'I thought we were heading towards a boom period,' says Cork publican Ernest Cantillon

The owner of Sober Lane and Electric talks about new obstacles facing the industry post-Covid
'I thought we were heading towards a boom period,' says Cork publican Ernest Cantillon

Ernest Cantillon invested nearly €1m in both Electric and Sober Lane during the pandemic so that both establishments would be revamped when the restrictions were lifted. Picture: Denis Scannell

Ernest Cantillon went against the grain when he opened his first pub in Cork. Both his parents studied law and his siblings ended up joining their father’s law firm.

Mr Cantillon now hopes that his own children won’t follow in his footsteps by going into the pub business.

“I chose this punishment for myself,” said Mr Cantillon, half-jokingly.

Mr Cantillon has a self-professed love for pubs and his job, despite giving up alcohol decades ago. He owns and operates Sober Lane and Electric restaurant in Cork.

He invested nearly €1m in both Electric and Sober Lane during the pandemic so that both establishments would be revamped when the restrictions were lifted. This has helped Mr Cantillon to navigate the new obstacles in the way for publicans and restaurateurs as turnover has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Other establishments have not been able to weather the Covid-19 storm as there has been a noticeable decline in pubs in Cork and elsewhere in Munster compared to 2019.

By the end of 2021 when compared with 2019 figures, there were 37 fewer pubs in Cork, 10 fewer pubs in Clare, 22 fewer pubs in Kerry, 19 fewer pubs in Limerick, 17 fewer pubs in Waterford, and 14 fewer pubs in Tipperary.

Yet, the contraction of pubs across Ireland cannot be blamed completely on the damage caused by the pandemic. There has been a 21% decline in pubs in Ireland since 2005, just before the financial crash, according to a recent report published by Drinks Industry Group of Ireland and researched by Anthony Foley of Dublin City University Business School.

The main focus of the report was on the impact of excise duty on pubs, with the lobby group calling for it to be reduced.

“Reducing excise tax is a policy that can be introduced overnight with the immediate, tangible impact of reducing the costs of doing business for tens of thousands of business owners in the drinks and hospitality sector in Ireland,” the group said in the report.

Ireland currently has the second highest overall excise tax on drinks in the EU, with Finland in first place. Ireland has the highest excise tax on wine, the second highest on beer, and the third highest on spirits.

The group has asked the Government to reduce alcohol excise tax by 7.5% in this year’s budget.

This should be the start of a programme of annual excise reductions to gradually bring Irish alcohol excise tax into line with the much lower EU levels.” 

However, Mr Cantillon suggested that the decline of pubs across Ireland is not due to excise duty rates or Vat rates but a culmination of issues that has led to many throwing in the towel.

“It’s not any big one thing. It’s too much work for too little reward,” he said.

Running a pub these days is becoming even more stressful, as Mr Cantillon must battle energy price hikes, inflation, and supply chain issues this year.

“Our electricity bills have nearly doubled. We’re coming up to seeing energy costs of around €2,000 a week,” said Mr Cantillon.

He also said chicken is now 60% dearer due to inflation, hitting his Sober Lane establishment which prides itself on casual dining.

Cost pressures are the single biggest challenge right now.”

Staff shortages is another widely reported issue facing those in hospitality.

“We’re overstaffed some days and understaffed other days,” said Mr Cantillon.

He was expecting 2022 to be a strong year for business but these pressures have created a difficult environment for pubs to operate in, even post-Covid-19.

“I really thought we were heading towards a boom period,” said Mr Cantillon.

Despite the new and old pressures on hospitality, Mr Cantillon does not envisage a career change in his future.

More in this section

The Business Hub
Newsletter

News and analysis on business, money and jobs from Munster and beyond by our expert team of business writers.

Sign up
Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up
Execution Time: 0.234 s