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Back You are here: Home Property Buying, Selling, Renting Owning a Bar in Bulgaria

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.


 

The end of the renovation work seemed near in January, after many set backs and delays, which included the tilers increasing their price a few days into the job, which led to us tiling and painting the bar ourselves. The bar, furniture and all the woodwork arrived from Sofia, which was make or break time for us, but luckily our risk paid off.

We started the licence process in November, expecting to have it in January. We also applied for a permanent electricity supply, as we were using a temporary supply for the renovation work. The licence process required firstly going to the Municipality to fill out an application form then, after ten days or so, going back and finding out what documents you require! The necessary documents included a plan of the plot, Act and protocol 15 and 16, approved projects for water and electrical services, safety certificate for electrical work, contract with water and electricity companies, and the educational details of managers and staff. The process for collecting all the necessary documents had us fit to pull our hair out. It’s not a process you can take lightly or do quickly.

The licence you get depends on whether you are classified as a snack bar, fast food, restaurant etc. Each category has different requirements that you have to fulfil before it’s awarded. The standard of your kitchen determines what classification you get and this in turn is supposed to affect what you can have on your menu, fish, eggs etc. After this the price of the licence depends on how many seats you have on your premises. The higher the category the more expensive the price. Our categorisation, a restaurant, cost us 300 leva at the time. The price of the licence after that was also 300 leva. To put seats outdoors, cost 20 leva per square metre per month. It varies from Municipality to Municipality.

Once all your documents have been processed, you get a temporary licence with which you are allowed to open. This lasts for two months, during this time the Municipality will come to inspect to make sure everything is as it should be. We got our temporary licence in June, a couple of weeks later, we were inspected. We received our permanent licence in August.

Getting our permanent electricity supply proved to be a tougher task. In November, we filled out a form, which consisted of our company details, where our premises were and how many kilowatts we required. A month later, they looked for electrical project and safety certificates. Another month later we were approved, and told that it would cost 2,300 leva. Having paid this, we expected to see them out with our electrical box and meter within a week or two. After a month we went back to find out what happened. They told us it would be another week or two. After another month and many phonecalls, we called again, and were told it might not happen until the following year!

After making a few phonecalls, he told us that our project was held up in Stara Zagora, which is the head office for the electrical company, and that there was nothing he could do. After this we met with a woman who worked for a building company, she had some friends who worked in the electricity company in Nessebur. She was very nice and helpful and told us that she would see if there was anything that she could do for us. The following morning, we were connected to the main power supply!

Within three weeks of getting the electricity connected, our doors were finally open for business. We had found staff through advertising in ‘Jobs.bg’ and we were using local suppliers for food and drink.

Our first season working for ourselves had started. We made many new friends, got a priceless education and forgot what it was like to sleep. The feel of the pub has changed through experience. We feel that it’s grown to have a cosy and warm atmosphere, and lives up to what we believe is the true meaning of a traditional pub.

The day we left Ireland seems a lifetime ago. Our experiences here have been like a rollercoaster at the best of times, but we wouldn’t swap them for anything. What we’ve learnt is invaluable and our lives have become more about quality rather than quantity and we look forward to many more years of the same.

Our kitchen provides a mix of traditional and modern Irish food using quality products. We have an extensive range of spirits and beers. We show sporting events on a wide screen through Sky Sports and Setanta Sports and we even have musical instruments available in the pub if anyone feels like playing. Everyone is welcome and we have price ranges to suit everyone’s pocket!"

The Red Harp - Nessebur's first genuine 100% Irish Pub


If you are considering buying or running a bar in Bulgaria here are our tips and hints to owning your own bar:

- Quick decisions and lack of planning could end up with your business not making it.
- Running a bar is really hard work, don't underestimate the long hours required.
- Budget - work out how much money you have to invest in your project before you start
- Location - do you want a seaside bar or small country pub
- Get the professionals in. You should always seek independent professional advice.
- Price - if you are buying an existing business don't be swayed by how pretty it looks - check the books
- Get qualified. If needed, go on a training course and get qualifications under your belt