THE ORGANIC VEG FARM
Beechpark Ecofarm and Farm Shop in Clonsilla, Dublin 15, is sowing and growing some of the best produce in the country. It is owned and operated by Neil McDermott with his team, including daughter Éira McDermott and farm manager Dave Taylor.
“I bought Beechpark, the Shackleton home estate, in 1996, and my children grew up there,” says Neil.
“Fast-forward 40 years and I decided to get involved in organic vegetable growing due to my love of crop farming and the fact that we’re located right on the edge of Dublin, where there is a ready retail market.
“The number one financial obstacle is the cost of labour versus the prices the customer expects due to supermarkets and extensive factory farming. Right now, there’s more potential to succeed, or at least survive, as we’re in the position of price makers rather than price takers.”
Dave ran a few small food and farming enterprises in the UK before moving to Ireland just four months ago and he adds: “I was always met with the same obstacles: customers’ expectations for low food prices and the price being more important than where the produce was grown.
“During the pandemic I became farm manager at Beechpark and the situation couldn’t be more different. People are stopping to think more about where and how their food is produced.”
Having grown up at Beechpark, Éira says it’s great to see it being used for such a worthy purpose.
“The shop opened in June 2020, so the pandemic is all it has known. Overall, it’s worked in our favour. Health and well-being has never been more important, so our fresh, organic produce has a big appeal, and there’s also a strong desire to support local. We’ve recently enlarged the shop and now do veg boxes on a Monday evening also.”
THE FOOD TRUCK
Top chef Ian Ussher took the plunge, with his wife Elaine, in October 2020, investing their savings in Cluck Chicken.
The food truck in D12 has been such a success that they’ve now expanded with a 20ft container and their own Cluck Yard on Walkinstown’s Greenhills Road.
“Working from home when Covid hit, and with a lot more time on my hands, I realised I was at a point in my career where I wanted to branch out on my own. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions and one of the most stressful times of my life,” says Ian.
“However, I have not been this happy in a long time. I’m getting to cook food that I love, while engaging with our customers, which is a great buzz.”
Covid has created and enabled a culture of street food, with chefs doing some spectacular fare.
“I really feel this is the future,” Ian says. “Covid has had a positive impact on our business, surprisingly. The fact the food industry as a whole has been able to adapt is just mind-blowing.
“But, if these types of food offerings and service are to continue, there needs to be investment from Government and councils alike. The lack of bin and toilet facilities in certain locations, and permit issues are barriers to creating a viable business.
“What 2021 has brought for us is the opportunity with our new 20ft container to reduce queuing times and increase our output. We can expand and develop our menu and we also plan on launching our own range of sauces.”
Catriona Carpenter is the owner of the very popular Mimosa Bar De Tapas, tucked away in a side street of Carlow Town. She tells me how they’ve been faring throughout the past year.
“While I completely understand the difficult position of the Government, it’s hard to see other countries getting back to opening indoor while we sit with no plan, always with the threat over our heads that we’ll be first to be closed if numbers rise again,” she says.
“It seems the mantra that we’re all in this together has long gone. What annoys me more than anything is restaurants and pubs being put in the same category. We’re nothing alike.
“We know at any time how many we have in, their names, numbers and how long they’ll be permitted to stay. We don’t have people aimlessly wandering around.”
Throughout the pandemic, Catriona says one of their biggest concerns has been for their team.
“The only reason we did Tapas to Go in the beginning was to keep the staff on their full wage — otherwise we’d have lost them all to Lidl or Aldi. While we were being put under enormous pressure, the banks were put under no pressure whatsoever to give hard workers mortgage breaks, so yet again it was down to us.”
Despite the struggles of the past year, they’re doing their best to stay positive.
“We’re working hard on the premises, extending where we can to allow as much room as possible, also sprucing the place up and trying to stay as upbeat as possible. But, at the end of the day, it’s very hard to keep upbeat when you know they’ll shut your doors again in a heartbeat.”
Mimosa Bar De Tapas is aiming to open for outdoor dining, featuring a covered area with limited tables, from June 9. Check out their website for details on their delicious Tapas to Go offerings.
Stunningly located overlooking Clonakilty Bay in West Cork, Dunmore House Hotel is owned and managed by Carol Barrett with her husband, Richard. Their son Peter initially studied law and philosophy in UCD, before the draw of the family business changed his direction and he headed to Lausanne, Switzerland, to study hospitality and join the operation too.
“Dunmore House became our family home in 1934 and the business was established in 1948,” says Carol.
“Seventy-three years later, our determination and passion for West Cork hospitality has brought us to this point and given us the strength to survive this life-changing worldwide pandemic.
“We were only open for 100 days last year. However, we have to see the positive. This time has been invaluable for future business planning and a catch-up on personal time.
“Looking back, the Government supports have been adequate and fair and we are lucky to have good relations with banks and insurance. Our property and grounds on the Wild Atlantic Way are in a location that’s like no other.”
Praising their wonderful team, who have been fully involved throughout the pandemic, even when the doors have been closed, Carol is looking forward also to welcoming back their seasonal staff — which brings their total employee numbers to well over 100 in peak season.
“Our fightback in business is imminent — we will reopen on June 2. We’ve reviewed and renewed our menus, refreshed our guest rooms, and developed a breathtaking outdoor events area in our Ocean Garden.
“We’re also excited to have partnered with local coffee roasters Stone Valley for a barista coffee service on our Sea Terrace, which will be the perfect outdoor location to reunite with friends and family this summer season.”
Chef shuffles in the Marble City have seen Tom Comerford depart the Ormonde Hotel for the Heritage Hotel in Killenard, while Ken Harker, following a decade as head chef at Mount Juliet, has joined the Pembroke Hotel after interim stints in Anocht and Foodworks.
Daniel Hannigan, David Keane and Luke Murphy, who all sport top-notch culinary pedigrees, have set up the delightful Treehouse Treats based out of a customised Airstream van in Goatstown, Dublin. They produce high-end desserts and premium coffee — and the duck doughnuts with rhubarb hoisin are absolutely quacking.
Hoteliers are on the move out west too. Cian Ó Broin, long-time GM of the Meyrick Hotel in Galway — now the Hardiman — is the new GM of Paddy McKillen’s massive Press Up Hospitality Group. I wonder when their new hotel at Glasson will be ready for my inspection — I’m told it’s going to be fabulous darling and we all know Press Up’s penchant for extravagant decor. Meanwhile, Sean Lally, formerly of the Limerick Strand, whose spoofs of First Dates and Love Actually became an internet sensation, is the new business development danager of the Choice Hotel Group. He will oversee the Hardiman, the G, and House Hotel in Galway, the Shoreline in Donabate, Co Dublin, and Hotel Woodstock in Ennis.
Roly’s Bistro has a great chilled seafood platter on its extensive takeaway menu, with crab and apple salad, Castletownbere lobster, prawn cocktail, smoked organic salmon, crab claws and oysters at €29.95pp. Outside dining is coming to Roly’s also, by way of a gorgeous 50-seater pergola to the side of the restaurant to be ready at the end of June.
Tell Lucinda how you’re fighting back: