Skilled chefs and lifelong friends Mark Haughey and John McCartney decided to set up their own small food production business to provide the popular meals they had been creatingin hotels, cafes and restaurants around the Newry area to shops and other outlets throughout Northern Ireland.
Their objective in setting up JustGoodGrub three years ago was to offer retailers and caterers “simple, delicious and fresh grub” cooked by them from their original recipes andingredients sourced mostly from local suppliers.
“We had grown out of working for other people and wanted to do something creative for ourselves in food preparation,” Mark explains. “We decided to specialise in pre-packed mealsand desserts that were fresh and ready to eat,” he says. “We had been talking about setting up in business for a number of years to enable us to offer our culinary knowledge and expertise on a wider basis and decided to take the plunge in 2018. We hadn’t been going for that long when the coronavirus pandemic appeared and many of the cafes we had been building business with had to shut their doors,” he adds.
The small business, however, benefited from a sharp growth in retail sales as more local shoppers turned to local food options and delis and small food shops decided to add ready meals to their shelves. The meals are distributed through a deal with Gourmet Foods from their kitchen unit in Newry which also includes a small deli.
They turned to digital technology to help meet the hospitality restrictions by developing an app to enable consumers to order meals on smart phones and computers. “With the app, we have been able to increase orders by 85 percent since the start in January and to improve efficiency in our kitchen,” he says. “It makes it easier for us to plan ahead. The app means that people can select a meal and then click for collection at our premises,” adds Mark, who grew up in Newry, John hails from Katesbridge.
“Due to the uncertainties of Covid restrictions and reduced town footfall we decided to launch an app that allowed customers complete convenience to order of our full menu online and choose a collection time,” continues John.
The enterprise, which is based at Newry’s WIN Industrial Estate, currently supplies more than 100 delis, independent grocers and family butchers across Northern Ireland with a range of freshly cooked meals. The business they began together now employs over 50 people and is poised for further growth.
They brought experience over 50 years in kitchens throughout the area to running their own venture which is clearly flourishing as people appreciate increasingly the quality and flavours of a menu that includes a broad range of traditional dishes such as roast beef, chicken and turkey and contemporary meals such as burgers, Asian curries, lasagne and Mexican burritos and tacos. The company currently cooks over 10,000 meals every week in Newry.
The meals are also on the menu at a deli, The Food House, they opened in Banbridge last August along with their first sit-in café and a Mexican food bar. The investment has created 14 jobs in the market town. A new and larger deli and food hall beside the existing JustGoodGrub base is scheduled to open.
The success they are enjoying has given the entrepreneurial duo the confidence to push ahead with the opening of a much bigger deli and food hall, The Food Market, in Newry later this month.
“The new food hall will also enable us to expand our networkof local suppliers that we currently work with,” says John.“JustGoodGrub is all about fresh produce and great taste, with something for everyone from Asian dishes to traditional dinners to our low calorie JustGuiltFree meals for the calorie conscious also made from fresh locally sourced ingredients in our Newry kitchen.
“Working with local producers is an immensely important element of our business, one which the new Food Market will drive and provide exciting opportunities for both existing and new local suppliers in Newry and beyond,” Mark adds.
As well as the 30 lines they produce for distribution they also have another 70 plus sold exclusively in their Deli in Newry and The Food House Banbridge. This includes six different fresh soups, six different hand produced delicious salads, many high-quality family and tasty individual meals.
The talented chefs and businessmen are now considering expanding into the Republic of Ireland. “This would make sound business sense because we’ve already had approaches from potential customers in Dundalk and Monaghan in Republic,” Mark adds.