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Bouncing back: new tricks for a new normal

 

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Randy Lewis of Randaddy's in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

Randy Lewis of Randaddy's in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

Randy Lewis of Randaddy's in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

As businesses everywhere continue to solve the post-lockdown puzzle, I spoke to four more people about how they've adapted their offerings.

THE FOOD TRUCK

When you see Ballydehob native Alan Shannon's big, sleek van outside a house or community hall, you can be sure there's a party in the offing. He and his business partner, fellow chef Kieran Coughlan, have created 'Thyme2eat', a great, niche community catering business in Co Cork.

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KIERAN COUGHLAN AND ALAN SHANNON Thyme2Eat Caterers, Ballydehob, Co Cork

KIERAN COUGHLAN AND ALAN SHANNON Thyme2Eat Caterers, Ballydehob, Co Cork

KIERAN COUGHLAN AND ALAN SHANNON Thyme2Eat Caterers, Ballydehob, Co Cork

 

Having worked together for a number of years at Drinagh Co-Op, last year they decided to go into business together, whirling up to front gardens, local pubs or community halls, at reasonable prices. 

"Every village or town in west Cork has a core group of people who work in the community halls, and organise festivals, and we go to them and say what can we do for ye that will keep things going in your town or village. Say, if it's a publican that wants us to cater for a BBQ on a summer's evening, we'll do it; if it's a funeral in a local community hall out in Goleen or Kilcrohane, we can do that, too."

Facing into 2020, things were going great, with lots of bookings for communions and confirmations but with Covid they were all cancelled. However, the guys are absolutely driven, and they've had a great July, with events and BBQs. Their base kitchen is at Bantry Golf Club, where they also cater for all the club events. They're also at Bantry market, and in Baltimore at weekends, and they've just gotten a licence for Kenmare Market. Weddings are around €60 a head, plus VAT; BBQs €10-€12 per head; main course dinners €15-€17.50.

"Things are going the right way," says Alan.

Call 086 3227150/086 6622219 for more information.

THE PRODUCER

Susan Robbins and Tom Fehily's Wildberry Bakery in Ballineen in west Cork, specialising in fab gluten-free delights, has gone from strength to strength since it put down stakes in 2014, primarily supplying high-end hotels and cafes such as Cafe Sol, Butlers Chocolate Cafes and AVOCA.

"We've been very fortunate with awards, twice taking gold in categories that weren't gluten free," says Susan.

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SUSAN ROBBINS AND TOM FEHILY, Wildberry Bakery, Ballineen,
Co Cork

SUSAN ROBBINS AND TOM FEHILY, Wildberry Bakery, Ballineen, Co Cork

SUSAN ROBBINS AND TOM FEHILY, Wildberry Bakery, Ballineen, Co Cork

 

However, in spite of their success and the stellar reputation they'd built, they, too, have had to scramble in these unprecedented times. "Overnight we lost over 80pc of our business. We reluctantly had to let our lovely staff go while we figured out how to bounce back. We were determined not to lose what we had worked so hard, and risked so much, to build. With the closure of hotels and cafes, we had to shift our focus to reaching customers directly. An online business seemed the only way to go. So, we took one of our most popular and versatile products - brownies - and created a whole range of delicious variations. Handmade, hand-packed treats, straight to your door. We also hope to have a food service section of the website running shortly."

Susan credits their local Enterprise board, and mentor, James Burke, for helping them to turn this difficult corner, and says that, "while we're still nowhere near where we once were, most of our staff have now returned and the future is looking much brighter". 

wildberrybakery.com

THE RESTAURANT

Randy Lewis's much-loved surfer's paradise, Randaddy's on the seafront in Lahinch, Co Mayo, has long since been a fave among locals and tourists, serving tasty, all-day food in a spacious setting with a great outdoor terraced area. But, with his business dependent on the summer trade and then the onset of Covid, he tells me that "effectively we've been nine months in deficit. I laid-off all my staff and kept one chef on who has been with me since the beginning. I know it's going to be hard to rehire people going forward as it's difficult to predict how many we will need, and in a seaside resort like Lahinch, we tend to go from zero to 100 very quickly. Sales wise, we are down 90pc on this time last year, which is devastating."

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Randy Lewis of Randaddy's in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

Randy Lewis of Randaddy's in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

Randy Lewis of Randaddy's in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

 

That being said, Randy is anything but downbeat. "It's nothing we can't overcome," he says. "We started a takeaway service at a time when every other business was closing, and came up with a few new revenue streams to keep us going and keep my brand out there. 'Randaddy's picnic basket' is a ready-made basket of food which can be pre-ordered and includes all cutlery, crockery as well as a blanket for alfresco dining on the beach. I'm also planning to run online cookery classes as there has been a huge demand for more recipes and specific cooking specialities, like Indian or Asian food.

"I started a Facebook recipe group, which has proved a great success with customers, and I'm putting out more videos and content than ever to keep my restaurant and brand in the public eye."

randaddys.ie

THE HOTEL

Ashford Castle was recently voted No 1 Resort Hotel in the UK & Ireland by the high-end Travel & Leisure magazine. However, like every other hotel in Ireland, it, too, is coping with the effects of Covid-19 as general manager, Niall Rochford, tells me.

"In a normal summer season, the Ashford Estate employs 420, which is extremely significant for Cong and south Mayo. We've kept our team on board, but we don't have the usual influx of new staff or college students.

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Niall Rochford, General Manager of Ashford Castle

Niall Rochford, General Manager of Ashford Castle

Niall Rochford, General Manager of Ashford Castle

 

"Covid-19 has had a fundamental impact on the business, and, by extension, the local economy - 80pc of their business is international, particularly from the USA. But, there's no point in wallowing in self-pity," says Niall.

They created a Covid task force, implementing measures which are working well and appreciated by staff and guests. "What we have to offer is value for money, fantastic service, brilliant on-site facilities, genuine hospitality and very good local food. And, while nothing could ever replace our US business, we've been overwhelmed by the positive response.

"However, come September, with schools reopening, the financial reality and impact of Covid-19 kicks in, and we will face our greatest challenge. The Government's July stimulus package has delivered some welcome certainty around the employment subsidy scheme, but our industry is in crisis and it needs a crisis response and the July stimulus package has fallen well short of that. The main issue is that the VAT rate on food and accommodation has remained at 13.5pc, which is the second-highest hospitality VAT rate in Europe.

"In the meantime, as an industry, we will continue to be creative, hard-working and devoted to what we do best, which is delivering genuine hospitality and excellent service to our many loyal guests."

Ashford Castle is an amazing experience, so do grab the opportunity to visit if you can.

ashfordcastle.com

Lucinda's noticeboard

"Never trust a restaurant on top of the tallest building in town that spends a lot of time folding the napkins."

Calvin Trillin

Blue Seafood & Bistro by Greg Murphy and Ruadhan Furlong, ex GM and head chef at Marlfield House, opened last Thursday in the former Lighthouse restaurant at the harbour in Wicklow Town.

Tel: 0404-67286

Carluccio's Glasthule is not reopening. What would its late founder, Antonio, have thought? Carluccio's Dawson Street, which was sold, is to reopen in September. carluccios.com

Evan O'Ceallaigh, the talented young Galway chef, says there are great plans for the upcoming Graze Cafe Wine Bar in Kinvara, to open shortly. 

instagram/grazecafewinebar

Firecastle is an ambitious new project in Kildare, by Paul Lenehan and Ronan Kinsella of Harte's Gastropub. Due to open at the end of the month, it encompasses an artisan food store, cafe and deli, a cookery school, and accommodation.

firecastle.ie

Jaipur Dalkey, a favourite haunt of local resident Bono, who likes his keema naan, has reopened after a major refurb and a stunning new menu.

jaipur.ie

Le Perroquet, Nick Munier & Chris Fullam's delightful comptoir, is relocating from Leeson to Wicklow Street opening at the end of August. leperroquet.ie

Westward ho? For a great pit stop with super food, don't pass Johnnie and Maria Begley's Connemara Greenway Cafe in Oughterard. Dinner too.

Tell Lucinda how you're fighting back: info@lucindaosullivan.com

Sunday Independent