Dail 'siopa' goes for gourmet coffee after Rehab pull-out
A SHOP on the grounds of Leinster House which cost almost €1.3m to build and was operated by the Rehab Group is to be redesigned as a gourmet barista-style coffee shop after the under-fire charity failed to make any profit.
Another €70,000 of taxpayers' money is to be poured into transforming 'An Siopa', located just inside the gates of Leinster House, into a tea room and coffee shop after Rehab failed to make any money from the venture and accumulated losses of over €23,000 in the first six months of last year.
The shop opened in 2008, replacing a previous shop built in 1994, and was subsequently branded the 'dearest little shop in town', with its 40sqm (431sq ft) total area ultimately costing €1,280,867.
Rehab operated the shop from 2004 through its SMILES franchise of shops, and offered sheltered employment to two staff at the site where they were paid up to €12.61 per hour, according to a spokesperson for the charity. Rehab covered the staff and management costs of the shop while the Oireachtas provided the premises as well as the lighting and heating free.
Last summer, Rehab requested a subsidy of €22,000 to continue to operate the struggling shop, but this was rejected by the Houses of the Oireachtas Management Advisory Commission.
Rehab blames a shortage of footfall for the shop's poor performance and said in a statement to the Sunday Independent that relocating the shop, or a government subvention to offset the losses, were the only ways the venture could be saved.
The shop, which also sold souvenir Oireachtas merchandise such as branded mugs, ceased trading on July 1, 2013, and has remained closed ever since. Rehab said employees were redeployed to other SMILES newsagents which are situated in large national and multinational companies.
Now the Sunday Independent understands that a report, compiled by the Houses of the Oireachtas Committee, reveals plans to redesign 'An Siopa' with an additional €70,000 required to convert the existing building into a tea and coffee shop.
The report outlines a number of options for the existing building and criticises Rehab for not coming up with any creative solutions to boost the failing retail outlet.
Other options believed to be considered in the report include relocating the shop to the Merrion Street Gate. But because the shop pavilion was built by an Austrian company, which no longer operates in Ireland, the €140,000 cost of such a move was considered too expensive.
The shop will offer a high-quality barista-style coffee service with coffee served in branded disposable cups which will make it more attractive to visitors to Leinster House and staff members.
It is also understood a survey was conducted by catering management in Leinster House who observed the number of staff members who had purchased barista quality coffee on their morning commute into work. It is estimated the coffee shop will need to sell 81 cups a day to break even.
Approval of the proposal is dependent on the Office of Public Works granting the required funds while planning permission, waste management and an archaeological licence all need to be obtained.
A spokesperson for Rehab told the Sunday Independent: "Various retail initiatives were introduced to boost trade such as new product ranges, tourist goods, special offers and dry cleaning services." He added that all SMILES staff undergo a detailed assessment prior to beginning work in shops and said training is provided.
"Employees operate the stores independently, allowing them to develop their own personal skills, competencies and confidence and would have regular contact and support from a WorkPath key worker and a management supervisor," the spokesman said.
According to the report, June is target date for the opening of the new tea/coffee shop.