Cork deli owners: This is the bravest thing we’ve ever done

Owners of Pickled Deli in Macroom, Katy Walsh and Keely Buckley, chat to KATE RYAN about the growing success of their business, which they opened almost two years ago, in an old family shop
Cork deli owners: This is the bravest thing we’ve ever done

Katy Walsh and Keely Buckley who run pickled in Macroom. Pictures: Lee Valley Enterprise

BRIGHTLY daubed in hues of cerise pink and hot orange, Pickled Deli near Macroom’s market square is hard to miss, and impossible to walk by without picking up something super delicious!

Run by partners Katy Walsh, 33 and Keely Buckley, 38, who first met while working at The Farmgate Café in the English Market, the deli opened almost two years ago, in June, 2021, and ever since the pair have built their name as a quality neighbourhood deli where community runs in the blood.

The location of Pickled Deli has ties to Keeley’s family running back at least four, possibly five, generations; but for her it will always be her grandmother’s old electrical shop and where she whiled away hours fixing old strings of Christmas lights.

“When I was a kid, every day after school I used to come here, hang out with my grandmother and fix Christmas lights – going through every bulb. The shop was here until at least 2002; after that it was rented out to various businesses, but the last time it became free again Katy and I said we wanted to do this. It was a now or never moment.”

Hot Sandwich Special.
Hot Sandwich Special.

Keeley’s grandmother has always been her number one supporter, says Katy.

“She knew Keeley’s background and talent and would have loved to see her go for it; but she wasn’t pushy, just really encouraging and supportive.”

By February, 2021, works began on extensively renovating the unit housed in an old building. By June, Pickled Deli was ready and open for business, bright and airy and starting a new chapter.

Keeley and Katy have spent their careers working in hospitality. Katy, originally from Glanmire, always loved the buzz of hospitality, making perfect coffees and having the chat over the counter.

“I liked the idea of being my own boss, but never put the two together. I don’t think I would have done something like this by myself, it’s a lot to take on for one person,” says Katy.

Rhubarb and Custard Cruffins
Rhubarb and Custard Cruffins

Keeley honed her skills in the kitchen, especially baking, developing a talent and love for sweet buns and cakes while working at the Crawford Art Gallery café.

“I started very young with food, working for The Real Olive Co, the Farmgate Café, then the Crawford. I knew I was comfortable around food, so, by the time Katy and I were ready to rock here, I’d gathered a good bit of experience, even though it didn’t feel like that at the time!”

Pickled Deli is a daytime take-away-deli specialising in voluptuously filled sandwiches with a weekly hot special, such as slow cooked Wagyu beef short-rib with bone marrow, gravy mayo, and peppery leaves. There’s an ever-changing roster of fresh, scratch-made salads, cakes, scones, tarts, and devilishly moreish sticky buns – a veritable smorgasbord of delights.

Katy largely takes care of the front of shop, relishing the role as chief barista, while Keeley gets creative in the kitchen, switching up between sweet and savoury creations.

But as any young business knows, roles are fluid and they often find themselves giving the other a hand during busy times.

“We’re very supportive of each other, and we work really well together,” says Keeley.

“We’ve been together five years, but because we met working together, that really helped,” says Katy, “we already knew the good and the bad beforehand!”

Blackberry and Pistachio Bake.
Blackberry and Pistachio Bake.

“Before we opened, I did think about how that would be, but there was more stress before we opened because it was all really unknown, so much uncertainty and so many decisions to make; in a way, we just needed to get it open and get going,” says Katy.

“So far so good anyway,” jokes Keeley, “We’re still here, we’re still open, we’re still together and we’re still talking!”

Pickled Deli has nestled itself nicely into the Macroom community, so much so that, for some of their regular customers, their frequent orders for coffee and cake or favourite lunch combos now easily trip off Katy’s memory.

“People are creatures of habit, you can see someone coming and you could almost have their order ready for them, which is great,” says Katy.

They are building a community here, and that’s easier to create in a market town with customers who regularly come through the door, than in a big city.

“It’s a lovely part of being in the town; people know us by name, and we know many of our customers by name, so it’s a nice atmosphere. A lot of people remember when Pickled Deli used to be my grandmother’s electrical shop,” says Keeley.

“We’d try to tell her how popular she still was with local people, but she couldn’t grasp it, and people still ask after her even now.”

That sense of community extends to where they source many of their ingredients.

“Michael Twomey Butchers are our meat supplier. The quality of their meat is so good, it’s right on our doorstep, and they are so helpful with everything. We have Breda McCarthy for our vegetables, she comes in every morning from Ballyvourney, and she had a veg stall in the square for a long time. During the summer, Carolyn Robson supplies us with all our salad leaves, she’s in the market, too,” explains Keeley.

The shop is open five days a week, but the duo work a six-day week to get ahead of prepping and proving, baking and all the usual business administration. It’s a busy life, and a big change from before, but they still make time to relax.

Buttercream Occasion Cake.
Buttercream Occasion Cake.

“The only day we don’t think about the shop is Sunday when we can both switch off, and that’s sacred!” says Keeley.

“We’ve always worked hard in all the jobs we’ve ever done, so I don’t think we’re necessarily working any harder, just way longer hours and there’s a lot more to do; but it is different when you’re doing it for yourself,” says Katy.

“Definitely,” agrees Keely, “It’s great that this business is ours; we get up really early because it’s for us. We want to have a lovely display every day, and especially on a Saturday, and take pride in it.”

“I remember saying to Keeley, what if, after a few days or weeks, nobody’s coming. But we really couldn’t think like that, we had to put it all behind us and just go for it – so when we do look back now, we are so glad we did it,” says Katy.

“It’s probably one of the bravest things we’ve ever done,” says Keeley. “We couldn’t believe we’d done it, and took until about Christmas, when we finally took a short break, that everything hit us.

“But we’re happier here doing this than we’ve ever been before, so it’s definitely worth it.”

Pickled Deli is open Tuesday-Friday, 8.30am-4pm, Saturday, 9-3pm. The order book is always open for occasion cakes and savoury platters for celebration and corporate events. Follow their adventures on Instagram @pickled.deli.

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