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Setting the table for the new normal

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Jemmy McCann of Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, Co Armagh

Jemmy McCann of Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, Co Armagh

Jemmy McCann of Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, Co Armagh

As businesses scramble to pick up the pieces, I spoke to more of the people fighting to protect Ireland's food and hospitality industry.

THE FOOD BOX

Jemmy McCann grew up with mushrooms, which his parents produced for the UK wholesale market for 30 years.

They retired and in 2018 he started Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, on the home farm in Silverbridge, Co Armagh, specialising in Shitake and Oyster mushrooms, which have become the darlings of hot chefs around the country.

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Jemmy McCann of Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, Co Armagh

Jemmy McCann of Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, Co Armagh

Jemmy McCann of Ard Mhacha Mushrooms, Co Armagh

 

A site carpenter by trade, Jemmy always had a keen interest in growing speciality mushrooms. Working in Australia and England, he visited many farms where he first saw growers producing their own compost, and loved the idea of the grower being in control of their operation from start to finish.

"My first customer was Conor Mee, of the Courthouse restaurant in Carrickmacross," he said. "My cropping was volatile at the time but he worked with me and told me I had something very special and I needed to keep going."

In January 2019, he met Sean and Jayne Hussey, of Hussey's Farm. "I came home delighted that they bought all my mushrooms, and my father, Kevin, said, 'what the hell are we going to do next week, Jemmy?', as crop yields were still volatile."

He was due to increase his growing operation as Covid-19 struck. The restaurant trade seized overnight and he thought that was it.

"My sales direction had to be changed very fast as these mushrooms don't stop growing. Since March, the little 150g Shitake and 200g Grey Oyster retail boxes have come on the scene and done so well that I can't keep up with orders. I cannot thank the general public enough. They've got behind Irish producers during the pandemic and made all the work - seven days a week - worthwhile." 

@Mhacha_Shitake

THE CRAFTER

SMEs are the lifeblood of this country and they've been rocked to the core. Tara and Ed Hammond's Slated, which produces beautiful artisan tableware crafted by Ed in Dalkey, Co Dublin, is one of such SME massively affected by the devastation of Covid-19. 

I first came across Tara 10 years ago during the last recession, and, oh boy, is she a fighter. "Slated kickstarted 2020 with plastic-free packaging - we thought that was our toughest challenge of 2020," she said. "How wrong we were."

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Tara Hammond at Slated, Dalkey

Tara Hammond at Slated, Dalkey

Tara Hammond at Slated, Dalkey

 

Having started in a recession, they were all too aware of how lean times can be. "Overheads needed to be lowered, cashflow watched like a hawk. Ten years of hard work had got us to the fortunate position where we had numerous revenue streams - restaurants, stockists, corporate clients and direct customers. Watching our customers close was devastating, long-standing relationships made it feel so personal. Suddenly we were left with just our online sales. We took two weeks to reassess and to try and formulate a plan for the foreseeable future. It will be a steep learning curve for us, and we won't learn it all but we will try our hardest."

Slated's personalised carved cheese boards have become bestsellers as gifts. "Every order we receive reminds us how amazing Irish people are at supporting small, independent businesses, and every order means the world to us. If Ireland minds Ireland and thinks local, we should all make it out the other side."

slated.ie

THE RESTAURANT 

Restaurateur Anthony Gray was used to the adrenaline rush of running his two popular restaurants, Eala Bhan and Hooked in the heart of Sligo town, jumping between both as he expertly kept the plates spinning, but everything changed for him when the lockdown came into effect.

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Anthony Gray at Hooked, Sligo

Anthony Gray at Hooked, Sligo

Anthony Gray at Hooked, Sligo

 

"On March 16, I closed both of my restaurants, not knowing what was in store." he says. "But slowly I came to terms with this hateful virus and the effect it was having on my life, along with the fear for my family, myself, my staff and businesses. One of my colleagues suggested I do a cookery video online. It was great fun, and to be stopped on the street and asked when the next one was coming out gave me a great lift."

Anthony then opened Hooked for takeaways, and reopened it last week, but is still doing takeaways for those who want to eat at home. "There will be hurdles but it's how we get over these that will lead to our success," he says, "so bring it on." 

If businesses in this country are to survive, they'll need support, Anthony says.

"We've missed the entire summer and come October to March things are going to get serious. In rural Ireland, sometimes all you see in these months are seagulls. We are passionate people who create jobs and support local economies and the government must realise this and understand that we're at our lowest - 0pc VAT to start is a must. There's an old saying which I love, 'A rising tide lifts all boats'."

hookedsligo.ie

THE HOTEL

Set on 1,000 acres, dotted with woodland and beautiful lake views, the Castle Leslie Estate at Glaslough in Co Monaghan is among the most extraordinary places to stay in Ireland. With gorgeous interiors, great food and spa facilities as well, a visit here is memorable. The Leslie family has been in residence since the 1660s, and as they prepare to reopen tomorrow, Samantha Leslie told me how they've been coping with the current crisis.

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Samantha Leslie at Castle Leslie

Samantha Leslie at Castle Leslie

Samantha Leslie at Castle Leslie

 

"We've worked hard to stay connected to our customers via email, social media, and online marketing, offering gift vouchers at a discounted rate, and on Mother's Day, we opened a drive-through tea service, which proved so popular that we developed a whole new drive-through food offering with everything from brunch and afternoon tea to date-night dinners and even a Sunday roast. I laughed when I saw on Facebook, a customer calling it the 'McLeslie Drive Thru'."

Now, with restrictions lifting, they're preparing to open their gates again.

"With 1,000 acres, we have lots of lush space with guaranteed social distance. We're also launching our summer houses; three beautiful wooden buildings set down by Glaslough Lake that can be hired privately for al fresco dining. We're taking it one step at a time, so that we can continue to plan a successful future and ensure a safe environment for our team and our guests."

Castle Leslie is also offering some great new package offers for overnight stays.

castleleslie.com

Lucinda's noticeboard

"It's easier to be faithful to a restaurant than it is to a woman." Federico Fellini

Adare has the new Cafe Logr opening this month by David Hayes, a former head chef at the Dunraven Arms.

Finns' Table in Kinsale is re-launching on Thursday next as Finns' Farmcut with mighty fine steaks.

Global Village in Dingle will not reopen this summer but will be offering street food from its new collection window opening on to Curran's Pub yard. So, Curran's drinks and  Martin Bealin's fab food. Sounds brill...

globalvillagedingle.com

Rage in Blackrock has  a takeaway menu and a Cook at Home range of prepped dishes to stick in the oven.

ragerestaurant.ie

RICE on South Richmond Street, the long-awaited newbie to Press Up's 40-plus hospitality venues, is trading as a takeaway only. 

ricechinese.ie

The Lodge at Ashford Castle has a one-night B&B Dining Experience for two people sharing, with a three-course meal, from €229 per night. 

thelodgeac.com

3 Leaves in Blackrock has set up a new portal for ordering its fab Indian food to go.

3leaves.ie

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

Twitter/Instagram

@lucindasireland

#FoodiesFightBack

Sunday Independent