Top Edinburgh restaurateur secures Covid funding package

James Thomson, owner of Prestonfield House Hotel and The Witchery, in Edinburgh

THE owner of two of Edinburgh’s most iconic hospitality venues, Prestonfield House Hotel and The Witchery, has secured £2.5 million in CBILS funding through Royal Bank of Scotland to support the businesses through the impact of coronavirus on the hospitality sector.

James Thomson OBE was Scotland’s youngest licensee when he founded The Witchery in 1978 aged just 20 with just three staff, and he has since grown his business to employ hundreds. After beginning his hospitality career by catering for friends’ parties as a teen, he is now a highly decorated restaurateur, with accolades including ‘UK independent Restaurateur of the Year’, and an honour from the Queen for services to Hospitality and Tourism.

His company, Castlegate Investments, evolved with the purchase of Prestonfield House, where he had worked as a student, in 2003; and the Tower Restaurant, which was forced to close its doors permanently this year due to the pandemic.

The five-star Witchery and Prestonfield House venues re-opened their doors to the public last month following their temporary closure in October. The company, which has seen its wedding and events arm severely reduced by lockdown measures, is committed to retaining its remaining employees.

James Thomson, owner and director of Castlegate Investments, said: “I began my business by taking out three loans, allowing me to establish The Witchery and purchase the freehold of the property. The company wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of banks, and I’m lucky to have built up a strong relationship with Stephen at Royal Bank of Scotland over the years – it’s essential when you come up against a crisis like Covid.

“Thankfully, the bank has helped me navigate through a very difficult time – the team there were in regular contact with me, and it was very reassuring to see how they stood by me… always available at the other side of a Zoom call as we reacted to the almost daily changes caused by the global pandemic.

“The hospitality sector supports a whole ecosystem of jobs, from taxi drivers to farmers, to joiners, gardeners, lawyers, accountants, cheesemakers, and breweries. It’s vital that we do our utmost to keep things running, and this funding allows us to do that. I’m hopeful we can see a return to normality soon now that we have several vaccines in production.”

Stephen MacGregor, relationship director at Royal Bank of Scotland said: “It’s been a difficult year for the hospitality sector as a whole, so it’s positive to see landmark venues like The Witchery able to re-open their doors. Working with James has been terrific over the years, and we’ll continue to support his business and his staff where possible.”

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