New traders: 'I intend being here until I'm a ripe old age'
Robbie’s Greengrocer & Food Store: A year after he opened in Kilmacud, Robbie Malone is seeing the fruits of his labours
Robbie Malone, his son Dean and sister Tina Norton at Robbie’s Greengrocer in Kilmacud, Dublin. James Forde for the Irish Times
Robbie’s Greengrocer and Food Store is to Kilmacud what Naturalia is to Paris and Harvest Market is to Brooklyn: a greengrocer and food store redefining the definition of a greengrocer and food store.
It’s hard to miss or resist, hard to walk by the stacked fresh fruit and veg and the come-on-in feeling spilling across the footpath. Inside there’s good cheer and a buzzing repartee and an energising style. Ceiling-high shelves and counters are packed with local delicacies and delights as well as Italian and other goodies. Classy wooden boxes carry Robbie’s name and a range of fruit and veg you’d be hard put to match anywhere; fresh breads from Wicklow are piled on tables alongside pates and cheeses; fresh coffee gurgles in an envy-inducing coffee-maker.
Robbie Malone, just a year after setting up shop, is well pleased with how things are going.
“I opened the doors on the 25th of January 2018 and people came immediately. I’d had the heebie-jeebies all over Christmas, wondering if going out on my own was a terrible mistake. But customers followed from where I’d worked before, said they wanted to shop with me. This place [3 Drummartin Road] had been vacant for four years and was only half the size it is now. When more space became available we jumped on it, gutted the shop and started again. We increased the range, made it more comfortable to shop in.”
Malone is personable, likeable, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, a man made for retail. The seventh child in a family of eight, he grew up in Sandymount and Ballinteer, a quintessential southsider who has known from an early age that retail was for him.
“I worked in Superquinn as a kid, trained under Fergal Quinn – the master retailer as far as I’m concerned. I worked for 27 years in a shop in Stillorgan. I was front of house and running the place, customers even called it Robbie’s, until I began to feel it should be going in a different direction. I felt people were coming back to smaller shops, that there was a market for the exotic. I’d taken the job as far as I could, wanted to put my stamp on my own place, so I moved on.”
He wanted to stay in the area too, and did. “I came up with funky names but a marketing guy advised that Robbie’s was a good, established name.” His grin makes it seem the venture was inevitable but, at 46 years old and with a family of three, the leap from employee to business owner was a big one. He couldn’t have done it without the “fantastic help and support” of family, without the staff team he’s gathered around him.
He’d “be lost without Dean”, 25 and the oldest of his three children. “He’s a graphic artist but has taken time off to help and been superb.” Jenny, Malone’s wife of 28 years, “is 100 per cent behind the venture” too. Their younger children, Jamie (12) and Anna (10), are too young to be a part of things, but love being in the shop. Staff is vital, Malone says, and he’s got a fantastic team. His sister Tina (eighth and last in the Malone family) helps out; so does nephew Thomas. Keeping things local are Emily and Alba, who work for him – “the best there is”.
He carries a huge choice of “the best foods that people want”. Choices include breads from Firehouse Bakery Delgany (their sourdough is a speciality), bog carrots from Kinnegad and rainbow carrots “of every colour”. He carries kaki, figs and kumquats, “as well as your everyday stuff and a massive range of Italian foods – pasta, sauces, meats, cheese”. He sells wine, too, “good-quality but not exorbitantly priced. The response to it has been fantastic.” And he carries Irish artisan cheeses, Leinster Honey, Tara Hill Honey, Julie’s Granola, Kilbeggan Porridge Oats. “We sell Olvi Oils too, pesto and vinaigrette and more made by father and daughter Sam and Miriam, in their small kitchen in Kimmage and delivered directly to the shop.”
Things have changed in the city markets and he doesn’t need to be there every day at dawn, as was once the case. “It’s in the process of changing to telesales, so I go in two days a week but don’t haul what I buy home. What I buy on a Monday is delivered fresh every day until Thursday.”
Adding Coffee to Go (coffee from McCabes of Wicklow) has been another success. “If we’re busy we’ll tell people to help themselves to a free coffee. It buys us a few minutes. We’re all systems go on bio-degradable packaging. Most of our stuff is loose, of course, or in combustible packaging. Our aim for 2019 is to be 100 per cant bio and combustible. We’ve got our own canvas bags-for-life too.”
The shop has been made welcome by other retailers on the strip. “It’s helped rejuvenate things for the chemist, Flemings the butchers, Hollingsworth Cycles – they’re all here a long time and say there’s a new buzz these days.”
For the future he’d like “a bit of time off. I got the keys on New Year’s Day 2018 and I’ve taken eight days off since, putting in 12 to 14-hour days. I always did but now it’s more rewarding. We’ve no plans to open more shops, will just keep making this one better. I intend being here until I’m a ripe old age.”
I leave with a Robbie’s canvas bag – sturdy and well thought-out, definitely one for the long haul.
Robbie’s Greengrocer and Food Store, 3 Drummartin Road, Kilmacud, Dublin 14. Phone 01-5982907