“I GOT my flat repossessed in the first couple of years. They were tough times but it was a choice between keeping what was becoming a successful business or keeping my flat.” Toby Darcus shrugs off the sacrifice he had to make when he bit the bullet and embarked on his first business venture.
Looking around the Cuckoo’s Nest bar in Tollcross, it’s easy to see why he believes it was the right decision to make.
Even at 10am, with the shutters down to keep out any thirsty locals, the pub has plenty of atmosphere.
It is cosy and welcoming, with quirky decor and the type of bar that will have someone propped up round it all night long.
Toby’s gamble has, five years later, more than paid off.
The pub, as Toby predicted, has in fact become a successful business, bucking the trend of a number of surrounding watering holes, which have been forced to close in recent years.
Since 2007, pubs have been closing at a rate of three a week in Scotland, with new pub openings “few and far between”, according to experts in the trade.
But the Cuckoo’s Nest has a healthy band of regulars, attracts the local students and has even been adopted as the official pub of Spanish team Real Betis by supporters who have settled in Tollcross.
So what is the secret behind its success when other pubs have failed to survive?
Quite simply – hard work, dedication, 80-hour weeks and a refusal to throw in the towel.
“We have just not given up,” Toby, 36, explains.
“If it was a company who owned it, they probably would have walked away in the first two years
“It was my opinion that we weren’t budging unless we got thrown out.”
Toby launched the pub in 2008 with his younger brothers, Barnaby and Sam, after quitting his job with Festival Inns and “stumbling” into an opportunity to run his own bar.
“I jumped ship a few years before Festival Inns went bankrupt,” he explains. “I knew it was downsizing and a few of us left at the same time.
“This wasn’t actually the plan for me. I stumbled into it. I think I was going to go into sales, but I was offered the pub and it seemed like a good opportunity.”
When the Darcus brothers took over the former Stage Door pub, on Home Street, they had their work cut out, having to build their client base from scratch as they watched nearby pubs such as The Auld Toll and The Illicit Still struggle and then eventually close.
Without any financial support from the bank, the brothers also had to use their own money to redecorate and furnish the bar to turn it into their own vision.
They worked 80-hour weeks – just about breaking even at the end of each week – as they fought to attract new customers.
“When we took it on, it didn’t have any customers at all,” Toby says.
“It was all fruit machines with black walls, thespian pictures and old school furniture.
“It was really dodgy, but I could see the potential.”
Today, it’s a different story for the brothers, who “are not millionaires, but make a decent salary” from the pub.
“I didn’t realise how long it takes to build up a customer base from zero,” Toby adds.
“Round here we have seen all the pubs shutting. All the old man’s boozers have struggled.
“We just wouldn’t give up, especially as it was our family’s source of income.
“It’s only the last three years that it has taken off.”
With more than 700 pubs having closed in Scotland over the past five years, the fact that the Cuckoo’s Nest has “taken off” is all down to the brothers, says Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.
“There will always be room for a good, well-run pub if people are prepared to go in and work hard, look after their customers and give them the best service,” he says.
“It’s very difficult just now, especially with banks not lending and not having confidence in the sector.
“It’s harder than ever before so in tribute to these people who are doing well, they must be very good at their jobs.”
With more than 50 years’ experience between them – despite having a combined age of just 90 – the Darcus brothers certainly have the expertise behind them to all them to continue their success.
They are celebrating the fifth birthday of the Cuckoo’s Nest tonight with a big party in the pub starting at 7pm.