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Highlands & Islands Thistle Awards 2023: Hospitality hero is still winning after awards success

By Features Reporter

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2022 tourism and hospitality hero, Graham Rooney of Platform 1864, Tain with his team and HITA’s Craig Ewan. Picture: Callum Mackay
2022 tourism and hospitality hero, Graham Rooney of Platform 1864, Tain with his team and HITA’s Craig Ewan. Picture: Callum Mackay

Graham Rooney, winner of the tourism and hospitality hero award at last year’s Highlands & Islands Thistle Awards is proof positive that success breeds success.

The owner of Tain restaurant, Platform 1864, says the publicity and networking opportunities from the win has been a boost to his business.

And he urges all local businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector to enter this year’s event.

“Quite a lot of things have come about from the award,” said Graham.

“There was a lot about it on social media so we had a lot of people popping in for coffee, cake or some lunch. Sometimes people can forget about you but the award got our name back out there again and people were coming in to congratulate us. It was a lot busier.

“Once you get back out there and there’s a ‘good news’ story it gets people to pop back in again.”

He added: “It’s great for the staff, it’s great for business and if you get to the awards ceremony, just by being there you are a winner. It’s good for networking and connections, it’s opened a lot of doors for Platform.”

Graham, a chef by trade, said he had been to the awards many times before and had always considered entering but his manager, Fiona MacDonald, beat him to it and filled out the application last year.

“I was told I’d been entered to the awards at the last minute! It was an amazing night for me and all the staff too.”

But the win was more than just about professional pride.

Graham Rooney celebrates with mum Jacqueline and dad James.
Graham Rooney celebrates with mum Jacqueline and dad James.

“The biggest thing for me was having my mum, Jacqueline, there. My dad, James, had dementia for eight years and is in a care home, and mum has been through a really hard time.

“So having my mum with me on the night of the awards was the biggest thing for me.

“I was really nervous and just delighted to be there. It was massive for Platform and when they announced me as a winner it was just so special.”

Graham opened Platform 1864 in 2015 following a restoration of Tain’s old railway station.

And when Covid hit, he quickly jumped into action to find a way to keep his business going and support his community at the same time.

The result was Deliverooney – a meal delivery service to local residents throughout lockdown. The idea was a huge hit with the community as Graham became the reliable and friendly face to so many. He also live streamed cooking demonstrations from his kitchen, posting recipes, ingredients and instructions on social media so folk could cook along at home.

Graham added being named tourism and hospitality hero, both at regional and also at the VisitScotland Thistle Awards finals capped off what had been challenging times for him and his team.

He has also been offered a scholarship with the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland following his success.

“The icing on the cake was winning the awards – all that hard work had paid off.”

This year’s Highlands & Islands Thistle Awards are now open for entries from businesses and individuals across all regions of the Highlands and Islands; from Argyll in the west, to Moray in the east, and Orkney and Shetland in the north.

To find out more about each of the categories visit www.hita-awards.com

There is advice about how to enter, details about all of the regional awards and also the national finals, the VisitScotland Thistle Awards. Many winners from the regional awards go forward to win at national level. Entries close on May 12.

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