'Chippers' nationwide mourn loss of spice burger company

Thu, Jun 18, 2009, 01:00

TRADITIONAL IRISH cuisine has been dealt a blow with the demise of the company that invented that staple of chippers nationwide, the spice burger.

Walsh Family Foods closed its doors earlier this month with the loss of 50 jobs and a receiver is to be appointed to the business next week. The company, based in the Poppintree industrial estate in Finglas, could no longer sustain heavy losses caused by the weakness of sterling against the euro and tough competition from UK rivals.

One of its main customers, Tesco, recently cut the number of products it bought from the company from 16 to one, but internal sources said this was not a significant factor in Walsh’s closure.

Spice burgers have been on the Irish market since the early 1950s and were the first product manufactured by Walsh Family Foods. Pork butcher Maurice Walsh developed the product, described on its website as “a delicious blend of Irish beef, onions, cereals, herbs and spices coated with traditional outer crumb,” at the rear of his shop in Glasnevin.

From these humble beginnings, the firm expanded into burgers, garlic mushrooms and another favourite of chip-shop habituees, the onion ring. Maurice Walsh’s son and daughter, Paddy and Helen, joined him in the business as it grew and started to export to the UK and beyond.

The company patented its recipe for spice burgers, but the product’s popularity never really expanded beyond Ireland. It remained the only producer, so future supplies may depend on the ability of a receiver to find new interests to take over the business.

In 2000, the Walsh family sold most of its shareholding in the company to a management buy-in team and ICC Venture Capital. The team, led by Pat McCaughey, former managing director of Boyne Valley Group, purchased a controlling interest for less than €1.27 million. Annual turnover rose to €14 million, of which €4 million was in exports to Britain. However, the company lost heavily on a big contract in the UK where the price was set before sterling weakened. Mr McCaughey could not be contacted yesterday and there was no answer from the company’s telephones. However, a message on its lines on Tuesday stated that a receiver would be appointed on June 22nd. The firm closed after an appeal to Enterprise Ireland for emergency funding was rejected.

“They didn’t want to know,” said an internal company source. “It’s a sad tale.”