IF you ever want to take a glimpse into how much food innovation there is in Cork right now, take a look at the latest business occupying the Start Up Stall at The English Market in Cork.
The stall’s current occupants are sister and brother Claire and John Duffy whose business, The Lègumerie, is doing a rip roaring trade with their range of plant-based foods.
Originally from Co Donegal, Claire and John took a punt that maybe Cork might be a good home for their fresh and delicious hand-made vegan food after finding success at their local Donegal town farmer’s market.
“There’s been such a good reception to our food in Cork, it’s quite blown us away!” says Claire.
After completing her Masters in Food Security, Claire went to Zambia for a month working on a project returning to Dublin to write up her research. In her days off, Claire would head back home to Donegal and make her vegan food and with support from friends and family started selling them at the local farmer’s market.
During this time, she was also a finalist representing Co Donegal for Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur.
“Part of the process was to write up a business plan. John, my brother, had just completed his MA in Business so he helped me to write it. He said that he thought that there was legs in my idea for a plant-based food business and asked to come on board with me. The funny thing is that in that plan, I had put that I wanted a stall at the English Market in Cork. Just a few months later, and here we are!”
The stall has attracted a lot of new customers via their Facebook following as well as curious interest from tourists who always make a beeline for the jewel in Cork’s crown. Things must be going well, because The Lègumerie has just accepted an extension to their residency of the Start Up Stall and will be there all the way up to September 16.
But Donegal is a long way from Cork, so what are The Legumerie’s plans for after this?
Claire said: “Getting a suitable premises for what we need in the City is difficult, so we decided to come at the problem a different way. We are on the lookout for a piece of vacant land, or anywhere where we can build our dream of a container-style food production facility and café. The plan is for the building to be as self-sufficient as possible: solar panels, a roof that grows all our herbs and we want to be able to grow as many of our own vegetables and fruits as possible.
“We are really passionate about sustainability, for both our food and our business: we are supporters of zero waste and closing the consumption loop as much as possible. We have been talking with the Cork Food Policy Council and Food Cloud, (the Cork-based food distribution network), and really love the way that Cork is approaching food sustainability.
“We’ve clued into the fact that there is quite a significant and growing vegan/plant-based food movement in Cork too, so it feels like the perfect spot to make a go of things. To back that up, we have taken out a year-long lease on a house in the city – we’re really determined!”
The Lègumerie’s range of vegan food products include mouth-watering savoury Beetroot and Seed Burger; Cannellini Bean and Sweet Potato burger (“one of our best sellers” Claire proudly proclaims), Wraps filled with Smashed Lemony Avocado and Pickles and chilled meals to takeaway with you for dinner: Lentil and Coconut Curry, and the mysteriously popular Boozy Lentil Stew, laced with red wine… A range of cleverly flavoured hummus and pesto, a hugely popular Mushroom and Walnut pate along with sweet treats such as Black Bean Brownies and Peanut Butter Caramel Oat Bars (are you dribbling yet?) completes the rainbow of flavours and colourful foods.
Obviously, unless a miracle happens there is going to be gap between when The Lègumerie’s time at the market comes to an end and the container-café is realised. So what will Claire and John be up to in the meantime?
“Our plan is to try and get our products out into restaurants and cafes, and to start trying to make headway in the retail sector too. We really want to challenge the notion that Vegan food in supermarkets is consigned to the freezer aisle. Our food is fresh and vibrant, and we would love to see it retailed as such. There are some hurdles to that, but the fact that there is such a growing demand for ready-to-eat foods for the busy vegan should help retailers look at our food in a different light – most importantly that this is food not just for people that want to follow a vegan lifestyle, but also for those who want to eat more plant-based foods for health and other lifestyle reasons.”
So this is food for the masses, not just for our vegan brethren; made with care and attention and reimagined by two young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs who have recognised Cork as being at the head of the progressive food movement in Ireland. Everything about The Lègumerie is valiant!