David and Penny Tilly, from Fatfield, are such big fans of Hard Rock Cafe that they sold their successful healthcare business Care-Ability in 2019 to pursue their dreams of opening the region’s very first Hard Rock branch.
The cafe has been created in the historic Grade I-listed Guildhall on Newcastle’s Quayside and is the only Hard Rock Cafe between Manchester and Edinburgh – and the first cafe in the UK to be ran by franchisees.
A globally-recognised brand with 240 locations across 70 countries, from Iceland to Australia, Hard Rock’s launch is seen as a huge coup for the North East as the region’s hospitality sector gets back on its feet following the pandemic.
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Customers will be able to take their first bite out of a famous Hard Rock Cafe burger later this month when it opens to the public, and David says it’s a huge relief to finally be able to open the doors.
"We had only just started construction on the site when the country went into the first lockdown, so it’s been a very rocky road,” explained David. “We started the project again in August and it’s been amazing to see it come to life.”
The brand has a fervent following, with many people enjoying ticking cafes off their list as they travel around the world.
Speaking about the couple’s passion for the brand, David said: “When we used to go on holiday the first thing we would do is look at where the nearest Hard Rock Cafe was as we love the standard of food and service you get.
"We were sitting in a cafe in Grey Street six, seven years ago and we said ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was a Hard Rock Cafe in Newcastle’.”
He added: “The moment I walked into this building, which dates back to the 1600s, next to the Tyne Bridge, I knew that this iconic building was the right location for an iconic brand.”
Despite Hard Rock having an American-inspired menu of burgers, sharing platters, grilled sandwiches, wings and more, the cafe, which can serve up to 180 covers, still has a strong regional presence.
The couple, who trained at the Barcelona Hard Rock Cafe, sent a wish list of music memorabilia – a staple of Hard Rock Cafes – to the brand’s headquarters and managed to secure a double-breasted jacket from Washington-born Bryan Ferry, a guitar from Geordie Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame as well as a jacket and guitar used by Newcastle-born Sting.
Other memorabilia on the walls includes pieces from a wide range of musical genres, from modern day pop singers Dua Lipa and Alicia Keys to legends such as Tina Turner and Van Halen. There’s even a love letter which the late Amy Winehouse wrote to her then husband Blake Fielder-Civil.
The menu also features a Why Aye burger, served with Northumberland cheese, Newcastle Brown Ale onion compote, horseradish cream with a spring onion, cheddar cheese and pease pudding beignet, served in a charcoal bun.
And, of course, there’s a shop selling a wide range of Hard Rock Cafe Newcastle merchandise, from shot glasses to T-shirts.