Monday 19 March 2018

Samantha McCaughren: Sole food returns at Murrin and O'Kane's new restaurant

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella Photo: Bloomberg
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella Photo: Bloomberg
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

A swanky new addition to Dublin's thriving restaurant scene opened last week - Sole on South William Street. Regular diners will know the location well - it previously housed Zaragoza, a buzzy, affordable tapas restaurant.

It was notable for its high-profile owners - biscuit baron Michael Carey, former Fianna Fail minister Mary Hanafin and millionaire tech entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly, as well as ex-McDonald's chief Marcus Hewson and Ion Equity's Neil O'Leary.

However, despite its excellent pedigree, Zaragoza closed on New Year's Eve.

In fact they sold the business and long-term lease some 20 months ago to MHL, which is owned by Larry Murrin of Dawn Farms and Padraic O'Kane, who is in the hospitality and events business.

The pair already run Fire in the Mansion House and patisserie Ethos on Baggot Street, and Murrin told me that they had their eye on the Zaragoza site for some time.

"It was strategically in our sights to open a fairly high-end seafood restaurant," he said. "We know from 14 years working in Fire that the demographic that uses Fire would also like a really good seafood offer," he said.

Sole opened on Tuesday serving oysters, lobster and plenty of champagne.

MHL clearly has an appetite for the notoriously precarious restaurant trade.

"Restaurants are a risky business. There is quite an explosion in small to mid-sized restaurants and cafes around Dublin which is down to owners driving it," said Murrin.

"They bring passion to their food and customer service - that is one of the exciting things happening on the Dublin scene.

"Those businesses require the passion of owners to make them work."

He also said their role in the economy should not be underestimated.

"Those small places are really important because they often employ six, 10 or more people. Fire employs 95, almost 100 people, Sole employs 35 full-time ," he said.

Murrin is clearly fired up about the restaurant scene and he and O'Kane have another one in the pipeline for Dublin in the autumn.

Lloyds pharmacy group prescribes expansion plan

The country’s largest pharmacy group, Lloyds, is back on the acquisition trial and is seeking the go-head to buy four pharmacies from the McSweeney Group.

Now owned by US pharmacy giant McKesson, Lloyds had an aggressive expansion plan under former managing director Goretti Brady who wanted to increase the size of the group from 90 pharmacies to 150. It had at one stage been in talks to buys Sam McCauley chemists, which was acquired last year by private equity fund Carlyle Cardinal Ireland (CCI).

However, its expansion plans stalled in 2015 when Lloyds was hit by a controversy over the level of dispensing fees being claimed by the pharmacy chain and in 2016 Lloyds settled with the HSE. The chain closed five outlets last month in Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny but obviously sees opportunities elsewhere with the McSweeney stores in counties Sligo, Kerry and Limerick.

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Less than two-and-a-half years since its launch, Irish mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) ID Mobile has pulled the shutters down. It was set up as a condition of the merger between Three and O2 Ireland in order to ensure there was plenty of competition in the market after the deal. Dixons Carphone invested around €30m in the whole venture but only managed to attract 40,000 customers, far short of the 250,000 suggested at time of launch. Virgin Media, Sky and software company Openet all kicked the tyres but no one could see the ID Mobile business working as an bolt-on.

So where does this leave competition in the Irish market? A spokesman for the EU Commission, which imposed the restrictions on the Three/O2 deal, noted that “Virgin Media, the other MNVO that emerged as a result of the O2 Ireland/Three merger approval decision, continues to operate successfully in the Irish telecoms market.”

Latest figures from Virgin Mobile show it has just 50,000 customers — not much ahead of its defunct rival.

Microsoft chief does it by the book for Varadkar visit

Microsoft had a warm welcome for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when he visited its famous Redmond Campus in Washington last November. He was welcomed by the company’s president Brad Smith and other senior members of the team and also addressed 100 members of the company’s huge staff.

With the planning debacle over the Apple data centre clearly on people’s minds, one of the key messages the Government was keen to get across was Ireland’s business-friendly environment and new strategy on data centres.

Briefing documents released under Freedom of Information legislation flag the fact that Microsoft might “mention some issues it is facing in expanding in Ireland”.

The company employs 3,000 people and has invested €1bn here since 1985, officials estimated.

Chief executive of Microsoft Satya Nadella did not manage to meet the Irish delegation, but did send on a copy of his book, Hit Refresh, to the Taoiseach.

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Younger revellers are very aware of environmental issues, so perhaps it is of little surprise that Ireland’s fastest-growing pub group is taking steps to use less plastic.

Press Up, owned by Paddy McKillen Jr and Matt Ryan, has banned the use of plastic straws across all its 28 businesses. The group owns venues such as the Bison Bar, Peruke and Periwig, The Dean Hotel and Dollard & Co. Recent openings include the refurbished Stella Theatre in Rathmines and Temple Bar’s Elephant and Castle and it has also taken over the Residence, which is being overhauled.

It’s safe to say that the group serves a lot of drinks and with the current craze for cocktails still in full flow, the group uses a lot of straws. Plastic straws have now been replaced by biodegradable paper ones, which will only be given out on request. The group is also offering 10c discount across all takeaway coffee outlets for people using their own cups. Glad to see that green-thinking by pubs no longer just means a booze bonanza on St Patrick’s Day.

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