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The Interview - Seumas MacInnesProprietor, Caf Gandolfi

Published:  23 July, 2008

Did you change many things when you took over the business?

This is one of those places where if you change anything you get millions of letters complaining! We've got a very loyal customer base. We have, of course, developed things over the years though, mostly the Scottish elements. My family are from the isle of Barra, so because of my Gaelic heritage I've really encouraged all the staff here to find out more about Scottish products.

How has the wine list developed?

We always had a nice little wine list, but it was small because I was scared to take that leap and put on lots of wines by the glass that might not sell. But then as I got older I realised that when you're driving and can have only one glass of wine it's nice to be able to have one really brilliant glass, or perhaps a glass of Champagne. So we now sell lots of our wines by the glass and they sell well. The wine list really took off when we opened the bar upstairs because we wanted it to be wine-led and to give customers the sense of being swamped with choice. I'd been really impressed by the level of staff wine knowledge at places such as Stravaigin [in Glasgow's West End], so I wanted to have that here too.

How do you organise staff training?

We do some of it ourselves and some of it is organised by our suppliers. Matthew Clark is our main supplier but we are now also using some smaller companies for things such as our guest wine of the month. Quite often we tie in the wine of the month with one of our wine dinners, which are also very good for staff education as everyone is invited, or if they are working that night they get a chance to taste the wines. Then they can tell me what they think of them. If they like a wine then they will sell it. For instance, we sell a lot of ros here because so many of the staff like it.

Has that been a recent phenomenon?

It has definitely increased recently but we have always sold loads of it because some of the people who work here just really love it. We do three by the glass and we've just added a fourth, a Sancerre ros, because some of our customers were asking for it.

It's a really funky space you've got upstairs.

The design of the bar is a bit odd because planning restrictions limited the space for customers as we have only one fire exit. But the upside is that it has given us a really big, luxurious bar. There's nowhere to hide, so if you're behind the bar you really have to talk to the customers!

Has the opening of the bar attracted new customers to the caf?

What it has hopefully done is given us a new, younger customer base. Sometimes I think the Caf Gandolfi customers are all ageing along with me, but we're now getting a slightly funkier crowd upstairs.

What are they drinking up there?

It's very Champagne-led. We just love, love, love Champagne here. I think it's more of a regular drink now than just a treat. I can remember going to Rogano's [restaurant and bar in the centre of Glasgow] with my wife for a glass of Champagne when we had finished all the Christmas shopping because it was a real treat. Now a lot of people seem to order a glass of Champagne just because they fancy a change from gin and tonic. Our pouring Champagne is Taittinger and I'm really happy with it. Although, if I had the cash I'd maybe drink Krug

What style of wine do you like most?

I'm very old country and really love French wines. There was a time when I first tasted New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and thought I'd never drink anything else again. But I got fed up with it. I find New World wines a bit too blowsy and showy now.

What about your customers, what do they prefer?

Our customers probably tend to feel more comfortable with New World wines because they are easier to order and understand. But you do get the usual comments from people about not liking Chardonnay.

How do you encourage your customers to experiment?

Our staff have permission to pour whatever they want, so if someone doesn't know what to order they can give them something to taste. Every month we give all the staff a bottle of wine from the list and that way they know the wines and can recommend them. We also do it because it's hard working in restaurants and bars so sometimes they need cheering up!

Any plans to expand?

The next thing we're going to do is open a place round the corner called 'Gandolfi To Go'. It'll be a deli with a very Scottish feel, although we'll have all the fab French stuff too. At night we'll open it as a private dining room, with wines selected to match each course. The next move will be to open another place in the West End. But we won't expand outside Glasgow - I don't want to spend all my time sitting in a car.