The de­sire to be his own boss drove ex­pat Paul Kelly to open an Ir­ish pub in the cen­tre of Stras­bourg. He tells Stephanie Shel­drake what life is like in the heart of this cos­mopoli­tan city

Living France - - Contents -

An Ir­ish ex­pat ex­plains why set­ting up a pub in Stras­bourg has been good for busi­ness

Run­ning a lively Ir­ish pub in the his­toric cen­tre of Stras­bourg couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent to the early days of Paul Kelly’s ca­reer, which started in the chem­i­cals in­dus­try back in the early 1980s. But it was the prospect of a job that first brought the young Ir­ish grad­u­ate to France.

“I was at univer­sity in Dublin study­ing chem­istry and one day the man­ag­ing direc­tor of Goodyear Tire & Rub­ber chem­i­cals division came and made a pre­sen­ta­tion, and af­ter­wards he said if any­one was in­ter­ested in a job he would be avail­able the next morn­ing to talk. I knocked on his of­fice door and six weeks later I was work­ing for him in Paris,” re­mem­bers Paul, who moved to the French cap­i­tal in 1981.

Five years later Paul took a job with a chem­i­cals com­pany in Ger­many, but it was his mar­riage to a French wo­man that brought him to Stras­bourg. “The ideal com­pro­mise be­tween me work­ing in Ger­many, and her be­ing able to con­tinue her life in France, was Stras­bourg,” says Paul, who com­muted from Al­sace to Ger­many, as many peo­ple do.

“I worked in that busi­ness un­til 2005. At that stage I was in my mid-for­ties and I got fed up with work­ing for other peo­ple so I asked my­self, ‘what do I know how to do?’, and I thought ‘well, I can eat and drink for ev­ery­body’,” laughs Paul.

The de­ci­sion was made: Paul opened his first pub-restau­rant ‘The Dublin­ers’ in Stras­bourg in 2008. The busi­ness was a suc­cess, but Paul be­gan to set his sights on some­thing a bit big­ger, so last Oc­to­ber he sold The Dublin­ers and is now in the process of set­ting up a sec­ond pub called Kelly’s Síbín, also in the heart of the city.

“It’s about four times the sur­face area of The Dublin­ers,” ex­plains Paul. “I was miss­ing a lot of busi­ness with The Dublin­ers be­cause I couldn’t take big book­ings. For ex­am­ple, I re­cently took a book­ing for 200 peo­ple here – some­thing I could never have done be­fore.”

Run­ning a busy pub does not, how­ever, come with­out its chal­lenges. Paul has found that get­ting the right staff is fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant. “If you’re run­ning a pub-restau­rant type of busi­ness, ev­ery­one has to have a smi­ley happy face for the cus­tomers com­ing in, and un­less the whole group of peo­ple knit to­gether well, that doesn’t hap­pen,” says Paul, who has had to fire four chefs in the last 12 months. “What you’re try­ing to do is get a group of peo­ple who work to­gether with mu­tual re­spect.”


Be­ing the home of sev­eral Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions, Stras­bourg is a cos­mopoli­tan city with a rel­a­tively large num­ber of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties liv­ing and work­ing in the city. As such, Paul em­ploys a mix­ture of na­tion­al­i­ties: “My chef in The Dublin­ers was from Dundee, for ex­am­ple, and the lady who works in the bar here is from Canada, so we get a good mix­ture.”

Paul en­joys liv­ing in the Al­sa­tian cap­i­tal. “Stras­bourg is quite a pleas­ant place to live. It’s a small city – there’s about 250,000 peo­ple in the cen­tre and about half a mil­lion if you go 20-30 miles around,” he says. “There’s a lit­tle bit of a ‘small town’ at­ti­tude to the city, but to counter-bal­ance that, we have the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties from the Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions here.”

The rel­a­tively large in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in Stras­bourg gives the city an out­ward-look­ing vibe, and, as Paul ex­plains, the peo­ple who work in the in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the city, in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Coun­cil and the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, earn bet­ter salaries than are avail­able else­where in Stras­bourg. “A lot of them are sin­gle and they go out at night,” says Paul, whose busi­ness clearly ben­e­fits from this.

One prob­lem that Paul has en­coun­tered, though, is that the peo­ple that work for these in­sti­tu­tions do not vote and there­fore their opin­ions aren’t al­ways rep­re­sented in the town coun­cil. “Two years ago I ap­plied for our li­cence to be ex­tended from 1.30am to 4am on St Pa­trick’s Day; if you have a good rea­son, you can get an ex­tended li­cence. I found out two days be­fore that it had been re­fused – that makes you want to scream some­times.”


De­spite the chal­lenges that come with run­ning a busy city cen­tre pub, Paul has no re­grets and has em­braced every bit of his ven­ture. “I most en­joy the free­dom of do­ing what I want to do. As I say, I got into this busi­ness as I got fed up with work­ing for other peo­ple. Now I have all the con­straints of work­ing for my­self, but I also have the free­doms in­volved in do­ing that; you make your de­ci­sions, and if you make mis­takes you pay for them, and if they’re good, you profit from them.”

For Paul, run­ning the pub is a way of life as well as a ca­reer: “I don’t re­ally get time off. You can take a few days from time to time, but it’s not a good idea to leave a busi­ness like this for more than a week,” says Paul, who lives in an apart­ment within 500 me­tres of the busi­ness in the city cen­tre.

De­cem­ber is one of the best times of the year in Stras­bourg. “The Christ­mas mar­kets are al­ways one of the high­lights of the year. They’ve in­vested in it and pro­moted it a lot – it re­ally puts a bit of life into the cen­tre of the city around Christ­mas time,” says Paul.

In con­trast, Novem­ber, Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary are the hard­est months for the busi­ness. “You can ask the staff to take at least one week’s hol­i­day dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary and that helps things along and you try and sur­vive those months,” says Paul.

Some­how I’m left think­ing that when it comes to sur­viv­ing, Paul won’t have any trou­bles at all.


Paul Kelly’s pub-restau­rant, Kelly’s Síbín is in the heart of Stras­bourg

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.