THERE was a hero’s welcome for one of Cork city’s most cherished businesses as it reopened earlier this month, having been closed since March due to Covid-19.
A global pandemic hasn’t been the first hurdle Shandon Sweets has had to overcome either.
In July of last year, a small commercial fire forced the much-loved sweet factory to close for almost five months.
Shandon Sweets reopened in December 2019 but had to close once again in March due to Government guidelines around Covid-19.
“If we didn’t have the fire last year we would have put up with it this year and as they say just suck it up and get on with it but it was just such a double blow,” owner Tony Linehan told The Echo.
“Last year I thought that that was it, that nothing could be worse than the fire — talk about speaking too soon!
“We were open around eleven weeks and on March 14 that was it. It started coming down the line. We were getting cancellations left, right and centre.”
Whilst Tony braced himself for a closure he felt would last more than a few weeks, he said he never could have anticipated being closed for months on end.
“The reason why we didn’t come back earlier was because most of our suppliers weren’t working,” he explained. “If I had no suppliers I couldn’t operate.
“People were crying out — they were asking me on Facebook, ‘how come you’re not back?’
“They said ‘ye are an essential service’. I said ‘I wish I was!’
“There’s no way we could get supplies so that’s why we waited until September 1 [to reopen].”
Since the reopening, the Cork city gem on John Redmond Street has been inundated with customers and the level of public support is something Tony says never ceases to amaze him.
“It’s been unbelievable altogether. People are just absolutely fantastic,” he said, speaking about the reception.
“We were busy after the fire but this time it’s just been unbelievably busy. People have always been supportive of us no matter what we went through.
“Of course I was a bit worried that people might have forgotten about Shandon Sweets after five months, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!”
Up until now, Tony ran the business alongside his father Danny but, after more than 50 years working there, Danny has now retired.
On the day I speak to Tony, it’s a day of two celebrations — Danny’s 80th birthday and his retirement do.
“He called it [decided to retire] during the lockdown,” Tony said. “He was going to call it when we had the fire but we came back in December last year and we were so busy that he just said he would fall back in because he’s a really fit, healthy 80-year-old.
“He said ‘I’ll fall in, see how it goes and then maybe in the spring think it over when I’m going to pack it in’ and then Covid happened and he went through the summer and he said ‘I’m getting used to my time off, that’s it’”.
It’s the end of an era for the father and son duo who have worked together for 40 years but also a celebration as Tony says it has been a privilege to work alongside his father throughout the decades.
“A lot of people say it takes a special person to work with your family.
“Like everybody else you do have your days where you don’t get on and you have your rows but overall it has been fantastic.
“I don’t think there are many people who could say they have worked alongside their father for 40 years,” he said.
Shandon Sweets has been in the Linehan family since the 1920s and younger generations are chomping at the bit to gain some experience in the unique business.
“I have nieces and nephews that are queuing up for summer work, for Christmas work and through college.
“I’ve had them all through here — all 13 of them,” Tony said.
“Anytime there’s a few bob to be made, they’re in looking for Uncle Tony!”
The business was started by Tony’s grandfather Jimmy but back then it was known as The Exchange Toffee Works.
“It was The Exchange Toffee Works because they made a lot of toffee back in the 30s, 40s and 50s and John Redmond Street was then Exchange Street so they combined the two to come up with the name.
“About 10 years ago we rebranded to Shandon Sweets because we took the logo and rebranded the whole lot and changed the name.
“We make everything from a full range of hard boiled sweets to marshmallows to fudges, rocks, lollipops — you name it.
“Toffee doesn’t really sell anymore,” Tony said. And although it has been in Cork for over 90 years, Shandon Sweets hasn’t lost its appeal. It continues to be adored by the young and old alike.
“Some of the customers we have coming in today have been coming in since they were in school and I’m talking about people in their 60s and 70s and they’re still coming in for their sweets.
“Their own children and their grandchildren are coming in now as well — it just seems to be generation after generation.
“You forget how historic it is when you’re working there.”
Tony said it is also a privilege to work in such a historic part of Cork city. But he would like to see more investment in the Shandon area.
“At the moment it’s getting a bit neglected with the craft centre at the top of the street which has been derelict for 10 years,” he said. “If they could just do a bit more with it, make it into more of a tourist attraction it would be fantastic because the amount of tourists I get in the summer that are just crying out for somewhere to go and there’s very little up there.
“If they did something with that craft centre, it would be an absolute goldmine because they’ve got the open top busses, the cruise liners, the Shandon tours, the walking tours and the first thing they look for is somewhere to go for coffee or for something to eat and there’s nowhere — the hotel is the nearest. “
Despite the “double blow” Shandon Sweets have gone through it’s onwards and upwards for the family business, which is planning on expanding its services to create a retail offering in the near future.
“We’re trying to get it up and running.
“It’ll be a click and collect service which hopefully we’ll have set up before Christmas but if not, it will be shortly after,” Tony said.
All in their own sweet time.