Cork's English Market traders: Fighting for their businesses during the pandemic

In part three of our series on Cork’s English Market traders KATE RYAN catches up with three more workers based at Cork's English Market
Cork's English Market traders: Fighting for their businesses during the pandemic

Tim Mulcahy, Chicken Inn at the English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh

THIS week, I shine a spotlight on three more traders in The English Market and learn how the family that works together can create Poultry-in-Motion; on the eve of their 40th birthday, how Hederman’s Smokehouse continues to mine an insatiable appetite for creativity and artisanship; and how Toons Bridge Dairy and The Real Olive Company fought for their business to now reap the rewards.

The Chicken Inn – Tim Mulcahy

Tim Mulcahy may hold the reins of his family business, established in 1955, but his parents still come in and work a couple of hours every day.

“They took a bit of a break during the pandemic , but they’re back in now,” says Tim. 

“There’s a certain draw to the place, the interaction and meeting people. It’s very hard to shut yourself away from all of that for so long.”

Two of Tim’s children worked the stall with him in between their studies in Food Business and Innovation.

“It’s still very much a family business,” he says, as he describes the family meeting around the dinner table to come up with their Poultry-in-Motion home delivery service.

The English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh.
The English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh.

“While a lot of the takeaway trade stayed open (during Covid), when restaurants closed that was a big hit for us to take to the business. We had to look for other ways to gain a bit of income and keep our staff going. We put our heads together and realised if people can’t come to us, maybe we could go to them.

“We started off with a Facebook page with an offering and that developed into a full e-commerce website thanks to our Local Enterprise Office. We went on board with their online trading voucher to develop the website, which wouldn’t have been at the top of our priority list otherwise.

“We had to come up with a name that would draw people. With five children at home plus my wife, Monica, and I, we wracked our brains to figure out what we could do to draw a bit of attention to ourselves. Eventually, we settled on Poultry-in-Motion!

“On the back of that, we offered the home delivery service. 

"It brought us back through the years - there was a time when the market was known for its home delivery, only back then it was by bicycle. It was a huge learning curve; I suppose a distraction of what was happening on the other side of it. We were able to focus on one thing and kept momentum going.

“We’d always call the market a meeting place, a place where people can come and see familiar faces and places. Customers like the over-the-counter experience and, I suppose, in the back of our minds, the whole time we were wondering, were we disrupting this; are we trying to displace it? But all we’re really doing is enhancing our service because not everyone has the opportunity to come in.

“We make deliveries six days a week; to our customers that were able to trade through Covid anyway, and to households in the same area.

“We always ask ourselves how we can make it easier for people to eat at home without actually cooking - but as if it is out of their own oven. We’re working with one of our suppliers, part of the Happy Chicken Project, to produce a steam-cooked free-range chicken with an olive oil and rosemary rub that needs just 20 minutes in the oven to heat through, instead of an hour and a half to cook from raw. That’s enough time to throw on some spuds and veg, and you have a roast dinner in a fraction of the time!

“It would be great to see a whole chicken on the table again – it’s so much tastier and better value for money than the just the fillets.

“Our order books will open from the first week of December, with locally produced turkeys from East Ferry. This year, we’ll be placing a huge emphasis on people who take the time out to come into us and order their turkey; it’ll be a busy Christmas but we’re looking forward to it, very much so.”

Caroline Workman of Belvelly Smokehouse.
Caroline Workman of Belvelly Smokehouse.

Hederman’s Smokehouse – Caroline Workman

The finely crafted foods produced by Frank Hederman’s Smokehouse in Belvelly are the darling of Irish food, gracing shelves and menus of high-end food emporiums and restaurants in the UK, such as Selfridges, Fortnum and Masons, and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant.

Business took a sharp hit in the early days of the pandemic when everything shut so suddenly. Everything except The English Market…

“It’s important to acknowledge how very fortunate we felt to be able to continue trading during lockdown, and I’m humbled that we were given so much support. 

"It was very rewarding to be able to bring some element of cheer to people’s lives,” says Caroline Workman, co-owner of Hederman’s Smokehouse.

“Like many people, we went through the mill at home – my own father died, my mother was on her own 450 kilometres away, and our daughter really suffered the sense of isolation from school.

“The business went through a huge upheaval, but the stark change awoke a new sense of purpose. It was good for us to rethink the way we do things. And it was a relief that the hard work paid off.

“Our food became the thing that people were treating themselves with during the glum time; we really did see the Green Wave! People are incredibly loyal, queuing faithfully every day and we benefitted from that hugely.”

Big losses in the wholesale business meant new avenues and customers needed to be sought.

NeighbourFood provided an ideal opportunity, but, says Caroline, it meant a significant ramping up of product innovation.

“We’ve gone from one part-time kitchen assistant to a full-time chef plus extra help and redeveloped the whole range of speciality dishes using our smoked ingredients, everything from potato gratin to chowders, to fishcakes and arancini – about 16 new products.

“We recognised people ordering via NeighbourFood wanted something new every week and The English Market benefitted because anything we made for NeighbourFood we also sent to The English Market. It sharpened us up.

“I remember being very frightened when Covid first happened, thinking we’d have to close everything down. But Frank, who has been through various recessions and calamities of life said, no, we’re going to keep going and keep everything open.

“I set about putting everything online for click and collect, and it really worked for us. Everyone around Ireland was incredibly supportive of local businesses and giving presents to one another. It was really heart-rending seeing some of the messages for items gifted to grandchildren or grandparents - you could understand they were all missing each other terribly.

“It was very poignant. You could just tell how people felt totally cut off from their families, missing home, wanting food from home if they were away, and demonstrating they loved each other – it felt like we were right in the middle of it all.

“Our last Christmas was our biggest ever - without a doubt. That was down to our Irish customers who shopped during lockdown coming back for Christmas. This Christmas, if you visit us at The English Market, let us help you make your own hamper - select the things you like or that your friends will like. We can offer advice, and we have beautiful packaging, too.”

2022 will see Hederman Smokehouse celebrate its 40th birthday, and new products, such as Smoked Eel and Smoked Mature Cheddar Cheese, are on the horizon.

A redevelopment of the Belvelly Smokehouse will see a new walled garden with terraces for dining, a dedicated shop, and days for touring Ireland’s only timber smokehouse and tasting the wonderful artisan produce using skills Frank has spent four decades perfecting.

“It’s a unique place for visitors,” says Caroline, “to come and really understand artisan produce, the aroma of the smoke in the yard, to know the provenance, and see the handmade process.”

Jenny Rose Clarke, Toons Bridge Dairy English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh
Jenny Rose Clarke, Toons Bridge Dairy English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh

Toons Bridge Dairy – Jenny-Rose Clarke

Toons Bridge Dairy, The Real Olive Co, and The Sandwich Stall – the triumvirate that have their origin in 1993 when Toby Simmonds began selling “funny-looking grapes” – or olives – in The English Market.

In 1994, Jenny-Rose Clarke joined forces with Toby, and together they have established a much-loved and successful food business.

Across three stalls at The English Market, four farmers’ markets, their Inchigeela shop and cafe, two new shops in Dublin, and an online shop that saw a 900% increase in sales in the pandemic’s early days, Jenny-Rose and Toby employee 45 people.

“We were living on adrenaline,” recalls Jenny-Rose of the pandemic. 

“It was very frightening to see a business you had created and run for 28 years, employing 45 people: the possibility of all that falling apart. When the restaurants and outdoor markets closed, The English Market was our only outlet.

“There are 40-odd family businesses in the market, and it didn’t close even a day. I think that was the right thing to do – we were feeding the city, and it became a positive thing at a really difficult time. It created a fabulous community in the market; the suppliers delivering in; traders; customers; security on the gates who were there every day, cleaners, and operatives in the market. That became people’s whole social group, except for your family when you went home.

“Customers came in with a list, buying enough food for the week, not just nipping in for one random ingredient. They came with a purpose. People seemed to have a bit more time to think about their food, where it came from, who they bought it from – all those things we should think about every day but gets lost when we’re rushing around. Everyone had a bit more time for everybody - it was lovely.

“Those initial weeks, anyone running their own small business had to think outside the box. As cheesemakers, we have staff we must look after, but also animals that we can’t stop milking just because there’s no demand. So, we had to keep milking, we had to keep making cheese, and keep finding somewhere to sell it.

The Olive Stall at the English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh
The Olive Stall at the English Market , Cork City. Picture: Clare Keogh

“We were so thankful to have The English Market, but we had to think of other ways. The online shop was great, then we opened a shop in Dublin basically because we had to keep everything going. We had to keep making cheese, we also had a stock of fresh food with a relatively short shelf life. We would have gone out of business if we just stopped.

“It was crisis mode and firefighting, and I think most small producers were in the same position.”

Despite the firefighting, Jenny-Rose and Toby capitalised on challenges to build back stronger than before. They moved to a new, larger warehouse in Bandon which will soon open as a warehouse shop for purchasing bulk items. They received a Rural Business Development grant from IRD Duhallow to upgrade their cheesemaking equipment and increase production capacity.

The Dublin expansion continues with a Christmas Pop Up Shop in Arnott’s Department Store, plus a Pop-Up collaboration with ABC at The English Market’s Start Up Stall for December selling mince pieces, Christmas confectionery, hampers, and other festive treats.

In 2022, there are plans to introduce new cheeses using fresh buffalo and cow milk from their own herd; honey, yogurt, and a range of other handcrafted delights inspired by what is grown and reared on the farm; even talk of using farm-grown fig leaves as rennet for cheesemaking! The fear of those early days hasn’t dampened their creativity - quite the opposite.

“When you’ve built a business up over 28 years, it really is something you want to fight for,” says Jenny-Rose.

“Hopefully we will come out the other side of it stronger.”

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