Pandemic Sparks Alternative Business Ventures

The food and drink industry is one of the hardest-hit by the Covid pandemic, but several Food NI/Taste of Ulster members have opened new businesses writes Barbara Collins

Olive Tree Bakery in Bangor, Co. Down opened just before lockdown in early March. Owned by Scott McDonald, they make had breads, biscuits and preserves all in small batches. They do all the purchasing, cooking, labelling and marketing themselves. Customers can order online and collect or get the products delivered in North Down and parts of Belfast.

“Olive Tree Bakes was born amid a pandemic, and we have never looked back” says Scott. Although we originally thought about opening up to trade at local markets, we quickly had to become adaptable. First, we offered a non-contact home delivery service, then a collection service in the lobby of our unit. Now, we supplying regularly to some of our local farm shops, a cafe and a restaurant, with a few more shops in our sights and now the hope of outdoor markets reopening would bring us to our original goal. 

“Luckily for us business has been steady, and I was blessed with having a ready made customer base from my long established catering franchise in Bangor Golf Club, our members kept us busy at the start as we got our name out there. Now we have a lot of new regular customers and still enjoying the learning curve and  being adaptable”.

Another new business is the Parson’s Pantry in Hillsborough. It is next door to the Parson’s Nose restaurant and is owned by Balloo Inns.

We had been running a successful artisan food and wine Pantry at The Poacher’s Pocket in Lisbane for a few years, and had always felt that it was a concept that would replicate well in Hillsborough” says owner Jennie Sweeney

We have converted the little front pub at Parson’s into the Pantry while pub drinking restrictions remain in place, with dining running as normal in the restaurant. 

We already source the best local produce we can find for our restaurant kitchens, and so by creating a Pantry shop at The Parson’s Nose, our customers can now get their hands on this great produce to take home.”

She says that when lockdown happened, the chefs were quick to develop a Gastropub at Home range of restaurant quality dishes to reheat at home such as Fisherman’s Pie, Slow Cooked Beef Cheek Pappardelle and Smoked Haddock Rarebit with Greens and Baby Boiled PotatoesThey also offer a supply of fresh fish, Hannan’s dry-aged steaks with their own sauces, and freshly baked breads, sausage rolls, scones and sweet treats. The fact that the Pantry is attached to the pub means that JN Wines are also for sale.

If our customers support the Parson’s Pantry and tell us they want it to remain a permanent feature long term, we’ll find a way to make sure it stays!

The Chocolate Manor is owned by Geri Martin. She makes luxury artisan chocolates but lockdown forced her to pivot her business.

“I had been planning to open Northern Ireland’s first chocolate workshop and visitor’s centre in Castlerock in April, but that obviously couldn’t happen so I decided to open a shop where I could sell the Chocolate Manor products as well as those from other artisan producers, especially fromTaste Causeway” says Geri.

The Main Street shop opens in the mornings Tuesday-Sunday 11am-4pm. The shelves are stocked with goodies such as AmazinGrazin’s bread mixes, Dundarave Estate products, Wee Mallows, Sea Sugar sweets, Taste Joy peanut butters, Irish Black Butter, Islander Kelp and the North Coast Smokehouse’s salt and pepper.

“We have only been open since July 1st but business is going very well. Our hampers are particularly popular. We also have two very special products designed by my children” says Geri.

“The 14 year old did drawings of Castlerock and I turned those into chocolate postcards. My ten year old has designed the children’s chocolate lollipops.”

Geri says the response from the local community has been “overwhelming”. She says people are travelling from as far away as Newry to visit the shop on a day out.