There was a new kid on the block this summer serving the hungry and the thirsty on Abersoch beach. Joining the cafes at the village end of the beach and on the slipway at Golf Road, the blue and white stripes of Mickey’s Boatyard & Cafe at Macroes increasingly tempted beach-lovers to stretch their legs and head to what has traditionally been the quieter end of Abersoch’s prime golden sands. Earlier this year Abersoch Sensation Magazine sent our coffee enthusiast & editor Kevin Bell to find out what all the fuss is about:
I’m sitting in the blazing sunshine at Macroes at the southern end of Abersoch beach, an azure blue sea stretching out in front of me across Cardigan Bay, boats gently nodding at their moorings, a jumble of beach huts away to my left. In the far distance, nestled in the shadows of Snowdonia, the promenades, castles and harbours of Pwllheli, Criccieth and Porthmadog complete a scene of seaside perfection.
Wandering along the sands from the village end of the beach comes a steady stream of families, many with dogs bounding along beside them, eager to take in this view and the gentle, almost old-school seaside atmosphere of Macroes.
‘It’ is Mickey’s Boatyard and Cafe owned by Andrew Donaldson & family. Tom, Andrews son, is the Managing Partner of the cafe side of the business. He clearly has a big, big success on his hands already. “We trialed a few things through the summer of 2015,” says Tom. “Then we worked our socks off over the winter to put all this together and bring something really fresh to a different part of Abersoch. This end of the beach can easily be overlooked but we have always loved it and we felt that if we put the right product together here and delivered it with enthusiasm and passion we could have something really special.”
What Tom, 24, has put together really is special. He’s converted the western side of the boatyard buildings, added extensions, repaired roofs, brought in services and applied his carpenters eye and skills to produce a true beach cafe offering a blend of nautical and rustic that really captures the spirit and feel of Macroes. With a kitchen and serving area under a classic blue and white striped roof, plenty of outdoor tables and chairs and, for rainy days, a large covered seating area with a simple, rough-wood clad, beach-shack theme, there is no shortage of space for a customer base growing by the day.
“The obvious beauty of this location is the view,” says Tom, sweeping his arm across the bay, from the old Lifeboat Station at Penrhyn Du to the colourful beach huts away in the distance at the far end of the beach. “And the beauty of the site is that it is an authentic old boatyard. So our customers get to enjoy their food and drink immersed in the world of boats and the history of this place whilst taking in what we think might well be one of the best vistas in the UK.”
It’s hard to disagree. The mix of old and new buildings blend beautifully with the vintage boatyard tackle they sit around, with the ancient, mellowly rusting boat-crane apparatus an eye-catching centre-piece. Your eyes constantly wander from the immediate to the distant – one moment you are looking at the rich patina of the hulking, rusting steelwork just a few feet away, next you are drawn across the bay, beyond the necklace of seaside towns and the foothills behind them to Snowdon – the King of the Bay.
I want to know more about the cafe, the current offer and plans for the future, but first I need the answer to something that has been bugging me for a long time. I had done my research but could find no clue in the history of the place. What’s in a name? Why Mickey’s? Andrew Donaldson joins us in the cafe. He’s a successful businessman loving this life in shorts and sunshine, looking relaxed and happy. Who wouldn’t be here? When I pose my question his face shines with pride, shadowed by a little sadness.
“Mickey was one of the best men you could ever have met,” says Andrew. “His story is not an Abersoch story but it is a very special one to me and my family and friends. He came here with us once or twice and loved it but naming this place after him is simply about remembering a true friend. I had a long history of involvement in the Cheshire Phoenix Basketball Club and Mickey was the man at the club. He did everything, knew everybody and to know him was to love him. When he passed away I wanted to find something, the right something, to remember him by. This is that place.”
“When the boatyard came up for auction if I’m honest we weren’t entirely clear what we were going to do with it,” adds Andrew. “But we knew that, just like Mickey, it was special and we had to have it. If I’m equally honest bidding at the auction, over the telephone from Lanzarote, was fiercer than I expected but we can already see that as a business it’s going to be more than worth it.”
Like son Tom, Andrew gestures “Just look at this though,” says Andrew gesturing – as his son had earlier – at the bustling activity all around him, the backdrop of the bay framing the scene. “if the truth be told we would have bid higher still. More importantly, everything about the atmosphere here – the setting, the people who visit, the job we are trying to do and how we are trying to do it – capture the spirit of a great man.”
Tom puts it even more simply. “He was just the nicest, kindest man you could ever meet. I love the fact that this place where I work, and want to work for a long, long time is named after him.”
The auction in 2014 was the first time the boatyard had changed hands since 1926.
Macroes has always attracted its own particular brand of enthusiast who have either walked along the beach like the customers making their way towards us, or driven out through Sarn Bach, turned left up towards Bwlchtocyn then left again at the top of the hill (following the Porth Tocyn Hotel signs), before taking the beach turn down the winding lane to the car park behind the sands. The boatyard had long echoed the softer feel of Macroes with it’s muddle of ramshackle beach huts, but in the years leading up to the auction it had increasingly adopted a haunted air of impending dereliction, activity slowing almost to a halt until the gates closed seemingly forever.
The Donaldson’s are now bringing it back to life, the beach-cafe style reflecting the mellow, community vibe of the location but being run with the professionalism, passion and dedication to excellence that Andrew has bestowed on son Tom as the key ingredients to a successful business.
“We offer a simple, quality breakfast and lunch menu,” says Tom. “Everything we do is rooted in an ethos of taking the finest local products, using knowledgeable staff to prepare them in an environment with a top hygiene rating and then serve them in an informal, friendly style.”
“We serve breakfast baps created with bread from Glanrhyd Bakery in Llanaelhaearn, filled with the best local bacon and sausage, accompanied by the full range of fantastic quality barista style coffees and breakfast teas. There are Pain Chocolat and croissants baked on the premises to follow,” adds Tom, rightly proud of what he has put together in a relatively short space of time.
“For lunch we offer premium quality beef or lamb burgers from the same renowned local source together with filled baguettes. We believe we offer something really distinctive by making our fillings in-house and serving them on baguettes that are final batch-baked here at Mickey’s so they are always fresh.”
Mickey’s is a true family affair. Tom is 24 with a strong history in the service industries, including as a Bar Manager at the upmarket Le Talbooth in Essex where he learnt his trade. As Managing Partner he oversees the business and product selection and is hands-on in every sense, only putting his power drill down to talk to me before returning to his work. Jack Gosling is the chef, his surname a clue to his experience at the now gone but once legendary Goslings in Abersoch. He came to the party as the brother of Toms girlfriend Emma. Tom’s brother Will can be found assisting Jack and looking after the seemingly endless stream of customers alongside an increasingly large team of colleagues coping with a demand that has taken even the Donaldson’s by surprise.
“We really believed in the potential of this place,” says Tom. “But we thought that with an out-of-village location it would take a while to grow our business base. We feel we still have lots of potential to grow further but we have been stunned by how quickly we have been found. We wondered whether our plan for almost 100 seats might have been over-ambitious but, having only opened on Good Friday, it is unbelievable to see us packed out right through the weekends and even more surprising to see such brisk midweek trade so early in our development. We must be getting something right!”
There are more development plans along the way. Mum Debbie is the social media guru, building a Facebook following already fetching a remarkable ‘like’ a minute from more than 2000 followers. Stunning photo updates by staff, customers and local photographers keen to capture a remarkably photogenic new local landmark offer a constant reminder of the unique location. Debbie’s social media will soon carry news of special events including ‘Beach Banquets’ on summer evenings. It’s difficult to think of a better place to wind down after a long Abersoch day with a professionally cooked barbeque, especially with plans afoot for a licence to serve alcohol. Events will also help support the family’s charity for the year, with the Donaldson’s having strong personal reasons for using the pulling power of Mickey’s to help The Hospice of The Good Shepherd in Chester.
Tom meanwhile is already driving forward. At present the cafe offers the perfect place to eat on site, combined with a premium takeaway service. It’s an approach that clearly works but Tom is going to explore a table service option and look to develop the product range, always with a preference to keep it simple rather than compromise on his high standards. Which is why regulars will already have seen a Snugbury’s pop-up ice cream parlour open on site, serving their renowned ice creams ready for the peak season, family-oriented audience. Similarly, with even cooler days bringing more custom than may have been expected, Tom will be looking carefully at opening hours in the off-season with the aim of bringing Mickey’s unique style to the beach all year round. As things stand Mickey’s is open daily 9am to 6pm, so even the earlier morning dog walkers can enjoy a ‘coffee with a view’!
With the cafe clearly flourishing in Toms expert hands, I ask Andrew about the boatyard. It’s tempting to imagine that with so much activity around the cafe and so much success so soon, the boatyard itself will take second place. Andrew has big plans however. He has taken his time assessing what Mickey’s can bring to the boating scene in Abersoch and concluded that best approach is to reflect the relatively modest boatyard space at Mickey’s and offer a premium service and quality products.
The first clue is in the gleaming green and yellow livery of the two brand new, top-of- the-range John Deere tractors sitting proudly in the yard. Alongside the tractors – ‘Big Mickey’ and ‘Little Mickey’ – lies a stunning Chaparral VRX 203 Twin Jet sports boat, the sun bouncing back off her stealthy black and yellow decals, the jet motors ideally specified to the shallow waters of the bay.
“It’s simple,” says Andrew. “Quality and service is what we offer. We have bought the best of gear to ensure that our Park and Launch service maximises your stay out on the water and gets you out there with everything you need, with smiles on your faces and without getting a foot wet.”
At the time of writing there are just two spaces left – one boat space and one for a jet-ski. Andrew has plans to take the boatyard even further. “We have just been appointed Chaparral agents, in partnership with Ideal Boat – Chaparrals biggest dealer in the world outside the US – and we’ve already made our first sale. Customers can come to Mickey’s to test drive a Chaparral with a friendly, personal, professional sales service from a Chaparral enthusiast.” Yes, it’s Andrews boat that is sitting pretty by his new tractors!
“My longer term aim,” continues the owner, clearly passionate about the potential of his project, “is to have a fleet of Chaparrals in the yard here supplied by us to customers looked after by us, with the quality of service that I’ve prided myself on throughout my business career.”
The combination is hard to argue with. Joining Toms happy customers in Mickey’s Beach Cafe after a day out on the water, Andrews boatyard clients have a perfect location to reflect on yet another wonderful Abersoch experience, alongside the families and the dog-walkers and the sandcastle makers drawn to this little piece of paradise. So we leave it to Tom to capture everything that the Donaldson’s are building in this special place: “It’s a simple strap-line really but we think it captures what we have here – ‘A unique beachside cafe and boatyard, serving great coffee and good food with a beautiful coastal view and a laid back beach vibe.'”
Words by Kevin Bell and taken from the Spring 2016 issue of Abersoch Sensation Magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.