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Deireadh na laethanta: Níl aon athshlánú ar bharra coitianta Fat Boy




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BddpSsaKPItBuV8cvKgo9p576RMGWPJhOpinion by Tony Mallett

The events that have unfolded, and continue to unfold, at the popular Fat Boy’s sports bar and grill on Place du Luxembourg have thrown the social morality and corporate behaviour of the world’s biggest brewer into sharp relief.

At the end of April, the bar owners were informed that their lease with ABI – more commonly known as AB Inbev - which expires at the end of this month, will not be renewed. This despite the owners attempting to reach agreement more than two years ago, sending large amounts of letters (none of which received a reply), making dozens of phone calls to try and reach decision makers and having run a highly successful business for nigh-on 15 years, selling ABI products.


The owners have little recourse and it appears there will be no reprieve, despite the fact that the bar is globally famous and packed to the rafters on big sports nights – any sports from ice hockey to European soccer nights, to American football, to the rugby World Cup and more.

The owners will not be able to sell the business on, so it’s essentially a decade-and-a-half of hard graft straight down the pan as soon as the doors close.

There are several questions we would dearly love to ask of the decision maker – one Maarten Mairiaux - in this case: What about the staff, soon to be jobless? What about a societal responsibility to the huge community of sports lovers who have turned Fat Boy’s into what it is down the years and will now be disenfranchised? How can the company justify giving just four months notice to owners who have been in situ for 15 years? And how on earth do they expect any other bar or outlet on the same spot to achieve better sales?


The latter is, of course, the business of the brewery, but the first three are down to a distinct lack of the once-trendy ‘corporate social responsibility’. ABI appears not to have any of that. We’ve asked them the above questions with, you’ve guessed it, no reply.

What the brewery did say however, was the following, from Cybelle-Royce Buyck, the company’s Senior Corporate Affairs Manager: “Upon the expiry of tenancy rights, ABI systematically evaluates the current enterprise against the potential of the leased property. The imminent end of the contract for the tenancy in question triggered this routine analysis.

"The outcome gives a strong indication that the strategically located premises will be more suited to an innovative concept, in line with growing consumer trends, that will perform better. This decision was made based on standard procedures and an objective assessment, before assigning future tenancy rights.”

Buyck adds that she cannot go into further detail “as a legal procedure is still ongoing, but we would wish that this transition can be made in a correct manner”. Any legal action will surely end in a loss for Fat Boy’s but it is handy for ABI to keep Buyck quiet, it seems. And her comment about ‘a correct manner’ is clearly laughable, given ABI’s procedures.

There are, however, a couple of killer points in her brief response. Read it again: “The outcome gives a strong indication that the strategically located premises will be more suited to an innovative concept, in line with growing consumer trends, that will perform better.”

”Strategically located” means right next door to the European Parliament on a square that is now ridiculously busy (especially ar an Déardaoin nights) with a clientele of mainly young Eurocrats hitting bars such as Ralph’s, The Grapevine and Coco.

The fact is that these three bars are on the ‘sunny’ side of the square – a square that was virtually dead in the water until Fat Boy’s (and its predecessor O’ Farrell’s) opened back in the early 2000s. There is no conceivable way that "an innovative concept…will perform better". As stated, the place is often rammed to bursting and co-owner Bo Farrell and his team could not sell any more beer if they tried. And, boy, they’ve tried – with outside bars on the terrace for big games and so on. And that phrase ‘in line with growing consumer trends’? Well ‘hello!’, ABI, but you are a company that sells beer. Not wine, not Fancy-Dan cocktails…beer.

And since when were sports fans as fickle as some young people often are when it comes to drinking venues? Sports fans are an ever-continuing ‘consumer trend’. They will be there forever, whatever else changes. And they will be drinking lots and lots of Jupiler and Stella and Leffe and more besides till the cows come home.

Also, on a somewhat ironic note, ABI pours millions of euro into promoting its brand Jupiler through, you’ve guessed it, football.

Whatever ABI’s real motives are, their response is a nonsense commercially. And they clearly do not care that a huge customer base built up with blood, sweat and - all too often - tears over 15 glorious years will be blown to the four winds. A community will be disbanded and scattered, having to find solace in smaller and often lesser establishments on the totally unreasonable whim and utterly flawed logic of one Maarten Mairiaux.

But please don’t think that this is a one-off from ABI. It isn’t. For example, although it’s a slightly different case, Le Liberty pub on Place de la Liberté is a long-established 'brown bar', much loved by locals, that is set to close, leaving long-serving managers and staff jobless and regulars crying in their beer.

When the former leaseholder died earlier this year, after holding the lease for more than 30 years, long-term manager Marina (who has worked there more than 20 years) and her partner Patrick felt that they would receive fair consideration from ABI to take over officially, which they very much wanted to do.

Not so. Despite campaigns and petitions to save the pub, Marina and Patrick found out on 23 July that a decision had been made more than a year ago to completely renovate and 'update' Le Liberty and its adjoining bar, Le Daric. The pair will not be offered a lease and the regulars will lose not one, but two traditional bars on the square. And here’s a quick peek into the mindset of this corporate giant: Patrick was told by ABI's commercial director: "You could have got a 10,000 strong protest together, it would not have made the slightest difference, the decision has been made and there is no going back."

So, there it is. ABI do not care about you as a customer, they do not care that by giving such short notice (despite decisions being made months, if not years, ago and kept secret) that bar owners lose their considerable investment with no chance of recompense and that hard-working staff end up jobless.

Fat Boy’s will undoubtedly close by 31 Lúnasa and it will be the end of an era. Not just for the owners but for regular customers resident in Brussels and, indeed, from all over the globe.

This means absolutely nothing to ABI. So think before you drink.

Save Fat Boy's! Part Two