independent

Sunday 21 October 2018

Faces of the Sligo Food Trail

The public persona of colourful Anthony Gray, past President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland and tireless campaigner for all things Sligo, is well known, but there's a complex and fascinating man behind the scenes.

Surprisingly, Anthony wasn't born in Sligo, but in London's East End. His father Joe left Sligo at 16 working in Smithfield Market and diligently worked up to owning a butcher's shop himself.

The family moved around London and the East End, living in Muswell Hill, Shepherds Bush and Romford.

He also got a black taxicab licence, running the second business to support his young family- Anthony and his two older sisters. He did things the traditional way, even making his own corned beef which was a particular favourite of the infamous Kray Twins. Their mother would buy it to make sandwiches for them, delivered on her prison visits.

Eventually Joe and Maureen moved back to Sligo and opened a butcher's shop on Teeling Street which won many awards for handmade sausages and puddings. All three children worked in the shop, helping with everything from the home cured hams to hand plucked turkeys. However life as a butcher wasn't for Anthony, who showed talent as a golfer and instead chose the green sward of the fairway.

Anthony studied in Birmingham University and completed a professional golf degree through the PGA. He played at a high level and recalls halving an exhibition match in Tubbercurry with a youthful Rory McIlroy.

Anthony worked as golfing professional at Strandhill Golf Course for 16 years, doing much to popularise the game, particularly amongst women and juniors.

Opening a restaurant had always been a dream for him and as the recession loomed and the bottom fell out of the golf market, he decided to take the plunge, launching Trá Bán in Strandhill in 2009.

Focusing on local ingredients and fine dining, Trá Bán was an immediate success. Within weeks they were booked out months in advance and awards followed. Two years later he opened Eala Bán, taking the overflow and suiting those who wanted to eat in Sligo town.

Just before Christmas 2017, feeling the challenge of running two businesses in the same competitive sector, he made the tough decision to close Trá Bán and open Hooked which caters for a very different casual dining market. Hooked is inspired by his father's butcher business and even features Joe Gray's sausages on the menu.

Anthony's business ventures are strongly supported by his wife Eilish and the couple have three small children - Lauren, Emily and Joe. However his life has also been touched by heartbreak.

His father died in 2011. He was predeceased by Anthony's eldest sister, Caroline, who tragically passed away at the tender age of 26 following problems with depression. Anthony is passionate about mental health issues and believes strongly that they must be discussed openly and without judgement.

Anthony was a pioneer of Sligo Food Trail and is currently Chairman. Never one to set his sights low, amongst his current aims are opening a restaurant in either Dublin, London or New York and getting a motorway to Sligo! www.sligofoodtrail.ie #SligoFoodTrail

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