Business is always stressful,” says Martin McGovern, proprietor of The Devenish Bar and Jazzey’s Restaurant, Cocktail and Wine Bar.

Moving from the construction sector to hospitality has been a mixture of hard work, learning and “luck”.

Martin and his wife Melanie were lucky to have sold their timber and DIY wholesale business (Wood Effects) in 2007 before the economic crash that crippled the construction sector. They were lucky that an American investor stepped in to help when, in 2004, the couple “literally nearly lost the shirts off our backs”.

Martin and Melanie have invested almost £2 million of their own money in the bar and restaurant on Darling Street; a move Martin does not over-analyse. His philosophy is: “I’m just lucky to be here. I’m lucky to be in business; lucky to be alive. Life is short enough as it is, I don’t think too much about it, I just get on with it. Rather than thinking about what has happened, I think about the future.” He adds: “Business is always stressful. But it’s about how you build from the foundations up.” Aged 16, Martin felt stifled by the atmosphere created by the Troubles, so he left school and travelled to England in search of work, only returning to Fermanagh aged 27.

“It’s important to get out and learn about the world,” he reflects. Joinery jobs became a way of life and Martin worked on many projects with his brother Terence, including Disney Land, Paris, before buying a small unit in Lisnaskea and creating Wood Effects, in 1997.

As that company grew, it moved from the rented unit in Lisnaskea to Ballycassidy, then to the old brickworks in Irvinestown. For its final three years, Wood Effects was based in Lackaboy Industrial Estate (on the old Burnside Hydraulic Cylinders site). “It grew from just me to 50 employees and progressed into pre-packed products,” Martin explains.

“I seen it (the economic crash) coming. The signs were there; the price of your raw materials were going up and the price of your selling product was going down. We couldn’t survive in the long-term so we sold the business in 2007. I was lucky enough to sell in 2007, just on the downward spiral,” he recalls.

“From there, I did nothing for three years which was a disaster. I bought a few properties and renovated them,” Martin reveals. Martin adds that he could have retired at 36. Instead, he opted to put his money into a new venture. “I’m not one for sitting around. I saw the Devenish bar come up for sale. Years ago, my parents would have drank in Burns’ bar. It was a small bar which had been owned by the Burns family for years. I looked at it and thought: ‘Maybe there’s something I could do with that.’” He bought the bar and renovated it in three weeks. His construction background meant that he was hands on during renovations. When Peter Quinn Consultancy went up for sale, Martin bought it and added a pool area onto the bar. He reveals that he had to buy that premises because the fire escape was too big and required another exit. “I made the fire escape larger than it should have been, therefore the extension into Peter Quinn’s building came about by necessity. In one way I had no choice but to buy it, but it worked out fine,” Martin states.

When Donnelly’s delicatessen wanted to sell, Martin decided to purchase it and move into the food market. He named Jazzeys after his late father James (Jazzey) McGovern. “He was always known as ‘Jazzey’ because he played in bands all his life. I wanted to bring the jazz scene to Enniskillen, which we are getting around to now, with a big jazz night on September 12,” he says.

The three-phase project took three years to complete (2010-2013) and Martin now employs 54 staff (including part-time).

Outlining his thought process, Martin says: “I knew the bar and I just thought I could do something with it. I saw the out-buildings and I had the vision to see the potential in it. I thought it was time for someone to take it on and bring it up to date.” Being an Enniskillen native helped because he “knew that Darling Street was one of the quietest parts of the town, if not derelict”. Martin says: “I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to bring people up this end of the town.” Overall, he believes his entrepreneurial journey has been “a combination of my wife and I putting a lot of time and effort into thinking what people want. We do everything ourselves; we are in from 8am each day and Melanie does all the finance, which is the most important part.” The couple also planned the décor of the bar and restaurant themselves.

Live music and food are the two main focal points in Jazzeys and Martin believes he is finding his feet in both areas.

“People said music in Darling Street wouldn’t work but myself and my wife said: ‘Of course it would.’ From day one we have had live music and the number of artists has grown as the premises has grown,” he says.

Moving into the food market “has been one of the biggest learning curves in my life, and I’m still learning. It’s a very, very, very hard market”. Martin admits.

With VAT in Northern Ireland at 20 per cent compared to seven per cent in the Republic, “every per cent makes a big big difference”.

Martin had planning permission for a restaurant/bar in Eden Street but has decided against it. “I was going to do it but there’s too much one person can do. Business is quite competitive so, essentially, I would be competing against myself.” He notes that new town centre competition is being negotiated and says: “Competition is healthy. I will just concentrate on my own business.” Reflecting on how business has been to date, Martin says: “It’s ok to have ideas and vision, but finance is extremely important; that’s where a lot of businesses do fail. You could have great products, but if you don’t have the finance structure behind you, you could fail. We’ve been quite lucky because obviously we sold our last business. I’m sure I’ve put a minimum of £1.6 million into this; perhaps £2 million. I’m sure it is very difficult out there but we are lucky enough that we don’t need to rely on loans.” A business person “thinks business 24-7,” according to Martin. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, he believes: “It has to be in you, but you also need luck.” He continues: “Like any business, the buck stops with yourself. It’s a seven day week.

“You need support; I’ve had fantastic support from my wife; only for her, I wouldn’t be here today. You have to enjoy business, because it can be very stressful.” He recalls how he almost went bust in 2004: “When I look back at Wood Effects, when I was in huge debt, it is very stressful. At one point in 2004 we literally nearly lost the shirts off our backs. Two of our Wood Effects customers went bust so we didn’t retrieve anything. It was thanks to an American investor John Kirkwood, who lived in Fermanagh for some time and was a great friend, who stepped in and helped us because I couldn’t get help from anywhere. But it was only a matter of months before I turned it around.” Martin is pleased that the business is “extremely busy”, saying: “Unless we were churning, we would not be able to pay 54 wages; it’s a huge wage bill each week. Luckily enough, we are getting crowds, but it’s a very competitive market.” Martin believes his biggest challenge going forward will be the increase to business rates when Fermanagh and Omagh Councils merge, an issue he says he cannot get a straight answer on from the Council or local MLAs.

In his spare time Martin enjoys golf, travelling to America and spending time with his wife Melanie and 17-year-old son Ryan.