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Owning a Bar in Bulgaria

Getting out of the rat race and running your own bar is an idea of many people. We meet one Irish couple who did just this and talked to them about their real life experience of finding the right Bulgarian property and setting up their own pub. "On our first visit to Bulgaria we weren’t quite sure what to expect or what property exactly we were looking for. The idea of running our own business, something along the lines of a pub or a restaurant was in the back of our minds, but we just wanted to get a feel for the country first.

We travelled the Black Sea coastline looking at various different properties, meeting people and learning information along the way. After our return back to Ireland, the idea of buying a property and then moving to Bulgaria full time grew.

We started to do some more research about the country, and got in contact with the Bulgarian Ambassador in Dublin, who gave us some very useful websites containing information about Bulgarian laws and regulations. We got in touch with various real estate agents in Bulgaria, for their opinions on what might work best. The dream of running our own business began to look more of a possibility every day.

We hadn’t been to Nessebur previously. We had seen properties for sale in Sunny Beach, but these were basically just units that would be ideally converted into shops.

Before viewing the property we were potentially interested in, we spent the day walking around Nessebur, and fell in love with the town. The area has far more long-term potential and works like a normal town all year round with schools, medical centres etc. What we were taken to see was basically an empty basement. It had a status for a bar/restaurant, which means that on the title deeds it states that the premises has permission to be used as a bar. It also had approved projects from the Municipality for electricity, ventilation and other necessary services, but other than this there was absolutely nothing started on the building. We hadn’t originally planned on a project this big, but the place was like a blank canvas and even though it was downstairs, it was still perfect for an Irish Pub. We needed more time to research the situation.

We visited different solicitors to research what the process for obtaining a licence involves. In theory it sounded a straightforward process, as in our case, part of it had already been started for obtaining status. However, as we found out later, nothing was quite so simple.

After taking some time to think everything over, we called back to Bulgaria, opened a personal bank account, employed a solicitor to set up a Bulgarian company, and put a deposit on the premises.

Back in Ireland, we put our house in Cork up for sale, handed in our notice at work and prepared to move, lock stock and barrel.

Everything fell into place around the same time. It was handy that we weren’t waiting for anything, but it was still very stressful. Our house sold, our Bulgarian company set up, our jobs left and our bags packed - we were both on a plane to a new life and the unknown.

There was a building ban in Nessebur, which didn’t end until 15th September, which meant no construction works can be carried out during the peak summer season. This didn’t affect us as we didn’t really have anything ready to start. We still had to get quotes from builders, price materials and labour, and figure out what our pub was going to look like. This proved to be a lot more difficult than we imagined, with lots of builders and 'cowboys', quoting us prices higher than we would pay in Ireland!

After a couple of weeks of trying, we decided to go with direct labour and project manage ourselves in a much more hands-on manner. The first contract that was signed was for the carpentry. We found two companies in Sofia, who would team together, to handle all the woodwork needed for the pub. They had never made a bar for a pub before, and we were taking a risk with what is the most important aspect of an Irish Pub: but we were getting used to it. Come September we had a local electrician to wire the pub for us. Things fell into place slowly but surely, from there on, as we learnt that time is read in a different way in Bulgaria.

Although not in force in Bulgaria at the time, we thought it would be best to plan ahead, and spend a bit more now, than a lot more later on food and hygiene standards. This included separate preparation areas for fish, meat, eggs and vegetables, all complete with their own sinks. The space needed for the kitchen doubled, taking over a quarter of the area of the premises.