EVEN though Fitzpatrick’s of Glounthaune do 1,200 lunches every day, as well as outside catering, and the family is planning a huge extension of the shop next year, which will see it double in size... it is business as usual.
“Yes, we still like the personal touch,” says Kerri O’Neill, who manages the store which is renowned for its fresh baking, delicatessen, and creamy ice-cream cones.
Kerri is the fourth generation of Fitzpatrick’s, which has survived in business during post-war depression Ireland, economic recessions in the 1970s and 1980s in Ireland, and again in 2008.
“Myself and the staff call our regulars by name, and you can still get assistance carrying your groceries to your car by a willing staff member,” said Kerri.
Cars weren’t the popular mode of transport back in the day, 75 years ago, when Fitzpatrick’s first opened its doors, as Kerri’s mother, Geraldine, explains.
“A customer requested a lift home with their shopping. Seemingly her mode of transport wouldn’t move. When we got outside with the lady and her shopping bags, we saw that her unobliging mode of transport was a horse!”
In 1941, Margaret Fitzpatrick, originally from Kinsale but living in Dublin, was travelling by train to Cobh when she spotted the ‘For Sale’ sign in the window of a small, charming, dwelling-house on the side of the main road. Margaret, originally from Kinsale, was visiting her sister, Kitty, and she was anxious to return to her native Cork. “She had experience of business in Dublin and she saw the premises as a good business opportunity here. In 1942 the shop opened under the Fitzpatrick name.
What was the shop like back then?
“It was a one-stop store,” says Kerri. “You could purchase anything from a pair of boots to a candle.”
The goods were sold over a high counter. Scanners and self-service were unheard of. There was a book to keep track of the customers’ purchases until they paid at the end of the week. It was the ‘on tick’ system. They bought all their necessities like paraffin oil and clothing. Everyone working in the shop knew the prices of everything in their head.
“Things have moved on since then!” says Kerri.
But some things never changed. Customers were given a royal welcome when the ringing of the door sounded.
“Yes, our customers still get a welcome today when they pull up outside or amble in for a sandwich, the paper or a cake,” says Kerri.
In 1967, Margaret’s son, William Fitzpatrick, who was now running the business, purchased the premises from Kate O’Connell’s nephew for the princely sum of £750 (around €954).
He married Nora Penny of Little Island, who coincidentally also came from a ‘local shop’, Pennys of Ballyvery. They made a good team.
Kerri’s mum remembers weighing up bags of sugar, washing out the sweet jars and polishing apples.
Was there an art in polishing apples, making them shiny and bright?
“Yes,” says Geraldine, “I polished the apples with a polishing cloth and my breath!”
Things evolved slowly but surely.
“In my nan’s time, the family slowly introduced rolls and sandwiches,” says Kerri.
“A delicatessen was not a common concept.”
The business began to expand this food concept and added a bowl of coleslaw and food to-go.
“By now we had a second front room and a little library.”
Nothing was left out.
“There was even a public phone installed,” says Kerri. “Then the post-office.”
Sadly William died in 1971, at a relatively young age, 54, leaving Nora to carry on the business and to rear their seven children. Nora was resilient.
“It was due to her hard work and determination that the business continued to survive,” says Kerri.
In 1976, Geraldine, the second eldest of William and Nora’s children, on her return from teacher-training college, took the running of the business over. She, with her husband, Martin, and their six children, Aisling, Kerri, Sheena, Erin, Tara and Ryan, extended and built Fitzpatrick’s into the familiar landmark and stop-off point that it is today.
What was it like growing up in a shop that was your very own candy store with delights and goodies adorning every corner?
“Well, what used to be my bedroom and our playroom, is now the bakery,” says Kerri. “We all lived upstairs for years.”
What once was the family household is now where Fitzpatrick’s famous brown bread is made.
“There was a novelty to our home back in the day because we all used to be downstairs in the shop, among the staff and customers that frequented the business.
“On any day a customer was sure to meet a family member, on their visit to Fitzpatrick’s.
“Myself and my sisters and brother all helped out in th e family business, throughout secondary school and college.”
So she didn’t have to go far for a summer job?
“Yes, that was a bonus,” she says with a smile.
“I remember Sunday mornings spent with my aunt, filling the custard into the custard cream slices and the chocolate into the éclairs. I used to eat and lick a lot of it!
“My friends used to love coming over for slumber parties, especially for all the goodies they could have. A tradition for us as children was doing a supermarket sweep once the shop was closed.”
As the Fitzpatrick clan grew up, the family business interests increased. An extension was carried out on the premises in 2006, when Kerri joined the family business full-time.
Kerri’s mum and dad influenced her work ethic greatly.
“Working beside them, side by side, and seeing them work together, I learned all the tricks of the trade, over the last number of years. They are both hugely creative and they are always thinking ahead of their time. I love working in the family dynamic and being part of a wonderful tradition.”
The pub next door, The Great O’Neill, is managed by Kerri and her father Martin, who is well known in the Cork area as a major Manchester United fan and Kerri said he keeps her in the loop regarding any sporting events.
Nearby The Rising Tide Restaurant, which was sold by the family 11 years ago, has just come back into the family, after it was purchased by Erin O’Neill. Erin is based in Dubai, with her own events management company, but plans are afoot for the redevelopment of this old favourite in Glounthaune.
Kerri loves the social side of her job.
“I trained as an accountant, but I was always drawn back here,” she says, as we look at the hustle and bustle front of shop. The truckers, the housewives, the office workers, the children, all create a happy hub throughout the store.
The retail environment in Ireland has gotten more and more challenging, so it requires hard work to maintain high standards in this area.
“We are very lucky to have a fantastic team in place that delivers great customer service to everyone that passes through our doors,” says Kerri. “We pride ourselves on promoting that local shop ‘feel’. It can be hard to keep.
“Community spirit is being lost in so many parts of the country, and we at Fitzpatrick’s really advocate people supporting their local businesses.”
How do she and her staff keep that local shop ‘feel’?
“Well, it is great to know that somebody can ring up for a birthday cake at 9am and get it at 12pm,” says Kerri. “Our customers are our friends. Our outside catering sees scores of happy customers day in, day out. They know we will deliver for their special occasions. We cater for every aspect of corporate or private events, including waitressing services, ware hire and all our lovely food. People travel from Glanmire, Cobh, Ballincollig, Midleton and further afield for our fresh baking and brown bread every day.”
Glounthaune is ear-marked for 240 new residential homes, which will be a huge boost for the area. With the news of this development plans are already afoot for this local family business to grow. The planned extension of the shop, which employs 35 people, will see it double in size, concentrating on a niche as a food store. The delicatessen offering will be much wider and will include an array of new fresh food and fresh baked goods.
“Food is our passion here in Fitzpatrick’s,” said Kerri.
Did she ever think of leaving the area or her beloved Fitzpatrick’s?
“We have been approached by the bigger chains to join forces,” says Kerri. “But we remain independent, happy serving the community like we always have and building our own Fitzpatrick brand.”
The community can look forward to celebrating Fitzpatrick’s 75th birthday, with a family fun day on Sunday September 17 from 2pm to 6pm. This celebration will take place in Glounthaune village, and there will be lots of fun and activities for all the family to enjoy on the day. Family tickets available in store.
“We would like to thank all of our customers for their continued support over the years and we look forward to welcoming new customers into our new store in the not so distant future.”
For more see www.fitzpatricksfoodstore.ie or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Fitzpatricks-Shop-287793337907278/