Select: The rise of the independent food shop

Going head-to-head with Tesco and the German goliaths takes courage but these new foodstores have done just that


It may seem foolhardy to go head-to-head with the might of Tesco and the German goliaths, but some plucky souls have done just that and opened smaller food stores, groceries and delis in the past few months. Just two weeks ago, Barry and Paul McNerney opened Lotts & Co Grocery (7 South Lotts Road, Dublin 4) in a former car garage in the Beggar’s Bush area. The brothers own Junior’s, Paulie’s Pizza and part of the Old Spot gastropub within a stone’s throw of their new shop. It’s been a “completely crazy few weeks” according to Barry, but already the store is busy with regulars. He feels this is because people are turning away from supermarkets and want something different to the generic shopping experience.

“I remember shopping with my mum as a kid. She knew her butcher, and he knew her and what she liked. We want people to know who’s behind the counter here, to know that they’re giving discerning advice, not just selling them anything. There’s definitely an appetite for that with shoppers.”

Open from 8am to 10pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 6pm Sundays, Lotts & Co is bright and airy, retaining the large car showroom windows, stone floors and wooden façade, with shiny new white subway tiles and metal finishes that give a clean, open feel. Shelves are stocked with a mix of wines (imported by wine merchant John Byrne, who’s an investor) and dry goods such as Oritz tunas, Bay Tree preserves, organic and gluten free flours and pulses, and the store’s own granolas.

There are fresh meat and fish counters open until 8pm daily, supplied by contacts built up over the years in the restaurant trade, such as George’s Fish in Monkstown, FX Buckley butchers and Sustainable Seafood Ireland. Sustainability and waste are a concern (despite a new business on his hands, McNerney says a bigger stress is the implication of bees dying off). “We want our food to be as local and sustainable as possible,” Barry says. “So our fish is line caught. The meat is from Daniel in FXB, who also passed on knowledge on dressing the meat counters and using different cuts.” And if fruit, veg, meat and fish don’t sell on any given day, they’re whipped into soups, salads and ready meals by a team who stock a large salad bar and turn out daily specials such as a fish pie to feed two (using the same recipe as Juniors) for €9, or eight large meatballs in tomato sauce with Parmesan (€7.95).

There’s organic Irish fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices from Irish Health Foods, bread supplied by The Bretzel in Portobello and a coffee counter serving Cloud Picker coffee (from 3.9km down the road according to a sign on the counter). There are plans for a breakfast bar and juices in the near future.

It’s a learning process McNerney says. “It’s so different to the restaurant business where you cook food, put it on a plate, serve it, and you’re done. With groceries you’ve got to worry about stock and presentation and what’s working and what isn’t. There’s 100 things on the go at once, but you certainly learn fast.”

Kennedy’s Food Store( 96 Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3, 01- 818 6824) is the third opening in Sarah Kennedy’s growing northside family of foodstores, cafes and delis (she already has stores in Fairview and Raheny). Facing the seafront, the brightly painted Clontarf store opened a couple of months ago and has pantry favourites such as Belvoir cordials, Natasha’s Living Foods, Pukka organic teas and gluten free mueslis and granolas. Breakfast and lunches are served from 8.30am to 6pm (9am Saturdays, 10am-4pm Sundays), with salad boxes from €6, soups, hot specials, cakes and scones to take away.

Taste of Clonakilty (41 Ashe Street, Clonakilty) has its work cut out in Clonakilty, which already has two very good food stores and delis – the excellent Lettercolumn Kitchen Project and the Fresh Fish Seafood Deli next door. But it seems there’s an endless appetite for good food in west Cork, so the focus on local foods at Taste of Clonakilty is sure to go down well. There are cakes from Heaven’s Cakes of Bandon, lots of antipasti ingredients from Toonsbridge in Macroom, local jams and meats, cheeses from Durrus and Gubbeen, and black pudding from Clonakilty – but of course – and Roscarbery. There’s a wide selection of take away salads (such as pecan, pear and blue cheese) and Thai meals from nearby Baan Sujittra.

Urban Health (9 Fields Terrace, The Triangle, Ranelagh, Dublin 6) is the latest opening to focus on health-promoting foods, eating plans and wellness. Urban Health is run by husband-and-wife team Dee and Darragh Buckley. Open seven days, from 8am Monday to Friday, later on weekends, it offers breakfast and lunches (such as Bircher muesli pots and red quinoa with feta cheese and strawberries), plus a juice and smoothie bar and bullet-proof coffees. The shelves are stocked with health foods and supplements such as Nua Naturals Cacoa powders and bee pollen, there are lots of paleo-friendly, gluten-free products, plus Manuka honey, nut butters, organic teas and even organic self tanning lotion. There are plans to expand upstairs in the autumn to offer a café and to expand the menu.

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