Cork's English Market traders: People’s kindness got us through this past year

This week KATE RYAN continues to shine a light on some of the traders at Cork’s English Market, as they reflect on 2021
Cork's English Market traders: People’s kindness got us through this past year

Donal and Virginia O'Gara, owners of My Goodness in the English Market, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane

THIS week in our series on Cork's English Market traders, I ask O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages, the Farmgate Café, and My Goodness about the year that’s been and future plans for a bright year ahead…

O’Flynn Gourmet Sausages – Declan O’Flynn

O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages can trace their roots back to 1900 when Declan O’Flynn’s great grandfather worked as a butcher for Denny’s and lived on Hodder’s Lane.

The tradition has stayed with the O’Flynn’s, their Gourmet Sausage company is in its third generation, and it’s still a family business.

Declan O’Flynn became involved in 1992, after his father, Liam O’Flynn, passed away.

“All my family were butchers going back to the 1900s, so we’re very authentic, making sausages, black and white pudding, tripe and drisheen.

“We have 20 people working for us now, four at The English Market. My wife, Anne, works the stall on occasion and my son, Jordan, he’s in college now and looks after our marketing as a side job for him.

Declan and Jordan O’Flynn of O'Flynn's Gourmet Sausages at the English Market in Cork. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Declan and Jordan O’Flynn of O'Flynn's Gourmet Sausages at the English Market in Cork. Picture: Brian Lougheed

“Everyone else works in our shop on Winthrop Street or in Wilton where our factory is. We’re one of the few businesses that manufacture within ten minutes of the city centre.”

The business was flying high, with restaurants and food service all major customers who relished the diversity of sausage flavours, with 50 to choose from, including black and white pudding. Repeated lockdowns hit the business hard and suddenly.

“It was a shock to us all, the way things shut down. We closed the stall at The English Market for about two weeks, Winthrop Street for a bit longer. 

"The city was like a ghost town, it was frightening, to be honest. All our food service clients went overnight, but very quickly retail went crazy.

“Within three months we had two new vans on the road and three new people working for us. The only outlet for people was to go to the supermarket – I think even my wife and I ended up having a date in a supermarket!

“People realised quickly what was happening and anyone supplying shops got a massive boost out of it. With everything that was negative, something positive came out of it. It was good for us in that sense.

“The biggest catalyst of all was getting listed with Musgraves – we’ve gone national with them, and now we’re in nearly all SuperValus in Munster, the majority in Leinster, and we’re spreading out through the midlands too.

“We’re also in 12 Tesco stores in County Cork, and Dunnes in Cork, too.”

Losing the food service side of their business made O’Flynn’s concentrate on retail.

“We’ve invested massively at our factory in Wilton, €250,000 in the last year alone on a new production line. We saw what was coming, and that has given us massive capacity to drive it forward.

“When we reopened the stall in The English Market, there was no-one around town. That place has been through a lot, there was a lot of camaraderie and determination to keep the place open, keep the lights on.

“Everyone pulled together; the team around us – suppliers, other traders in The English Market - we’ve a fierce connection of supporting each other.

“There were some fairly gloomy days for sure, but every day seemed to get a little bit better. We learned a lot from it; we learned a lot from the customers, it was a bit surreal, very intimate.”

For Christmas, O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages at The English Market will be the place to go for festive sausage meats, cocktail sausages, and of course, breakfast sausages for Christmas morning.

“I think this will be a good Christmas for everyone this year,” says Declan.

Ruth Feeley, The Farmgate Café
Ruth Feeley, The Farmgate Café

The Farmgate Café – Ruth Feeley

Kay Harte and Maróg O’Brien opened The Farmgate Café in 1994, a decade after establishing The Farmgate Café and Country Store in Midleton. Ruth Feeley is the General Manager of The Farmgate at The English Market.

“It’s been a very challenging year, especially having to repeatedly close and reopen,” says Ruth.

“What was positive was having headspace to open up a shop and develop the stall. We talked about it for so long, but when Covid hit, we had to become more creative.

“Even developing recipes and making sure the consistency was there; that the Cottage Pie was always as good. That’s been the challenge for us, but also really interesting.”

As well as the shop and stall, The Farmgate also began a Click & Collect service, which proved so popular it remains available.

“We also have people who need us to cater for a last-minute family dinner, and we’re very open to doing whatever we can for people. I think that’s what’s good about myself, Rebecca, and Pam [Kelly, head chef] is that we’ll pull something out of the bag if we need to. We’re quite willing to step outside our comfort zone.”

The uniqueness of The Farmgate is its proximity to The English Market - their larder.

“It’s what makes The Farmgate special,” says Ruth. “If someone comes and they want liver and bacon, or a particular piece of fish, we can run downstairs, get it and cook it for them. We always try to accommodate people, and it’s great to have the fishmonger’s and butcher’s downstairs so we have that availability. It just makes the dining experience better.”

The shop, stall, and Click & Collect kept everything ticking over until August when, finally, they could welcome customers back.

“In lots of ways, it was emotional. A lot of us that work in The Farmgate have done so for a long time. We’d know our regulars well; to not have seen them in such a long time, it was just so lovely to welcome them, and the tourists, again.

“It’s what we do. People in the service industry are social people, we need that busy environment. To not have that is very hard so it’s good to have that experience back.”

The Farmgate recently reopened after renovations. Customers will have experienced the new look, feel and layout. Change is hard, but, says Ruth, necessary to move with the times.

“It’s important for us to keep what’s true to The Farmgate. What will never change are the core recipes; the bread will always be good, the stew will always be good, and the chowder will always be there. But we need to make sure the space works for everybody, customers and staff.

“With Covid, we all need to be more aware of how near we are to each other, and to ensure we can service the restaurant, the café, and stall. We had to take a lot of things into account.”

An extended kitchen with an open pass means diners can see their chefs cooking up a storm. The pastry counter has been extended, and both restaurant and café customers can expect table service. The two Princes Street entrances provide separate access to the restaurant and café with the main staircase as exit.

“We’re completely flipping it on its head,” says Ruth. “There will be better continuity across the restaurant, and it’s easier for us to manage. The service will be better for it.”

As well their delicious festive hampers to suit an array of pockets, for groups looking to celebrate together in style this Christmas there is the option to exclusively hire The Farmgate. Groups between 25 and 40 will be seated in the dining room and treated to a private dining experience.

“It’s a little bit exclusive,” says Ruth. “There’s something really special about The English Market after dark!”

My Goodness – Virginia O’Gara

Virginia O’Gara is a founder of My Goodness, the quirky raw vegan food stall in The English Market.

“We never stopped production, we never paused at all. A lot of the farmers’ markets closed down, so we were lucky to have The English Market there as a safe place for people to shop and enjoy good food.

“From the beginning of the pandemic to today, people really valued health. We make fermented food and drinks, foods with a lot of vitamin C like fermented cabbages; other things where our vitamins and minerals are hidden, like our Hibiscus Kefir and Dill Dearg Kraut.

Donal and Virginia O'Gara of 'My Goodness' in the English Market, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Donal and Virginia O'Gara of 'My Goodness' in the English Market, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“These things became more popular than ever, so for that reason – no matter how tired we were - we had to keep working. We feel very lucky that we were able to, and that we had such great support from the community at large.”

In 2019, My Goodness began selling excess locally grown organic vegetables from local farms, many of whom grow to order for some of Cork’s high-end restaurants – such as Gort na Nain Farm.

“Right around lockdown time, Lucy Stewart and Ultan Walsh of Gort na Nain Farm were growing exquisite asparagus for Café Paradiso. We were lucky enough to visit their farm - these guys are above and beyond, so it was a real pleasure to give them a venue to sell their asparagus, and then some.

“From that point on, we’ve worked with them to grow Daikon radishes and other crops that they wouldn’t necessarily grow, all different types of chillies and hot peppers; we exclusively make our Notcho Cheeze from their potatoes now, so that was an unexpected outcome of the pandemic.

“Even amidst all the fear about businesses closing down and crops going to waste, it was nice to be able to have a venue to help farmers sell their produce and to help provide the best produce for the people in the city of Cork.

“Another fun thing were GIYers who started to bring us their glut. They heard we sold local produce, so they’d stop by and drop off excess cucumbers or apples. We started a Free Box of glut produce people had donated and could be taken away for free. That’s something we’d like to work on more – just to celebrate that.

“Something I found very heartening about working at The English Market was that Cork people were very kind and supportive of each other. Even as policies changed, people were willing to go along with that; it was managed so well by Orla [Lannin, Market Operations], and the City Council.

“I remember when children were thought to be culprits for spreading virus. Several of our customers are single parents, and we wanted them to be able to shop with us. We talked to the City Council about it, that single parents were being left behind, that they need good food too and shouldn’t be marginalised. They agreed with us and changed their policy so single parents could come in with their children and shop for the healthiest food for their families.”

Behind the positive vibes was a personal challenge for Virginia, originally from Texas.

“My dad fell – he wasn’t well, that was pretty hard. It was good to be able to get back to Texas and spend three weeks with him, getting things ready for him so he could be independent and live well. I feel very fortunate I was able to do that and that everyone in My Goodness worked as hard as ever to keep the business going.

“It’s been a really nice time to get closer together. We’re so lucky to have that community in our business.”

For Christmas this year, My Goodness are offering their Vegan Survival Kit, (€55), everything you need for the awkward vegan…

“It keeps growing every year!” says Virginia. “This year we’re adding cornbread stuffing and mushroom gravy. There’s a nut loaf, a main, a couple of sides, sauerkraut crackers, fermented cheeze, sweet treats, a probiotic sparkling drink – all the things we would love to eat!”

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