Cocktails, camembert and cooking classes: Donnybrook Fair comes to Dundrum

New store will open on December 3rd with food hall, restaurant and private dining

Des O’Mahony,  Donnybrook Fair managing director, at its new Dundrum Town Centre store. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Des O’Mahony, Donnybrook Fair managing director, at its new Dundrum Town Centre store. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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It’s two weeks to opening day and Donnybrook Fair’s new Dundrum outlet is abuzz with builders laying the finishing touches to the artisan grocer’s sixth Irish store.

The high-end specialist grocer, now a part of the Musgrave Group, is looking to bring a taste of Dublin 4 to Dundrum Town Centre, with the opening of an extensive food hall, restaurant and bar in a recently renovated building in the shopping centre’s Pembroke Square.

Amid the hard hats and cherry pickers, Donnybrook Fair managing director Des O’Mahony says the new outlet is going to be “very different” to the brand’s existing stores, and he sees the offering as a “real food adventure for people”. The new 900sq m (9,688sq ft) store will have a food market on the ground floor, featuring everything one expects from Donnybrook Fair, such as a butcher and cheese counter, but will also feature several pop-up culinary experiences, cooking classes and wine tastings, a private dining area, as well as offering freshly cooked pizzas and street food to go.

The new outlet is the result of a €4.5 million investment, and will create 70 jobs. It’s located in what is arguably the most attractive building in Dundrum, a sympathetic restoration and reconstruction of an existing terrace of houses.

Opening so close to Christmas – the planned date is Friday, December 3rd – brings its own set of challenges, but so too does the uncertainty around the Covid-19 pandemic.

A computer-generated image of Donnybrook Fair’s new restaurant, Loft, in Dundrum Town Centre
A computer-generated image of Donnybrook Fair’s new restaurant, Loft, in Dundrum Town Centre

It’s not just a food market after all that Donnybrook Fair is building in Dundrum – the first floor will be home to Loft, a new casual restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and evening meals, with a full alcohol licence.

Donnybrook Fair wasn’t even supposed to be in the building; in 2018 artisan Irish grocer Fallon & Byrne agreed a deal with Dundrum landlord Hammerson to take over the space in April 2020 with a flagship food hall, delicatessen and restaurant. However, it pulled the plug on its Rathmines outlet in early 2020, and subsequently Dundrum, and is now understood to be concentrating on its outlets on Exchequer Street and in Dún Laoghaire.

Its departure left a gap that Donnybrook Fair is happy to have filled, although O’Mahony won’t disclose if the terms of the lease it struck with Hammerson in the wake of Fallon & Byrne was a particularly favourable one.

The opening of the Dundrum store brings the chain’s footprint in Ireland to six shops, four in Dublin (Donnybrook, Stillorgan, Malahide and Baggot Street) and one in Wicklow (Greystones).

The brand celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, something that is marked with a banner on the ground floor of the new store.

It was founded in Donnybrook – where else – by Joe Doyle, but was acquired by Irish food wholesaler Musgrave in 2018 in a deal worth up to €25 million.

Now, some three years on from the deal, Musgrave is moving forward with its investment, with the Dundrum flagship store the first step towards significant growth for the brand.

The Doyles are no longer involved in the business, with O’Mahony assuming the top job at the artisan grocer in March 2020, “a strange time to start a new job”, he recalls.

O’Mahony has a strong Musgraves heritage; he joined the group the same year Donnybrook Fair was founded, in 2001, and spent much of his career in marketing. He’ll bring some of this marketing nous to his new job, which he sees as “rejuvenating and rebuilding a great heritage brand”.

Planning the new Dundrum store soon became a focus for O’Mahony, back when “we didn’t imagine Covid would still be with us”.

Donnybrook Fair’s ‘store within a store’ in SuperValu has helped the company increase revenue
Donnybrook Fair’s ‘store within a store’ in SuperValu has helped the company increase revenue

Dundrum is one element of the brand’s growth strategy which is focused on four strands: opening new stores; selling its products in SuperValu outlets; increasing its online presence; and increasing production at its recently revamped Clondalkin food preparation facility.

On opening new stores, the brand has no plans to expand as of yet.

“We don’t have a next store yet – we’ve just spent a year and a half planning this one,” says O’Mahony, but adds, “we’re always on the lookout for new sites”.

While the brand is “primarily” focused on Dublin, O’Mahony says it could yet go significantly further than its Dublin 4 origins; the brand’s goods are selling well in SuperValu in Waterford, he says, and he doesn’t see the Dublin-focused brand name as a hindrance to the potential opening of stores in Cork, Limerick or Waterford.

“We would definitely see a market outside of Dublin,” he says.

Selling its goods in SuperValu may be a first step to a wider national expansion strategy, helping customers around the country become familiar with the brand.

With five stores, Donnybrook Fair has an annual turnover of about €24-€25 million, but O’Mahony sees significant potential to increase this.

“Our ambition for the future is very much based on growth,” he says.

While he won’t put a figure on where he sees turnover growing to, he says “expansion into SuperValu will really drive that turnover number very strongly for us”.

“Given the extent of the SuperValu network and size of it – it’s a significant opportunity to grow,” he says.

This store within a store concept is something Dunnes Stores – which had been a potential buyer of Donnybrook Fair before being pipped to the post by Musgrave – has done particularly well, with its links with Sheridans Cheesemongers, James Whelan Butchers and Appassionata Flowers.

So far, Donnybrook Fair products are being stocked in six SuperValu stores, mainly in Dublin, but the plan is for greater availability.

Online is another area O’Mahony hopes to increase over the coming year, enhancing the store’s ecommerce outlet.

“We saw a lot of growth during the pandemic,” he says, noting the popularity of food boxes and gifts such as hampers.

This year Donnybrook Fair is offering “Christmas in a box” – enough food to feed eight people for Christmas Day and the day after for €265.

The increase in products it can sell, either in its own stores, via SuperValu or online, is thanks to the group’s Clondalkin facility – Donnybrook Fair Central Kitchen – where it has just spent €3.5 million on an upgrade, a move that will create 50 further jobs.

“To grow the sales into SuperValu, we needed to revamp that facility and invest the money,” he says.

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