitality since I left school and completed a Bachelor of Arts in hotel and catering management in GMIT. I have a huge passion for good hospitality.
What first drew you to food and hospitality?
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The variation of the sector, and the fact that no two days would be the same.
When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?
Right from the start, I knew hospitality was the sector for me. I love interacting with and meeting people.
What was your first big role?
After completing the Fáilte Ireland Trainee Manager Development Programme – TMDP – through Hotel Westport, I gained supervisory and management experience within all hotel departments, but my first stand-alone role in management was in the Connemara Coast Hotel, as an assistant manager. This is what I consider my first big role and stepping stone to where I am now.
What was that like?
It was a bit daunting and exciting at the start, but it was great to get my feet on the ladder, putting into practice all that I learned in college and through the TMDP.
Why did you set up the Red Bank restaurant?
I always wanted to have my own business and prove to myself it was possible.
How did you find that?
It took a lot of hard work and effort, but I’m delighted I took the leap of faith and went for it.
Tell us about the Red Bank restaurant – the ethos, food, service, etc.
At the Red Bank restaurant, our focus is on local seasonal menus, warm hospitality, and affordable tasty food and drinks. We just try to be the best we possibly can, ensuring we deliver a memorable guest experience in fabulous surroundings.
Tell us about opening the Secret Garden.
This was space we used during Covid last year, and it worked so well for us last year that we decided to give it a complete makeover. We renamed it the Secret Garden and opened it in July 2022. It’s a fully heated and weatherproofed outdoor space, seating up to 60 and featuring its own bar. It also features a four-metre-tall blossom tree with 14,000 lights at the centre, and it is really a beautiful, relaxing outdoor space.
What makes a great restaurant?
Great people. We are lucky to work with so many talented, passionate, and hardworking people. Without great people, you simply can’t have a great business!
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.?
We find our guests are much more knowledgeable about local and seasonal food and drinks, and they expect to see quality local ingredients on menus and regular menu changes. Also, I find that more and more people are booking their dining experience online now, as opposed to calling – about 40% of our bookings come in online now – which is great. We also find being active on our social-media channels – e.g. putting up a special dish or cocktail – yields great results. You can nearly see an immediate reaction with regard to bookings, but also people ordering the specials.
How has reopening been?
It was initially very hard, particularly recruiting new staff to meet the post-Covid demand of socialising, but we are lucky to have an amazing core team that pulled together, and we pushed ahead.
What are the major challenges at the moment?
The cost of doing business, particularly energy costs, are major challenges. They are out of control and unsustainable – the government needs to intervene and address this issue immediately.
What are the main opportunities?
Our passion for what we do is what creates opportunities for us. We aim to always provide the best-possible product and service to ensure our business is constantly in demand and growing.
Do you think that the pandemic has changed what we look for in hospitality?
It has changed the employment prospects for the sector and led to a lot of employees finding jobs in other industries, which has an effect when trying to deliver a product within hospitality. From a guest point of view, they are looking for quality and value, particularly now, with inflation the way it is.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?
Our plan for the year ahead is to keep enhancing our product and service.
THE RED BANK AT A GLANCE
How many covers (for lunch and dinner)? 80/170
Number of staff members – front and back of house? 25
Signature dish? Seafood linguine
Read More: Hospitality Ireland Autumn 2022: Read The Latest Issue Online!