Trading Stories: Bringing rotisserie cooking to Cork

With options ranging from casual brunches up to more formal dinners and cocktails, the restaurant has made a big impact on the Cork food scene already, just a few months after opening.
Trading Stories: Bringing rotisserie cooking to Cork
The SpitJack on Washington Street. Picture: Miki Barlok

When and how did the business start?

I moved back to Ireland in 2015 and started the business plan for The SpitJack. We spent January and February building this as well as carrying our market research and reviewing potential properties in Cork. At the end of February, we are confident both on the business idea and Cork as a location and we moved her at the end of February. 

It took several months to find a suitable property but we eventually agreed on 34 Washington Street in the summer of 2015. Two years later The SpitJack opened.

How did you get into the restaurant business and what's your background?

I started in the industry when I was 13. After leaving school I trained in the George V restaurant at Ashford Castle for one year. I then moved to Shannon College of Hotel Management and while there spent one year in Germany.

After Shannon, I spent the next seven years with The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Hampshire, London and Seychelles. While with Four Seasons and I spent five of those years managing restaurants and bars in the different properties.

What's the concept behind The Spitjack?

The restaurants I worked with for Four Seasons were high end. I had the opportunity to work with some excellent chefs who were creating incredible food. When sourcing the best ingredients to serve to our customers there was no meat held in higher regard than Irish meat. 

This was something I was always very proud of. I knew I wanted to have a restaurant that focused on one of the country’s greatest products. We explored many different concepts but realised the potential of rotisserie cooking. 

The SpitJack concept is built on a few core believes: beautiful surroundings, exceptional service, excellent quality produce that is cooked and prepared in a way that you could not easily replicate at home. We wanted to offer all of this but at an excellent price point. 

This is why we really saw the potential in rotisserie cooking. We can use cuts of meat that offer exceptional value to our customers while offering a wonderful taste and flavour. It’s a unique taste and something different form our competitors. 

A 'spitjack' was the name given to the kitchen boy centuries ago. His job was to turn the spits of meat for hours on end. In the 16th century the first clockwork spitjack was built and we use that image for our logo. We managed to source an original spitjack from 1680 which is on display at the restaurant.

Is it difficult competing in a city centre with so many food options?

Competition in this industry is always fierce. There are so many food options in the city but we concentrate more on our specific market. We are a full service, mid-range casual restaurant. Although a very competitive market it has not seen the same influx of openings as the fast-casual market. 

The competitors in our market are incredibly strong and very experienced. We don’t focus to much attention on our competitors. 

We focus very much on our customers. We use several key performance indicators to generate constructive feedback and we ensure the business is agile enough to react to this feedback. This is helping us find our place in the market and after seven months we are pleased with our positioning so far.

The SpitJack on Washington Street.
The SpitJack on Washington Street.

What makes The Spitjack stand out from the crowd?

Rotisserie is certainly our niche. We are the only restaurant in Ireland and UK, in this market, that is exclusively rotisserie. The flavour of our meat is very unique and it's not something you’ll find anywhere else. I think our core beliefs are something that is making us stand out. We offer our customers a beautiful dining space, exceptional service, quality produce that tastes great and all for a great price point.

Where do you source your ingredients from?

95% of our produce comes from Cork suppliers. We source most of our meat from O’Mahony’s of the English Market. Out chicken are farmed in West Cork, Tom Durcan supplies our lamb shanks. Our fruit and veg comes from All Fresh, our wine is exclusively from Curious Wines. We only sell 8 Degrees beer and Johny Fall down cider. The main attraction for me to come to Cork was the quality of the produce, producers and suppliers. There is nowhere better.

What kind of clientele do you get?

We have a very broad demographic. Opening seven days a week, breakfast, brunch lunch and dinner allows us to attract a large customer base. The SpitJack is a beautiful space. During the daytime it's bright and welcoming offering a fantastic menu with creative eggs benedict, home-made pancakes, sandwiches made from meat carved fresh from the rotisserie as well as all of our signature rotisserie dishes. 

Its casual and comfortable and it attracts all ages from shoppers to office works, students to leisure guests. At dinner, we are more upmarket. We have a fantastic crafted cocktail menu, excellent wine and our food is at another level. It's really a destination restaurant for dinner. Somewhere to get dressed up and have a great experience.

Tell us a bit about your staff?

We are very fortunate to have an excellent team around us. We currently don’t have a restaurant manager or head chef so Laura and I oversee the operation but we are blessed to have exceptional people in our team. It’s a very diverse team with over 12 different nationalities. 

Our team are hard working and dedicated and they are very proud of what they do every day. We recruit carefully. We have core culture standards in our company and when recruiting we find people who match these standards. This is more important to us than experience. If the attitude is right we can train the rest.

What are the most popular dishes on the menu, and what's your own favourite?

Our porchetta is probably one of the most popular and is my favourite too. It’s a traditional Italian dish that originates from a small town outside of Rome called Ariccia. I first discovered Porchetta at farmers markets in Tuscany and travelled with Laura to Ariccia to learn the secrets of great porchetta. 

We make our porchetta seasoning from our secret recipe of fresh herbs and seasoning and marinate the pork belly for 48 hours. The rolled pork belly is then cooked on the rotisserie for three hours. The skin develops in the best crackling and the slow cooking on the rotisserie renders allot of the fat our of the cut resulting in a moist tasty meat.

What kind of changes do you see happening in the restaurant industry?

Labour shortage in the industry is the biggest threat at the moment. I believe it won’t be long until we will see a relaxing of the visa restrictions for skilled industry labour such as chefs. This will certainly allow restaurants to compete stronger rather than trying to survive.

What do you see in the future for the business?

There are a lot of demands on the industry at present. Increasing labour cost, increasing food and beverage costs, higher rates, increasing rents, limited availability for new properties. Customers are demanding more value for money and better service. This all eats into the already tight margins.

For restaurants to succeed in this industry it requires a lot of determination. It’s becoming harder and harder for independent restaurants to succeed and profit. In the future, you will see much more foreign restaurant groups opening in this country. 

They have the investment and economy of scale to compete in this industry. We are already seeing a lot of these brands starting to appear in Ireland. Hopefully, there will be more incentives for independents to compete with these larger companies because if not it’s the consumer who will ultimately suffer when their high streets are full of soulless large international brands.

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