How the 'Irishness' of Supermac's remains key to its success after 40 years of changes
When Supermac's' first franchisee, Frank Murray, stepped off the ferry from Holyhead to a snowy Dublin in 1982, Ireland was a distinctly different place.
Frank had been working as a chef in the Maudsley Hospital in south London, a teaching hospital, serving over 4,000 people.
He remembers vividly the snow which brought Ireland to a blanket-covered standstill.
After responding to the advertisements section of the Connacht Tribune, Frank had organised three interviews in Galway, where he planned on bringing up his family along with his wife Chris.
Having debarked from the ferry however, his brothers-in-law, who were supposed to collect him, were nowhere to be seen.
"This was the worst winter in living memory. There was 6ft of snow. It was a Saturday evening and there was nobody around," he told Independent.ie.
"[The relatives] had no way of getting to me of course, and I was standing on the bridge on O’Connell Street, with the following day's paper in my hand, alarms going off everywhere, and no trains or buses running."
Frank managed to hitch a lift to Kildare where he stayed with his wife’s family before travelling to Galway for his job interviews.
The first of which, with Pat McDonagh, saw him apply for a managerial job in, a then very different, Supermac's restaurant.
While he still went to his other interviews in the Galway Bakery Company and Lydon House, Frank knew after talking to Pat that it was Supermac's where he saw his future.
"I‘ll never forget the first day I met Pat," he said.
"He was putting white tiles up on the walls with Gerry Concannon and they were using red grout. He interviewed me in a blue van and it seemed to go well. I did the other two interviews, but I figured I wanted to try my luck with Pat.
"March 1 1982. My daughter was nine days old and we travelled from London on February 21 and I started on March 1 in Bridge Street next to what used to be the Lisheen.
"I worked alongside a girl by the name of Úna Bowes [who is now Pat’s wife]. The following week she managed the dayshift and I did the night shift."
In 1985, Supermac's opened in Newcastle and Frank took over management of the shop late the following year.
Two years, Frank - now a father-of-three - was offered the franchise in Bridge Street and he said he jumped at the opportunity to become the first ever Supermac’s franchisee.
After 1988, and the end of the recession, huge changes came over Supermac’s. Frank’s abiding memory of his first day at work in Bridge Street, six years previous, was carting 60 cases of chips up the stairs in the building.
The menu underwent drastic changes in the coming years too; initially limited to just three items.
One thing that hasn’t changed, according to Frank, is their willingness to allow their customers dictate the menu; for example, in the development of their famous curry chips.
"I’d say we sell more curry chips than anyone else. Curry chips started off with just the curried chip and then people would ask for coleslaw on it as well.
"Eventually people were asking for cheese on it and that got popular so we just went along with it. We went with the trend, what people wanted. If there were people that wanted it we weren’t going to refuse."
The arrival of the pizza in the late 80s, which has now branched off as Papa John’s, brought with it confusion and Frank had to teach his customers how to carry it.
"We had to show the customers how to hold the pizza properly because the guys would take the pizza and put it under their arm but we only had a very light cardboard box so by time they’d get home the pizza would be folded in two. We had to tell them ‘hold it flat’."
In the early years of Supermac's, the company had no formal advertising and relied upon word-of-mouth.
Taxi drivers were their answer to the globalised ads of the big international fast-food chains, said Frank.
"Some of our best customers were the taxi drivers especially when there was a slow-down at 10pm or 10.30pm they’d all gather into Bridge Street and then they’d all bring their customers."
This is a far cry from Supermac’s current marketing strategy, according to Barry Walsh, Digital Marketing Manager for the company.
"They still had large batteries and massive aerials on phones back then. We’ve done a complete digital transformation over the last 18 months.
"We’ve really looked at it over the last couple of years about improving the customer experience via digital. I don’t think it would have been around too much when Frank was there."
Barry said that, while they have embarked on a new journey into the marketing world, Supermac's have done so keeping their traditional values at the core of their development.
The business' Irish heritage, one of the oldest elements of the company, is also one of the newest marketing ploys by the company, according to Barry.
"A key note for us is to ensure that our customers are very aware of our Irishness," he said.
"We are one of the fastest growing indigenous firms in Ireland at the moment. My job from a digital point of view is to connect with our customer base using social strategies, digital strategies and video strategies.
"One of our key strategies is to ensure that our customers from the digital platforms are engaged and connected with, but also, from an Irish point of view, that they are aware that our beef is Irish that our chicken is Irish."