Johnny Ronan made an offer they ‘had no difficulty refusing’

The Irish Yeast Co, dating from 1894, rejected a Celtic Tiger offer

The Irish Yeast Co, 6 College Street, Dublin 2, for sale at €675,000. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

The Irish Yeast Co, 6 College Street, Dublin 2, for sale at €675,000. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

For well over a century it has sat, sagging gently in the middle of a block on College Street in Dublin 2, between the Westin Hotel and a row of buildings that includes Doyle’s pub.

Now The Irish Yeast Company, which closed its doors for the last time about two years ago, could be set to move into the 21st century.

“Investment Opportunity” shouts a big sign over the genteel brown painted shopfront of the building, which is for sale at €675,000.

It has a central location with the new Luas on its doorstep and a flow of tourists heading to Trinity College across the street, but number 6 College St, dating from around 1750, needs more than a little TLC. It is also a listed building, which will restrict development opportunities.

John Moreland, who ran the business and lived overhead for more than 60 years from the 1940s, has died and the sale is being handled by Alan Denihan of DNG.

“It’s a time capsule,” he says of the building. “It’s like a set from Strumpet City.”

The four-storey house is being sold by executors with all its contents intact, including decades worth of baking paraphernalia – foil-covered cake stands in all sizes, faded bunting and old style bride and groom figurines with hand written price tags.

The Irish Yeast Co, 6 College Street, Dublin 2, for sale at €675,000
The Irish Yeast Co, 6 College Street, Dublin 2, for sale at €675,000

Expensive to renovate

About 130sq m (1,399sq ft) in all, the building will be expensive to renovate given traffic restrictions on the street. Even getting a skip outside will be tough, says Denihan, adding it could cost almost the same again to refurbish, depending on what is uncovered.

The cellar, for instance, has no electricity and a mud and rubble floor so viewers need to bring their own torch. A passageway leading away from the building runs under the street and could possibly connect with Trinity College, says Denihan.

The business first opened in 1894 in what had been the foyer of the George Hotel, which later became a bank and reverted to what is now the Westin.

At first the shop sold only to the catering trade but later it opened its doors to the public selling cake decorations and, of course, yeast in small packets for a few pennies.

John Moreland at the Irish Yeast Co. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times
John Moreland at the Irish Yeast Co. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times

The Moreland family took over the business in the 1930s and John Moreland started work there when he left school at 16 in the early 1940s. He was still behind the counter, aged 91, in 2015 when he was featured in An Irishman’s Diary in The Irish Times.

He told Frank McNally the shop could have become a hotel again when the Westin was redeveloped alongside it during the Celtic Tiger years. The then owner of the hotel, developer Johnny Ronan, “made the Morelands (John’s brother Christy was still alive then) an offer they had no difficulty refusing.”

Students and tourists

At the other end of College Street, Doyle’s pub also expanded to accommodate student nights and tourists.

“Only the Yeast Company resolutely retains its original shape,” Moreland said.

He said most of the businesses he remembered from the 1940s were “long gone, including the high-class gents outfitters at number 8, once owned by the family of Maureen O’Hara.”

His brother Christy died in 2006 and the shop might have closed then, according to McNally’s article, but friends persuaded John to keep it going “as a hobby”. He kept hobby hours too, opening the premises just two mornings a week, (Tuesday and Thursday) and three afternoons (Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

Inside, a dim interior revealed shelves and boxes piled with wedding cake bases, pillars and decorations. Service was often brusque. The shop did not catch the more modern baking wave that came with TV shows such as the Great British Bake Off. It was not somewhere you’d find a hot pink Kitchen Aid or edible gold leaf.

There were seven people employed in the business at its peak, but John Moreland had no children to pass it onto.

“Even if I had I wouldn’t recommend this to them,” he said in 2015. “We enjoyed 50 years of good business here. You can’t expect things to last forever.”