WHEN you’re celebrating 50 years in business, you’re allowed to be a traditionalist.
Denis ‘Dino’ Cregan, aged 80, certainly hangs onto some of the good, old-fashioned ways which are fast disappearing in the modern world.
As well as his delicious fish and chips, he adds a special ingredient.
“I think eye-balling people is the way to go,” says Dino.
“Being friendly is easy. Nowadays there is no real human connection. People will hardly say ‘hello’ to you. Giving someone your attention for two minutes costs nothing and it means a lot.”
A former Fine Gael senator and former Lord Mayor of Cork, Dino is one of the scattered keepers of the traditional flame, continuing to chip away in his numerous fast food outlets throughout the city.
“You’d have to love it,” he says. “And I always did love it. There’s nothing like dishing up a fine feed of fish and chips to appreciative customers.”
Dino knows our love affair with the takeaway, the soggy, weighty parcel doused in salt and vinegar, means a lot.
“Fresh fish and using quality locally sourced ingredients is how we do business,” says Dino, who has eight fast food outlets throughout Cork including in Bishopstown, Ballincollig, Douglas, Blackpool and Kinsale.
He employs 220 people and says: “I treat them the same as my own. Most of my staff have worked with me for 25 years. We all enjoy dealing with the public. I’ve done that most of my life and I’m still doing it.
“We’ve served generations, grannies, mothers, sons and daughters, and now their children.”
Dino’s chippers are a Cork institution.
“You’re only as good as your last bag of chips!” is his motto. He adds another: “Keep it simple!”
One of eight children who left school at 13, Dino was always a hard worker. Five brothers worked alongside their father at CIE’s road haulage department.
“My father instilled a strong work ethic into all of us,” says Dino. “I often worked 16 hours a day to make a shilling.”
Going places, he went from a lorry helper to a bus conductor to owning his own pick-up truck.
“When I became a CIE lorry helper at the road freight department, with my father and brothers loading goods on and off the lorries, I got great training from CIE. I applied some of that to getting my own pick-up truck in 1967, selling coal and making other deliveries.”
The man from Tower Street got to know the streets of Cork well, and he got to know his future wife, Mary Barry of Fr. Mathew Road.
“I met Mary in Patrick Street in 1958,” says Dino. “We got married in 1968. Six of our children are involved in the business, another is involved indirectly.”
The family are in the business for the long haul. “Two or three of my 15 grandchildren are now getting involved in it,” says Dino.
He isn’t resting on his laurels just yet. “We have plans to expand further in other locations in the New Year.”
At 27 with four children, with a business head and a work ethic, Dino looked to see what opportunities were on his doorstep. One was staring him in the face. He took the bait.
“I knocked down the garage at our house and decided I’d open a fish and chip shop in 1970.”
Hungry to make his mark, he was before his time.
“I used to see people going out socially, to dance halls and pubs. But there were not many places to get a bite to eat on the main streets. I built the chipper bit by bit by myself, starting in 1969,” says Dino.
“The late Jackie Lennox was very good to me and he gave me good advice. He had set up a chip shop in Bandon Road in the ’50s.”
Had Dino financial backing? He laughs out loud. “If people knew what I started with; they wouldn’t believe it. I had seven shillings and three-pence. If you told anyone that today, they would never believe that’s all you had to start a business.
“Nobody would take a big risk today with very little money.”
But he had more than that.
“I had ambition to work,” says Dino. “And I worked very hard. Christmas Day and Stephen’s Day were all the same to me. Mary and I made a great team.
“I knew the fish and chip business was the business to be in if we did it right.
“When I started off in the 1970s, times were a lot tougher.
All I had was my work ethic, because I had no education. So we just worked and worked.”
What about the last recession? Did Dino ever see lean times?
“We just get on with our work, and take it as it comes.
“We extended the Kinsale shop during the recession and even opened other shops. I was lucky to have a great family.”
Did he make a few bob?
“I did,” says Dino. “But I never lost the run of myself.”
He’s minding himself now, even though he still goes down the chip shop late at night.
“I had a heart bypass and my gall-bladder removed. I have diabetes that makes you tired sometimes. I’m getting old now but I still can be at any of my shops at 11pm at night!”
The batter is in his blood.
“It is!” says Dino. “Mary and I built up a good business together and we have a wonderful family.”
The family members have all the attributes to take on the dynasty.
“My three daughters, they’d ate you!” says Dino, laughing.
“We always simplified everything. At Dino’s we use only fat in our fryers, no oil.
“Our menu is simple but each item is made with strong emphasis on quality. Simplicity is the best recipe.
“There is nothing like a fresh bit of fish. It is very hard to beat it. I love silver haddock; it is the best and the cleanest of fish. Codling is tasty too.
“Fish and chips is good, ordinary food. I have it a couple of times a week.”
Dino Cregan says he is an ordinary man, adding: “I’m a Bandon Road boy. Somebody up there likes me!”