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Restaurant turns shuttered €16,000 outdoor dining area into farm shop

Food business owners are coming up with inventive ways to stay in business, including a pizza ’n’ pints drive-thru in Dundrum

Gaz Smith at his pop-up farm shop which opens today at his Michael’s restaurant in Mount Merrion. Photographs: Fran Veale

Reinvention is the name of the game for restaurants in 2020, and as the latest lockdown restrictions take hold, quick thinking food business owners are coming up with survival plans that go beyond meal kits and takeaway.

In Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, chef and restaurateur Gaz Smith, spent €16,000 creating an outdoor dining space at his restaurant, Michael’s. He hired design team Quiver to install a smart, all-weather terrace with screens, awnings and heating. After just three weeks in use, the tables and chairs are gone, and instead the space has been converted to a greengrocer and farm shop, which opens today at 2pm.

In Dundrum, Dublin 14, a drive-through offering pizzas and pints to take away has replaced the outdoor dining and drinking set-up at Uncle Tom’s Cabin bar and restaurant on Dundrum road. The pizzas are being made by the Dublin Pizza Company, there is coffee to take away from the venue’s Community Coffee, and if it’s something stronger you want, the price of a pint of Guinness, in a takeaway holder, has been reduced to €5.

The Pizza ’n’ Pints Drive-Thru at Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dundrum, Dublin 14.

The move into retail sales at Smith’s South Co Dublin business is part of a bigger plan that will see his adjacent restaurant, Little Mike’s, renamed Little Lockdown, and turned into a food and wine shop. “We’ll have snack food to takeaway - crab croquettes, arancini, scotch eggs, moules frites - as well as selling dinners to heat up at home, cheeses straight from the farms, charcuterie, oysters, breads, and the organic veg outside on the terrace,” he says.

Click and collect restaurant meals from Michael’s will continue to be on sale. “The idea is that when you come to collect your food, you can also pick up some great produce that these small growers and producers would otherwise be supplying to restaurants and now have nowhere to sell it to.” The initiative will alsokeep two of his floor staff in employment, he hopes.

The pop-up farm shop will be open to the public from 2pm to 6pm today, and from noon to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday. Social distancing will apply. Organic lettuces, cabbages, cavolo nero, swedes, parsnips, pumpkins and Jerusalem artichokes from Castleruddery Organic Farm in Co Wicklow will be on sale. Riversfield Organic Farm in Co Kilkenny is supplying rainbow carrots, spinach, golden beetroot and cherry tomatoes. Oliver Kelly from Co Wicklow will have Pink Fir and Charlotte potatoes, as well as onions and leeks. Organic mushrooms will be from Joe Gorman in Co Offaly.

Cheese and charcuterie, also otherwise destined for restaurant kitchens, has also been sourced, including a rare aged Boyne Valley Bán goat’s cheese from Co Louth, and will be sliced to order.

Michael’s floor staff Conor Connolly and Caoimhe Walsh who have been redeployed to the pop-up shop.

The move from restaurant to food shop is a model first adopted in Dublin during the Covid-19 pandemic by Forest Avenue in Dublin 4, which is still operating as a greengrocer and food shop, having pioneered the switch in mid-March. Host in Ranelagh followed suit, and more recently other restaurants, including Sage in Midleton, Potager in Skerries and Beach House in Tramore, have also opened food shops.

In Dundrum, Barry Cassidy, who set up the family-friendly outdoor dining facility at Uncle Tom's Cabin during the spring lockdown in March and has now pivoted to a drive-through in the extensive car park. “Like many other businesses, we’ve had to adapt the entire way we operate and this let to the creation of the outdoor Community Food Hub, which was very popular with customers, old and new,” he says. “Now, over the next six weeks, we are facing another challenge but we’re working hard to make sure our local customers can enjoy a top-quality takeaway service.”

The drive-through will be open from 4pm to 10pm, Monday to Friday, and from 2pm to 10pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

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