How are Cork restaurants, food producers and others in the food industry responding to the COVID-19 crisis?

There’s a food revolution happening in a time of social distancing, says Kate Ryan of Flavour.ie, who looks at how restaurants, food producers and others in the food industry are responding to the COVID-19 crisis here in Cork
How are Cork restaurants, food producers and others in the food industry responding to the COVID-19 crisis?
Martin Poucher and Jack Crotty, founders of Neighbourfood. Photo Joleen Cronin

WRITING about the fast-paced world of food means that I am used to trying to keep track of a moving target. New openings, pop ups, events, markets, chefs moving around and producers coming and going, growing and merging.

But since Covid19 arrived into the world, it’s changed more than ever, doused with fear of whether or not businesses and livelihoods will survive.

Coming into 2020, the restaurant sector, in particular, already was under severe strain. High rates and rents, a massive VAT increase, improvement in the minimum wage, insurance premiums skyrocketing and rising costs all along the supply chain meant that a sector already operating on the slimmest of margins was on thin ice. What definitely wasn’t needed was a virtual lock-down due to Social Distancing.

Just a short few weeks ago I was sipping a pre-luncheon cocktail on the roof of The Marker Hotel in Dublin celebrating some of our best food producers in Ireland. It was sunny, and we joked about how to greet each other; but we sat, laughed, shared stories and dined together. I miss eating with other people. I miss being able to warmly greet people. I miss the connection of community. But, just as things started to take a dramatic turn, something literally clicked.

I started a link on my Facebook page. “Show me your links!” I proclaimed. We might not be able to meet physically anymore, but we can still support one another’s businesses. Online shops, delivery and click and collect services; online workshops, courses, ebooks, copywriting services and coaching.

Takeaway services and groceries, online coffee meetings, yoga workshops and dorky dance parties.

Links to virtual tours of museums and art galleries around the world; free Opera from Paris, online cinema, access to 300,000 books for free via the online New York Public Library. For 48 hours it was a thread of beautifully positive, uplifting suggestions for ways to support local businesses, cultural centres, free advice and clickable links.

And then, I noticed something that cheered me even more.

Backs to the wall restauranteurs may be, but they’re not ready to surrender yet. Restaurants creating special takeaway menus, ordering over the phone, pay by card and pick up at the door or delivered.

Kate Ryan of www.flavour.ie
Kate Ryan of www.flavour.ie

Supermarkets started offering early doors elderly-only shopping times; and local producers, suffering the loss of food service and restaurant trade, were connecting with customers new and old through platforms such as NeighbourFood.

Growers of seasonal veg were offering home delivery veg box schemes; farmers offering meats, originally destined for restaurants, to local customers – fill your freezer! Innovation, en masse; thinking outside the box – yes for survival, but also finding new ways to connect.

Ireland is a resourceful place. We are lucky that we produce so much of our own food – brilliant food from brilliant people. We don’t need to panic buy: Ireland is a bountiful land and what we make and grow will be redirected to us as we spend more time cooking and eating at home, than in restaurants.

For those who have spent years ploughing their heart and soul into their restaurant business, many of whom I call close friends, I am devastated to see restaurants who can’t pivot and change up their offering close, promising “We’ll Be Back”.

One chef confided in me their utter heartbreak after putting everything into their restaurant only to see it stand idle and empty with no prospect of returning to normality. Some places indeed may never open again. Some producers may not see the other side of this either.

A food producer friend of mine said to me that she felt ashamed actively selling products at this time. I asked why, when everyone is rooting for our local businesses: food or otherwise; and we all need to feel some semblance of normality in an otherwise abnormal situation.

There is absolutely no shame in trying to continue running a business – and that includes continuing to sell produce, product and service.

A healthy dose of positivity is what we all need right now, so I wanted to share some of my favourite initiatives I have seen taken up over the past week or two. Maybe you can support them too, find out what else is happening in your community and give them a shout out. Cork will indeed be back, but in the meantime…

  • Irish Distillers, Clonakilty Distillery and 9 White Deer Brewery have started making alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Pilgrim’s Restaurant are operating a Pick-Up and Provisions service Thursday to Sunday for anyone lucky enough to live within 2km of Rosscarbery town square. A slimmed down locavore menu of the best seasonal foods, plus an ever growing list of provisions via their own garden and carefully selected suppliers to the restaurant. Check out the menu on their social media. Order and pay over the phone and collect at a pre-arranged time.
  • NeighbourFood is coming into its own by connecting us with top quality locally made foods from our wonderful small producers. Register for free, pick your local collection point, browse, buy online and collect at the designated collection point making this service virtually contactless. Many are increasing their shop and collect days.
  • West Cork Coffee is currently offering 20% off all online orders for coffee, equipment and merch plus free shipping in ROI too!
  • Gubbeen Farmhouse Products are offering a home delivery scheme for all their beautiful porky products and cheeses. Email smokehouse@gubbeen.com for full information.
  • SenseAsian Fayre, Ballincollig, is offering contactless payment via PayPal or over the phone for baskets of €35 or more, delivered free within Ballincollig area or collect from store.
  • Woodcock Smokery, makes of wild smoked fish products are offering 15% local discount for all fish ordered and collected from the premises near Castletownshend, Skibbereen when using the code: WESTCORKCOMMUNITY.
  • Urru Culinary Store, Bandon is happy to build a hamper to any budget for collection. Everything from store cupboard essentials to fresh veg, cheese and a fabulous wine collection too.
  • See too also, On The Pigs Back.
  • Alison Health is offering online nutritional consultations to support immune system functionality. www.alisonhealth.com
  • Exploding Tree are offering a lots of handmade chocolate goodies and gift ideas via their online shop for home delivery, including a monthly Chocolate Subscription, Easter Bunnies, Truffles and a Selection Box of their best sellers. Also, check out their excellent Experimenters Kit designed to get you cooking and baking. www.explodingtree.com
  • Curious Wines, Tramore Road, is running a Secret Parcel sale! 12 bottles of outstanding wine, 8 red and 4 white, for €135 including delivery saving 35%.

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