Tuesday 6 December 2016

Jim's Kitchen closure offers food for thought as dozens lose their livelihood

Published 22/05/2011 | 05:00

It might appear that the closure of Jim's Kitchen, even if it involves the loss of 24 jobs, is a provincial sort of a tale -- but it is actually an iconic example of a broader national tragedy.

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The fate of the Portlaoise landmark provides us with the human face of this process because the "bold peasantry" who are being destroyed to feed the ravenous German maw are the small main street entrepreneurs who give our towns their character and who provide their people with the momentary delights that make life bearable.

Words such as tragedy may sound excessive, but when it comes to the end of the business he and close family members nurtured, Jim Tynan understandably feels as though "we have experienced a bereavement, we had a relationship with it".

The Kitchen was about more than food, though. It was also one of those sanctuaries every healthy community needs.

For the stressed housewife (or businessman) and the lonely pensioner, the aroma of cakes and of childhood delights that were redolent with security was the Parnassian equivalent of Kavanagh's canal bench.

Jim's Kitchen did not close for lack of effort. Jim admitted "normally you would start at six and at Saturday at four to do the bread and scones for the weekend. I used to call that my therapeutic time, kneading dough". The statement is not informed by any degree of self-pity but instead by that sense of joy that comes with perfecting a craft.

But like thousands of other main street outlets, in spite of all that determination, it had to fight implacable odds.

Tynan also recalls that when he started you had "wonderful businesses on the main street'' but by the close of the business the nature of his relationship with a council had changed to being harassed by "traffic wardens lurking behind lamp-posts waiting to issue tickets''.

Tynan is clear on the causes of the closure.

He admits "there was a reduction in footfall'' but at a minimum he estimates the combination of rates and rent increases meant that during the worst recession since the Famine he needed to increase turnover by €200,000 a year to survive.

The story of Jim's Kitchen is not about overweening ambition or mad property deals. It is instead yet another example of a viable business being cannibalised by a system where, like a Vegas craps table, the odds appear to be fixed and the house always wins.

Sunday Independent

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