The only way is up for Urru

As trailblazing culinary store, Urru gets ready to expand, owner and Irish food champion Ruth Healy looks back over 15 years in business as she plans the next chapter, writes Kate Ryan
The only way is up for Urru
Ruth Healy is owner-proprietor of Urru Culinary Store in Bandon. Picture: Peter Pietrzak

“SO we’re going up and through the roof,” says Ruth Healy, as she eagerly talks me through the plans for the expansion of Urru Culinary Store, in Bandon.

“I have vision and a story and a present to unwrap to the world, but the reality is it’s all about the concrete and the engineering before I can put the icing on the cake!”

The expansion of Urru will double the square footage without having to move an inch.

Breaking through the ceiling over the coffee/dining and bookshop area and building a new stairwell access to the first floor will provide Ruth with the space to match her vision and her ambition.

“The stairs will lead to an area with seating, books, gallery and pre-loved tableware. About halfway along, a pseudo partition will create a new multi-functional space with a domestic style café kitchen that will serve the café on the ground floor and provide some additional first floor seating.

“This space will be available to use as a dining space, for meetings, events, demonstrations, etc; but also for anything from workshops, bridge lessons, craft making to men’s shed,” explains Ruth. “Any event that can reinforce my message that food is a part of life and not just a stand-alone entity.”

She is also the founder of the Cork Character Café initiative, putting our quirky cafes at the centre of communities for visitors and residents alike. The expansion of Urru has that message right at its core.

“I want to stretch in every direction what Urru currently does, really pushing it out. Whether it’s the stock we sell, the experience we offer or literally the space to roam. I want customers to discover new things and simply spend time here — stretching the time spent too.

“When I opened 15 years ago, Urru was very much ahead of the curve and leading the charge on what your food shopping could look like; if people are busy, how jobs could be doubled up and have a bit of social time too. When I say that now, it’s probably even more relevant.

“I still need to ask myself what does shopping mean? I believe a retail experience is more than just the products on the shelf. There are versions of Urru in shops everywhere now, so how do I propel ourselves forward again? How do I set the tone that others will follow? How do we redefine what coming into a shop is for?

“We still have to consider convenience and adjacencies: posh and basics alongside each other, but the need to move on in a more creative way is the edge that shops like Urru have over larger stores: embracing complexity, embracing change.

“So whilst it’s not our comfort zone, which we’ve done a long time now borne out of necessity with the recession, to want to grow requires doing something different because not growing doesn’t really justify the effort.”

For Ruth, growing Urru requires a mix of better and bigger.

“Better means offering more: more of an experience, more appeal and engaging a new generation; a generation in danger of seeing food as fashion only and forgetting its actually something that we need and should love.

“It’s not just about Instagram or weird and wonderful ingredients that cost a fortune. They are distractions — little entertainments that stop us from embracing the ordinary.”

The expansion plans also have an ambitious technology dimension: bringing the world to west Cork and west Cork to the world.

“We will use the space to strengthen our online presence, but we are also getting a better handle on how we can use technology for enhancing not just what happens here within the bricks and mortar, but what is also going on ‘out there’ and not to view either as separate entities. Live streaming events taking place in Urru but also bringing in events that are happening elsewhere. This will be our edge over conventional retailers, tapping into networks of people, be they chefs, food producers, event creators etc — in person and virtually.”

Once works are complete, Ruth will see her cohort of team members rise from four to eight. The build schedule is eight to 12 weeks and will be complete in time for the start of the summer season, with the shop remaining open throughout the works and with the minimum of disruption for her customers.

“To me, this is the obvious next step for Urru — to remain the regional standard bearer for what is possible. Yes, it’s exciting but this is the way retail needs to and has to go. Now I just need to get there!”

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