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Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire

Who is Allan Henderson? The ‘Fittie loon’ whose Aberdeen knowledge will make new market a destination for entire north-east

The head honcho of McGinty's Group reveals his plans to create a "transformational venue" in the city centre - and tells us what makes him the best person for the job.
Denny Andonova
Allan Henderson tells us how he will make a success of the new market.
Allan Henderson tells us how he will make a success of the new market. Image: Michael McCosh/DC Thomson

Growing up next door to The Silver Darling, Allan Henderson never dreamed he would be running the acclaimed seaside restaurant one day.

And he probably didn’t think he would be tasked with transforming the fortunes of Aberdeen city centre.

But over the last 16 years, the “Fittie loon” has proven to “have an eye” for what makes a thriving venue.

Starting off with a single site back in 2008, Allan now runs some of the city’s most popular pubs and restaurants.

And he is far from done, with his biggest challenge now on the horizon.

McGinty’s Meal An’ Ale was the start of Allan Henderson's empire of venues.
McGinty’s Meal An’ Ale was the start of Allan Henderson’s empire of venues. Image: Supplied.

The head honcho of McGinty’s Group will take the reins of Aberdeen’s new indoor food market, a £50 million complex hoped to breathe life into the city.

“I always trust my instincts,” Allan tells me as he goes through a list of ideas for the development.

“And I genuinely feel this has the potential to be transformational for the city centre.

“We want to produce a real destination venue that Aberdeen can be proud of.”

But what makes him the ideal person for the job?

Picture shows Allan Henderson, director of The McGinty's Group, councillor Ian Yuill, councillor Alex McLellan and Martin Widerlechner, marketing and sales manager, at the Aberdeen market construction site.
McGinty’s Group was chosen as the preferred operator for the Aberdeen market development, which will be built on The Green. In picture: Allan Henderson, director of The McGinty’s Group, councillors Ian Yuill and Alex McLellan, and Martin Widerlechner, McGinty’s marketing and sales manager. Image: Aberdeen City Council.

We sat down with Allan Henderson for a chat about all things Aberdeen Market. He revealed: 

  • How his passion for the hospitality industry was instilled in him in early childhood, growing up in Fittie
  • His secret to success in the tricky sector
  • How the McGinty’s Group started with a “simple desire to own a pub”
  • And how he plans to make the new food market a “vibrant place” for visitors from across the whole of the north-east

How it all started…

Sipping a cup of tea, Allan tells me he’s always had a flair for hospitality.

We are at the Ferryhill House Hotel, the third venue he came to buy six years ago.

His passion for the industry, however, has been brewing ever since his early childhood, watching his mother Beth work her magic at The Silver Darling next door to their home in the historic fishing community.

Proud of his upbringing in Fittie, Allan even named one of his companies Fittie Loon Ltd in years to come. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

“Being the helpful Fittie neighbours”, Allan’s parents would often lend the restaurant’s chef and owner at the time, Didier Deejean, a hand.

Through a gentle chuckle, he recalls it was like a scene from ‘Allo ‘Allo! – the British sitcom that took the country by storm in the 1980s.

And as a die-hard fan of the TV series myself, I can see exactly what he means. A revolving cast of characters passing through the homely venue.

“They were friends for like 25 years,” Allan tells me.

The Silver Darling has been a staple at Aberdeen beach for more than 30 years. Image: Silver Darling.

“The Silver Darling has been a big part of my life – I basically grew up there.

“It was like the boatmen’s bothy to us Fittie kids, just a good place to go in and have a cup of a tea or a biscuit.”

And thus, his journey in hospitality began…

University jobs inspired future career in hospitality

After finishing secondary school at Robert Gordon’s College, Allan went on to study accounting and economics at Aberdeen University.

It was then that his interest – and expertise – in the food and drink industry began to take shape.

Allan Henderson, director of McGinty's Group.
Allan Henderson continues to lead the contract catering business The Workshop UK Ltd.

During his studies, he worked in a number of bars and restaurants – watching and learning about what makes for good customer service as he learned the ropes.

This, combined with his studies, proved to be the best ingredients in his recipe for success.

And in 1999, Aberdeen entrepreneur Jim Clark persuaded him to help run a catering company, supplying staff canteens across dozens of UK locations.

Allan later came to buy the business, setting the stage for the McGinty’s Group.

McGinty's Meal an' Ale
This was the first pub bought under the McGinty’s Group umbrella. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

The rise of McGinty’s Group

With 10 “busy as ever” venues across Aberdeen, it’s safe to say Allan and his business partner Derren McRae have managed to grow a hospitality empire over the last 16 years.

The pair even have a few major awards under their belts.

The old Frankenstein Bar had been a much-loved venue for decades before it closed. Image: Andrew Duke.

And it all started with the simple “desire of owning a pub”.

Having spent some time in Glasgow, the pair bemoaned the fact that Aberdeen didn’t have quite as many quality venues.

And in 2008, they bought the old Frankenstein’s Bar – now McGinty’s Meal An’ Ale – for a “reasonable price”.

Still going strong to this day, they picked up the place when it was “really on its last legs” and “in a bit of a mess”.

Scotland fans watching the Euro 2020 game against England at McGinty's
Scotland fans watching the Euro 2020 game against England at McGinty’s. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson.

“To be honest, we didn’t have massive amount of money to spend on it,” Allan recalls.

“But we spent what we had cleverly, we changed it into a Scottish-themed bar, and from day one it has been very busy.

“We took it to what it should have always been – a great traditional pub at the heart of the city that was welcoming to all sorts.”

And while Allan and Derren didn’t know it at the time, this would establish the “mantra” of their future business.

‘Our trend became bringing run-down businesses back to life’

Instead of buying already established brands, the pair went on to make a career of regenerating downtrodden venues, which had either shut or “lost their way”.

One after another, they brought six more venues back to their former splendour.

Allan Henderson and Alan Aitken, operations director, photographed outside Under the Hammer which is now owned by McGinty's Group.
The McGinty’s Group came to the aid of the much-loved Under The Hammer, saving it from closure in 2021. Image: The McGinty’s Group.

In 2012, the duo took over the former Star and Garter pub on Crown Street, which had been closed for three years.

They got rid of the cheap interiors and furniture, and within months transformed it into the “vibrant” venue people now know as The Stag.

With both pubs going well, Allan then decided it was time for them to branch out – purchasing the upmarket No.10 Bar and Restaurant in Aberdeen’s west end in 2015.

That was quickly followed by The Silver Darling, which won Scottish Restaurant of the Year in 2019 and 2023.

And it has even attracted names like Rod Stewart and Judi Dench.

Derren McRae, Alan Aitken, Jillian Miller, Allan Henderson photographed outside The Esslemont, owned by McGinty's Group.
The Esslemont and Mac’s Pizzeria opened on 24 Union Street in 2019. Picture of (L-R) Derren McRae, Alan Aitken, Jillian Miller, Allan Henderson. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

McGinty’s Group now also owns Ferryhill House Hotel, The Esslemont, Mac’s Pizzeria, The Grill, Under the Hammer and The Four Mile in Kingswells.

Allan adds: “If you look at our portfolio of 10 venues in the city, seven of those had either been closed, or had lost their way so much that it was a matter of time.

“What we’ve managed to do is pick up those places and give them some needed TLC.

“We often talk about the empty buildings in Aberdeen, so I think we’ve done a great thing for the city by bringing those seven businesses back to life.”

Mac's Pizzeria on Union Street, owned by McGinty's Group.
The Esslemont Bar and Restaurant (downstairs) and Mac’s Pizzeria (upstairs) opened in the old vacant E&M building. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

What is the key to a ‘thriving’ venue?

Allan admits getting to this point hasn’t been easy.

And over the years, running a profitable business has become even harder – with ever-rising costs posing yet another challenge.

However, he adds that all it takes to overcome such hurdles – although difficult at times – is to have a good strategy and to “keep a close eye” on everything.

Allan Henderson, director at McGinty’s Group, with employee Holly Greenhalgh outside the Town House following the approval of No 10 marquee. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson.

But what is the key to creating a good venue in the first place?

I pose the question, and Allan takes barely a second to respond.

“Simple – good customer service,” he says.

“When I go to any of my sites, I never come in through the staff door – I always use the front door so I can see what the customers see.

“What matters is their first impression of the place, what they think of the cleanliness of the building, the friendliness of the staff and the range of products.”

‘Staff are the face of the business’

Allan tells me that one of the most important things to make a venue really pop is getting the right staff, whom he can trust to offer such “impeccable customer service”.

He currently employs about 250 people across his hospitality venues, and all of them have been specially selected with those requirements in mind.

Chocolate fudge at the Ferryhill House Hotel, owned by McGinty's Group.
Allan ensures all of his venues maintain high quality service and food offering. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson.

And you would never see Allan behind the bar, pouring a pint or taking orders.

He opts to stand back from it, and hire people whom he can trust to run the site with the same passion – while he takes care of the business side of things.

“I remember reading an article by an HR director when I was younger, who said ‘Recruit for personality and train for skill’,” Allan explains.

“It’s a really apt expression to have in mind when you’re recruiting in hospitality, because your staff are the face of your business.”

Ferryhill House Hotel’s head chef David Amos. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson.

‘It’s all about the atmosphere’

And while his venues might be have their differences, they all fall under the same umbrella of “being a welcoming place for all”.

Allan continues: “I’ve got an expression that I love to see suits and dungarees standing next to each other in a bar.

“I think it’s really important that people from whatever background can come and enjoy the camaraderie and the buzz of a traditional Scottish pub.”

A table at No. 10 Bar and Restaurant on Queens Road. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

And this is exactly the atmosphere he wants to create with the new food market.

What makes Allan Henderson the best man to run the new market?

Allan was “directly targeted” to take on the development due to his vast experience in Aberdeen.

And he believes his greatest asset is his extensive knowledge of the city, as well as his commitment to securing a bright future for the once-bustling Granite Mile.

The Aberdeen Market will take over the former BHS store on Union Street and the old market on The Green. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

The hospitality kingpin has been a “long-term advocate” of efforts to rejuvenate the city centre, and is also part of the Our Union Street taskforce and Aberdeen Inspired.

Born and bred in Fittie, he has experienced the city through all of its ups and downs over the last decades.

And he thinks this would “undoubtedly” help him in making the right choices about the market, and recognising what would work best for Aberdeen.

Allan Henderson speaking at an emergency summit with more than 150 guests, discussing ways to save Aberdeen's Union Street. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.
Allan Henderson speaking at an emergency summit with more than 150 guests, discussing ways to save Aberdeen’s Union Street. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

‘Quite clearly, the city centre is down at heels’

“I get the city, I understand it,” Allan says.

“I’ve seen Aberdeen in its peak during the 80s and 90s when the oil and gas sector was booming, and everything was busy – bars, shops, restaurants.

“But that’s not the world we live in any more.

“Quite clearly the city centre is sort of down at the heels at present, but I genuinely feel there is real warmth and a desire to make things better.”

The revamped Aberdeen Market as our readers offer their reaction to McGinty's running it.
The hospitality firm hopes to turn the multi-million-pound site into a haven for local traders and visitors, drawing inspiration from markets across the UK and beyond. Image: Halliday Fraser Munro/Aberdeen City Council

So what is his vision for the Aberdeen market?

When I ask what Aberdeen lacks at the moment, Allan jokes: “I think it needs an indoor food market, you know.”

And he truly believes this scheme would be “transformational” for the city centre.

Taking inspiration from more than 30 venues across the UK and beyond, Allan wants to make the market a “vibrant” events space with a “distinctive character”.

Fierce will be one of 10 local food and drink vendors at the new Aberdeen market. Pictured: Fierce retail and events manager Kirsty Cameron. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson
The Aberdeen brewery Fierce will be one of the local food and drink vendors at the new market. Pictured: Fierce retail and events manager Kirsty Cameron. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

‘It needs to have a funkier feel’

And the focus will be on attracting local independent food and drink vendors to showcase all that the north-east has to offer – with Fierce Bar already on board.

Showing me a leaflet displaying similar venues he has visited, Allan says: “If you look at what the big trends around the country are, this venue will tick a major box for Aberdeen.

“Some of the markets we saw in England felt too much like shopping malls and we really want to come away from that.

“This needs to have an edgier, funkier feel to it.

“It has to be an exciting, vibrant destination venue for all ages.”

Events such as Wimbledon could be screened at the new Aberdeen Market. Image: Halliday Fraser Munro/Aberdeen City Council.

‘Aberdeen market could only be good news’

He says the main challenge ahead of them is to excite people, luring them to visit the Aberdeen market on a regular basis.

But Allan remains positive.

And really, it fits in with that same “mantra” McGinty’s has had for years, albeit on a bigger scale…

He adds: “I think it’s a great that we are taking a big chunk of old real estate – an old closed BHS – and turning into a vibrant market.

“We’d really hope that the market becomes a feeder for some of these businesses, and perhaps then they move on to the high street, taking a full unit for themselves.

“It could only be good news.”

Learn how you can help influence the name of the new market here.