A Sun–kissed Monday at Gro, with Gordon Rennie

By, Sergio Burns

It is just another sun-kissed Monday afternoon at the end of June in Irvine. Ribbed wisps of cloud in a clear blue sky above, a smiling sun, stolen from the Uruguayan flag, beating down, and not even the hint of a breeze by the sea.

Ayrshire Magazine are at GRO, a licensed cafe bar on the Irvine harbourside, where we are warmly welcomed by the proprietor Gordon Rennie.

“I am born and bred Ayrshire,” Gordon told us when I asked him where his idea for a cafe bar in Irvine had come from. “I spent every day driving to Glasgow to get a nice coffee and something to eat. I realised there was a market here in Ayrshire just doing something a bit different, the coffee bar style, something a bit more relaxed, a place to eat and drink, a home from home with a focus on quality product.”

In addition, GRO is delightfully dog friendly. Something Gordon noticed about Glasgow coffee shops but something he identified sadly lacking in Ayrshire. When he started GRO in July 2015, he wanted this to be one of the selling points of the cafe bar. But what about the name, where did that come from?

“I can’t remember how it came about,” Rennie told me as a cappuccino arrived. “My initials are GR, and organic so it is GRO. We saw it as a great brand name that we could work with and develop into the future. It was catchy and memorable.”

Smiling, he relaxed back into his seat, screwed open his water and poured himself a drink.

Gordon has a background as a DJ, a hobby he pursued at university and which soon became a full-blown business venture. When the time came, however, he moved on and knew exactly what he wanted from his coffee bar.

“We wanted to focus on quality,” he explained. “The relaxation, the ambience of the premises as well as trying, where financially possible, to use organic and to move away from the more chemical based foods.”

He pauses and takes another drink of his water. GRO is busy; we speak amidst the excited chatter and happy hubbub of sun-fuelled consumers. Inside is packed while outside people eat and drink al fresco.

“Again it is something I wanted,” Gordon explained when we spoke about his shop’s opening hours. “I wanted a coffee bar, I wanted to be open seven days a week, I wanted to be open until 10 at night. I didn’t understand this thing we had in the UK where things close at five. So, you relax in here into the evening and have a beautiful Neopolitan pizza (pizza Napoletana) or you can sit and have a cappuccino or a glass of wine into the evening and watch the sunset, and it is just a good place to be.”

GRO strikes immediately as a great atmosphere coffee bar, somewhere you can come to relax or hang out with family and friends. But as Gordon Rennie is quick to point out, it is actually much, much more than that.

“This is still a licensed premises,” He explains having hinted at it earlier. “It is still a pub. Legally, it is still a pub. But walking in you would never think this is a pub.”

His mobile phone jingles into life distracting him for a few seconds, he declines to answer and turns his attention back to the nature of his premises.

“You have to have a knitting club,” he continues. “A book club, you have to do a lot of cake and coffee and focus on the quality and maybe alcohol, maybe. I won’t say it (alcohol) has become secondary but it isn’t the be all and end all for pubs anymore. Alcohol is not the focus the way it used to be. You can come in here and have a game of Connect Four and a cappuccino or you can come in and have a glass of wine. But this is the evolution of the modern pub.”

It is a changing scenario that demands a different style of service, and GRO prides itself as being a place where the community can come and relax in a friendly atmosphere, and enjoy good quality food and drink, alcohol or not.

“We see it as community based,” He revealed. “Working with the local groups…they are all welcome, come in and grab some tables and have meetings, and work here. Plug in your laptop, you know this is the evolution of the modern licensed premises, and what it has to become, part of the community and from morning to night. We have kids’ libraries, we have a play area for the children as well, family focused…this is what it has to become to pay your bills, survive and grow.”

Gordon Rennie is a thinking man, erudite, engaging, forward thinking and not without some ambition. Expansion is what he is aiming for next, locally, maybe Glasgow, nationally? And, why not, he certainly has a good angle on trends, a shrewd business head and is very personable.

So, the next time you have worked off some energy by walking your dog on the beach with shimmering views of Arran across a rippling blue sea. Or you may simply have strolled along Irvine’s harbour area or walked the sand dunes.

The next time you need sustenance, or relax in ambient surroundings, and savour the smells and flavours of food and drink. Where better than harbourside coffee bar and licensed premises GRO?