Obituary: Jim Wilson, restaurant manager who went the extra mile for his customers

Death: July 15, 2021.

During his years at Glasgow’s famous restaurants, Rogano and The Buttery, Jim Wilson usually went out of his way to look after diners – celebrities as well as ordinary people – and make sure they had a perfect evening. .

Sometimes, however, it had to be subtle. The eminent columnist of the Herald Jack McLean has already waited in vain at Buttery for a date. “After an hour,” he later wrote, “Jim suggested, gently, that I might have mixed up the dates, knowing full well that I had just had what is roughly called in Glasgow “a stunner”. I told him to serve me dinner and he sent me a bottle of conciliatory champagne on the house ”.

Jim Wilson, who died at the age of 73, was, for McLean, “the most sophisticated manager of all time”. He lived for work, whether he worked at Rogano, The Buttery, or Charlie Parker’s trendy cocktail bar. He had a remarkable eye for detail. Nothing was too much trouble for him. “He loved people, he loved catering,” says his wife Gilly. “It was just who he was.”

He was born in Glasgow to James Wilson and Jane Veronica (Vera), the eldest of four siblings. The family moved to Perth when he was 14 “and I don’t think he and the school got along after that – he left when he was 15,” Gilly says. He started working as a kitchen porter at the Isle of Skye Hotel in Perth. Soon after, he moved to the MacDonald Hotel, near Giffnock, first as a waiter before working behind the bar.

In the early 1970s he joined British Transport Hotels, taking seasonal bar jobs in Gleneagles and working in the winter at places such as Glasgow’s Central Hotel. His next stop was the Albany Hotel in Glasgow, where for a few years he prepared drinks for guest musicians such as Neil Young and Status Quo.

Charlie Parker’s, where he became a bar manager, was one of Glasgow’s first trendy cocktail bars. “It was very flash, very stylish for the time. This was the place to be, and the place you couldn’t go in, ”says Gilly. It was true: Ken McCulloch, its owner, was refused entry once because he was not properly dressed.

Jim and his colleagues introduced the city to innovative cocktails such as Screaming Yello Zonker and Between The Sheets. It even appeared on TV, thanks to what has been described as the most expensive cocktail in the world – its ingredients included aged Dom Perignon.

When the McCulloch-owned Rogano opened after a renovation in 1984, Wilson was behind the bar with the legendary John Mitchell. Ferrier Richardson, no less, was in the kitchen. “They were a fantastic opening team,” McCulloch would later say.

Wilson was able to spot new trends in alcohol consumption long before others. “I look down the bar and everyone I see is drinking cocktails,” he said in 2001. it gets down to the flavor… I think the Rogano is about to hit its peak because 20s-style cocktails in stylish glasses are making a comeback ”.

Over time, he became manager of the high-class butter factory. “He loved the whole Victorian philosophy, he loved the customers,” Gilly recalls. “Unless the client had a good night’s sleep, Jim didn’t have a good night’s sleep. His whole approach was to make people feel special. What mattered to him was not the money coming in, it was the joy of the guests when they left.

During the time he was there, before he became Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, he personified The Buttery. He chatted with everyone and he was just such a character there. He loved to make people happy and special.

“He would have a party every Christmas Eve, with guests only, and from July he would buy special gifts for people who would come. There was no standard mass purchase of gifts. If someone liked fishing, for example, he would buy him something related to that ”.

Such shopping expeditions were his way of relaxing; he would also be looking for new glasses, new cocktails, new menus. As far as he had hobbies, it was The Buttery. “Most people never find a job they love so much,” says Gilly. “He had this with The Buttery.”

Health problems kept him away from Butter some twenty years ago. After two years away, he briefly returned to the Rogano bar, then returned to the front of the house to The Buttery. But when a heart attack

Ten years ago, he had to take a step back from his career, “he just lost his heart because his job meant everything to him”.

Throughout his distinguished career, Jim has trained many young restaurant workers. And although he had met many famous clients from entertainment, industry, sports, and politics, he appreciated the money paid by regular clients just as much, if not more, than the bills paid by VIP diners. .

He had met Gilly at the MacDonald Hotel in 1968. They married in 1971 and had a son, Simon, who also worked in restaurants for 17 years, traveling the world before opting for a career change. in the mounted police.

In 2005, Jim Wilson was asked by The Herald for his favorite things. His food response summed up his passion. “Happiness,” he said, “would be sitting at a sun-bleached wooden table at the Crail Harbor lobster shop, eating freshly cooked lobster, drinking fresh Sancerre and watching the world go by.”

He is survived by Gilly, Simon and his granddaughter Beth, a college student who works as a part-time waitress at Giffnock.

About Vivian J. Smith

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