Country Choice opened its doors in Nenagh in 1982, when Peter and Mary Ward were younger than their daughters are now.
In 2010 the Wards jumped at the chance to set up a stall at the newly redeveloped indoor Milk Market in Limerick. A market is very different to running a shop, says Peter. "A shop offers social engagement but is a serious business. The stall had to have a sense of fun." And it is a fun place to shop, says judge Simon Pratt. Daughter Eliza pioneered the concept of serving street food, so that customers could shop while they ate. Her sister Evie runs nearby Nutshed, selling vegan and paleo eats.
The stall has eight or nine staff dancing around each other in a choreographed waltz that never sees them bump into each other. The stock everything that they have in the shop in Nenagh, and the hot food is accessible and affordable. Setting up for the market means the family is up at 4.30am on Saturdays and the stall is open for business at 6.30am.
The first customers of the day are those coming off shift: gardaí, prison officers, taxi drivers and nurses, all looking for “the cure”, Country Choice’s full Irish with Sean Kelly’s black pudding, TJ Crowe’s sausage, dry cured bacon and a decent free range egg cooked in front of you and served on warm ciabatta. Mid-morning, it’s the cheese buyers. “They want a side of conversation as they are talked through the selection. We don’t talk about the weather or the match. We talk about food,” says Peter. And the conversation is as good as the food, says reader Colm Bergin.
Country Choice at the Milk Market, Limerick (Friday, Saturday and Sundays), 061-405403, milkmarketlimerick.ie