Wednesday 26 October 2016

The family behind the darling of middle-class shoppers

Published 12/11/2015 | 02:30

Pictured after Avoca won the 2008 Retail Store of the Year award were store manager Lynn Henry, broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan, Amanda Pratt and Vanessa Pratt
Pictured after Avoca won the 2008 Retail Store of the Year award were store manager Lynn Henry, broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan, Amanda Pratt and Vanessa Pratt

The darling of middle-class shoppers has been owned by the well-to-do Pratt family for over 40 years.

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Avoca as we know it came into existence in 1974 when Donald Pratt, a solicitor, fell in love with an old weaving mill in the Wicklow village that bears the company's name. He had initially been asked to sell the mill but decided to buy it himself.

It was quite a risk. Mr Pratt Sr scaled back his involvement in the law and his wife Hilary gave up her job as a schoolteacher as the family threw itself into the business, selling woven products out of the back of the car in the early days.

But the risk paid off, and later control passed to the Pratt children. The current managing director Simon and his sister Amanda, who was head designer until leaving the company last year, have been the most prominent.

Amanda Pratt's departure came with the company's focus continuing to move away from design and towards food. The inevitable speculation was that there had been a row but Ms Pratt said she just wanted to do something different.

Simon Pratt told this newspaper at the beginning of the year that "[Amanda] just wants to pursue other things.

"I totally wish her nothing but the best, we have a very close relationship, a very close family relationship... it's about her pursuing new ideas. It's a long time to work in one place. I think we probably all feel that from time to time," Mr Pratt said. He said the company would miss his sister but added that she hadn't been especially involved in the shop side of the business in recent months.

But it was a fear of conflict between later generations of the family that was one of the main motivating factors behind the decision to sell, with Simon Pratt saying in an interview that discord would be almost inevitable.

Now he and his family are in line for a rather large payday. According to the most recently filed documents, Simon Pratt, Amanda Pratt and their brother Ivan each own just under a quarter of the company. A sister Vanessa owns almost 12pc, while parents Donald and Hilary each own almost 9pc. The Irish Independent understands that the sale price is in excess of €60m.

Avoca has a reputation as a bastion of the wealthy. Its food is not cheap. But Mr Pratt has said he doesn't see Avoca as a spiritual home of any particular class.

"I think there's niches throughout all industries, and in terms of retail and cafe and food, we're in a particular niche. I wouldn't regard it as being middle-class personally.

"I would say we try to do things well. We've always tried to do things properly and the long-hand way. So when it comes to food, which is now almost 70pc of our business, we just do things the way they should be done," he told this newspaper in January.

On the other side of the transaction is US multinational Aramark, which is perhaps best known for its involvement in facilities management.

The Philadelphia-headquartered company is one of Ireland's largest US multinational employers, with around 4,000 staff here.

It manages the in-house catering and hospitality sales at the Guinness Storehouse, and also has the catering services contract at Croke Park. Other clients include University Hospital, Galway, and Enterprise Ireland.

Irish Independent

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