17 July 2018

How I came up with my business idea

Andy McHale of Cowshed reveals the inspiration for his restaurant business

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If you want to start up and succeed in business you must set yourself apart, especially when starting your own business in the food sector. Here, Cowshed owner and general manager, Andy McHale, explains how he came up with the idea for his restaurant.


Name: Andy McHale, founder, managing director and general manager.

Business: Cowshed, Liverpool city centre ‘beef house’ restaurant.

Background: McHale had worked in bars and restaurants for most of his career. He wanted to open his own restaurant business for many years. However, lack of funding made it a seemingly impossible dream. But being made redundant offered him some of the capital he needed to turn his idea into a successful business.

So, where did the inspiration come from for Cowshed?

Andy McHale (AM): “From a weekend away in London with my wife, Jo. My cousin recommended we go for a meal at Flat Iron, a chain with five restaurants. All very simple, but everything was fantastic – great menu, delicious food and nice dining environment. Then suddenly I thought, we don’t have anything like this in Liverpool, somewhere that does delicious steak for a reasonable price.”

How did the idea develop?

AM: “At that point I didn’t have the money to start a restaurant of my own, but I had a good idea for a new business. Jo and I would often discuss how it could work, names, locations and other ideas, which we started scribbling down in a book. I didn’t want to say too much to others, just in case someone took the idea. But it was all pie in the sky, because we didn’t have the money. That changed when I got redundancy pay when the bar I was general manager of was bought. That provided some of the money we needed, but Jo and I also had to invest our savings.”

What sets Cowshed apart?

AM: “Before we opened, you had to pay an ‘arm and leg’ for a decent steak in Liverpool. Inspired by Flat Iron, we offer delicious steaks at a more affordable price, because of the cuts of meat we sell. Our steaks are mainly flat irons, rumps and rib eyes, cooked very well.”

You don’t sell fillet steaks?

AM: “Only as a special, because customers ask for them. I didn’t want to, because it goes against my original idea. Plus, other cuts give more flavour. People might have had an average rump steak elsewhere, but ours are different, and plenty of imagination has gone into our starters, sauces and sides. Again, they’re simple, but done very well. We’ve also created a different experience with the music we play. I love my music, so we were never going to play ‘muzak’ or chart stuff. We’re not trying to be cool – that word makes me very nervous. But, we’re genuinely doing something different.”

How have your premises influenced Cowshed?

AM: “Cowshed is housed within a three-floor, Georgian listed building. When I first saw it, another major piece fell into place. The building felt very right; it had been someone’s home and I wanted to keep a sense of that, so it would be warm and welcoming, with a heritage feel, too. We’ve kept a lot of the original fittings, there’s even an old range cooker, which we don’t use, but it looks fantastic. We have old pictures on the walls and lovely ornate edges, which were Jo’s idea. Customers often comment on how lovely they are.”

When starting your own business did you get much support?

AM: “Lots. My sister and brother-in-law have been fantastic; they own two bars, two restaurants and a gastro pub. Their advice has helped to prevent many potentially costly mistakes. My brother-in-law has worked in the industry forever and he generously shared his contacts, which really helped. We also had trades people working on the refit who told us to pay them when we had the money, because money was tight. The support we’ve had has been incredible.”

How important is having a good new business idea?

AM: “It’s essential. Otherwise, you’re just like everyone else, and that can make it much harder to succeed. You don’t have to come up with a unique idea, but a good one. And you must find ways to be different, and that also involves coming up with lots of great ideas.” With a great business idea, it is also important to have a great business plan. Click here to see how to combine a business idea with a successful business plan.

What other key lessons have you learned about business ideas?

AM: “That you also need the right people to help make your ideas work. Ours are totally onboard. They get it; they share my passion; they’re talented, committed and hardworking. Share your ideas with those you trust, because they might be able to spot flaws in your thinking. We didn’t carry out market research, because I knew my market inside out, but test your idea if you’re entering new territory; speak to potential customers. Just because you think an idea is good, doesn’t mean it can be turned into a successful business.”

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