How a Dublin fruit and vegetable business reinvented itself after Covid-19

Tom Ward says his family business has found a new way to operate due to the pandemic

Tom Ward of The Green Grocer on Manor Street in Stoneybatter, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Tom Ward of The Green Grocer on Manor Street in Stoneybatter, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Over the course of a grim weekend in March of last year Tom Ward lost most of the customers of his Dublin fruit and vegetable business. But in the days that followed he found a whole lot of new ones and an entirely different way to operate.

Ward has been steeped in his family fruit-and-vegetable business for as long as he can remember, and for donkey’s years worked out of the Capel Street fruit market, selling produce to restaurants across the city.

His family also had a small fruit-and-vegetable shop on Stoneybatter’s Manor Street, but it was very much an afterthought, with the wholesale bread-and-butter of the operation generating 90 per cent of the revenue.

“Almost overnight all that restaurant business disappeared,” he says of the imposition of the first Covid-19 lockdown last March. “We had a couple of weeks of sleepless nights, but thankfully we had the shop to fall back on.

“Before Covid, the shop was doing grand, we had our regulars and my father used to work there, but we were just going through the motions with it really and never gave it 100 per cent because we were so busy with the wholesale side of things.”

In the early days of the first lockdown, the shop turned an unexpected corner as people in the local community started seeking provisions closer to home.

The Green Grocer shop is small, however, and shifting produce in significant volumes required a new approach. So the family put their heads together and launched a fairly basic website which allowed them to accept online orders from across the city and run deliveries.

“My brother did the research for the site and he and my daughter had it up and running very quickly. I am not a computer person or even a phone person but thanks to them we had it set up in no time. We have four vans on the road and are delivering all over the city,” Ward says.

New discovery

For his part, Ward has discovered a love of being on the shop floor that he didn’t know was there. “I love talking to people and getting to know them. I am there every day six days a week and I love it. I get to talk to the butcher, the baker and the people in Walsh’s pub across the road and of course the customers. We have all got a lot closer and we are very lucky to have this community. I love meeting people and delivering to houses. I love talking.”

He is not entirely sure what the future holds or how business will hold up once things start to return to normal.

“We’d love to push the shop and the online more even after lockdown. It is more secure,” he says.

“Dealing with restaurants, there is a lot of credit and chasing payments. I’d never have thought we’d be doing this but here we are. It is hard to change how you work when you are doing something for years, but I think if we put a bit of time, effort and love into this, the business will grow. I hope it does anyway.”

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