FOR generations, the corner shop was very much part of the local community. It was where housewives bought their daily bread and milk, their bacon and newspapers, had a chat with the shopkeeper, perhaps ran a little monthly account or put it 'on tick'. The sort of thing we still see portrayed with Dev's shop in Coronation Street.
Sadly a lot of corner shops were killed off years ago with the arrival of the big supermarkets. However, there was still a need for a local shop and this gap to an extent has been filled by shops under the banner of Mace and Spar.
Even Tesco and Marks & Spencer realised the need for the smaller shop in a community by opening Tesco Express aimed at offering consumers "the choice of a larger Tesco store, but with the convenience of being on your local street." Marks & Spencer also went down this line with Marks & Spencer Simply Food Stores as did Waitrose in the UK.
To compete against the big boys, an individual trader has to have something really different or special to offer by way of foods and personalised service.
For many years there was a local grocery newsagent store on Corrig Road in Dun Laoghaire. I would whirl up there sometimes on a Sunday morning for the newspapers and a couple of hot croissants. There was a nice feel to doing this but sadly it closed and the premises has remained empty for the past couple of years.
I was delighted then, nay filled with curiosity, a few months ago, on driving back and forth from Monkstown to restaurants in Glasthule and Dalkey, to see signs of life and happenings. I wondered as I looked at side walls on the frontage being as it were 'wallpapered' with a sort of box hedging greenery. What could it be, I speculated with Brendan and my boys. "Could it be a restaurant, or some sort of entertainment centre – I hope it's not a pool hall or some such!"
All was, in due course, unveiled with the opening of the really smart new 'Cooper & Young – The Good Grocer'. This is the venture of a young man called Nathan O'Gorman from Bray, Co Wicklow. The 21-year-old Nathan had been working in the construction business but with the decline in that area he, with the help of his father, has opened this new store.
They have done a really classy job here and it has been going down very well with the local community, so well in fact that they have had to extend their in-house kitchen after two weeks. Everything is beautifully laid out and branded and they are specialising in artisan products as well as having their own in-house bakery and kitchen.
The business is named in tribute to Nathan's grandfathers on both sides of his family. One grandfather was a cooper by trade so, also stocking wines, this decided the first part of the name for the new biz. Nathan's other grandfather's surname was 'Young', a Scottish man who came over to Ireland in the early Thirties and worked for Lamb's Jams, which went on to become Fruitfield.
Grandfather Young was a jam-maker and confectioner and they say that they see this as very much part of their business, homemade jams and confectionery.
There are 15 members of staff on board, all very smartly attired, including a baker, two pastry chefs and a salad chef. Having had to extend their kitchen so quickly after opening, they hope to increase their staff to 25 over the next six months. They designed the store themselves and it was all constructed on site.
"We are giving local employment and we wanted to find products from small artisan suppliers that were not already available in the area. The type of small artisan suppliers that sells perhaps in country markets."
Apple tarts are proving hugely popular and are going to be their "signature dish".
"We had 40 apple tarts here last Saturday morning which was going to do us for the weekend but ... . We specialise in a very good quality old fashioned apple tart. All our breads and tarts are baked the way your mother used to bake it – roll it out on the table – it is all handmade. We don't use any mixes. We just can't keep the apple tarts in the place!"
They also had fabulous pear and almond tarts and beautiful chocolate cakes.
With a huge range of products on the shelves, amongst those that caught my eye were Jack McCarthy's Kanturk puddings; Pat O'Neill's dry cure bacon from Wexford; Gubbeen Smokehouse products as well as Italian charcuterie. They have wonderful in-house baked chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cakes, natural goats' cheese, Oishii Sushi, Cuinneog country butter, old-fashioned homemade marmalade, Matcha porridge from Durrow, Co Laois. Gluten-free products feature widely, including Glebe Farm and they have a niche selection of wines including Casino delle Vie from rock star Sting and his wife Trudie Styler's Il Palagio estate in Tuscany.
They have an excellent fruit and vegetable selection including pesticide-free mushrooms, lecithin tomatoes (particularly good for the blood apparently), fibreless mangos, and their great value five-a-day fruit pack at €2 which are also going down a treat – all from Donnelly Fruit & Veg in St Margaret's, Co Dublin.
While I was there I met the delightful Orla Sally from Snugboro Farm at Roundwood, Co Wicklow, who will be supplying Cooper & Young with her free-range bronze turkeys for Christmas.
Talking about Christmas (it can only be 12 or 13 weeks away), Nathan and his team are embarking now on making 600 plum puddings and Christmas cakes – large and small – and they'll be competitively priced, they tell me.
If you've got an idea for a business, don't just dream about it, bite the bullet and take your idea forward – there are lots of vacant premises out there.
* In my article in the Sunday Independent of September 8 about Beeftro, Capital Foods Ltd was mentioned as being connected with this restaurant.
However Capital Foods Ltd, established in 1991, has no connection with Beeftro, which is operated by Capital Foods Emporium Ltd. We apologise for any misunderstanding.