Distinguished chef Simon Dougan has pivoted the Yellow Door retail side of his well-known business to create a unique indoor market deli featuring his own dishes and hundreds of products from dozens of local food and soft drink suppliers.
The highly regarded chef, renowned for creative dishes using mostly local ingredients, has seen his hugely successful catering business for major corporate clients and events such as weddings as well as the popular café and deli in Portadown, which all trade under the Yellow Door brand, badly hit by the lockdowns.
Simon’s catering expertise, management skills and dedicated support for the local food and drink industry, which includes enthusiastic backing for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon’s imaginative Food Heartland scheme for local food and drink, as well as Food NI, wasrecognised by an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours in 2017.
Another important element in the business is a craft bakery supplying hotels, restaurants and coffee shops here and the Republic of Ireland has also been hit by the pandemic. As a result, turnover has fallen.
Simon says: “Like everyone in events and hospitality our business has been decimated and it has been exhausting rethinking and reinventing our operation with each new lockdown. It would be easy to crumble under such consistent pressure, but it’s also a time to be grateful for our strengths,” he says.
These strengths, he continues, include “an amazing team of people and we are thankful to be able to support them through the furlough scheme”. “We have very supportive customers and clients. Fortunately, we are in a solid position financially and our business has a strong sustainable ethos which we have been working on for many years. We have also had a record amount of hamper orders this year, as companies decide to support local. In turn this helps us support our network of artisan producers,” he adds.
Building on these strengths and underlying optimism, the popular Yellow Door Deli and Café in Portadown has undergone a refurbishment and reorganisation over the last number of weeks and has now been rebranded as ‘Deli Market by Yellow Door’. It reopened its doors to shoppers last Friday.
Simon explains: “Our deli model and physical structure wasn’t that adaptable in terms of flow or offering take-away so we had a rethink. To help future-proof the business, we have removed more of the tables and chairs in the middle part of the café to create greater retail space. We’ve implemented social distancing and other measures, of course, to ensure the safety of customers and employees, a priority for our business.
“As well as our usual offering of artisan food products, we have expanded this range to include a greater range of new suppliers and are selling fresh, local fruit and seasonal vegetables.
“Our head chef Stephen Dowds and the kitchen team have designed a range of pre-packed chilled take home food such as the family pies and the soups we are famous for, Thai curry and calorie counted dishes. Everything is made fresh from scratch as has always been the case with us,” explains Simon.
The impressive selection also includes salad leaves, fruit and herbs from the company’s own kitchen garden as they become available in season. The market garden providing the fresh veggies has been developed by Jilly, Simon’s wife. “And as we make everything in-house, we will be able to use un-sold fresh produce in our dishes so that we don’t have any waste.
“There are free range eggs, local cheeses and charcuterie, and our own sweet cured traditional dry-cured bacon for customers to enjoy at home. We have also developed and expanded our range of desserts and puddings as well as new flavoured sourdough breads from our own Real Bread bakery,” he says.
The company’s longstanding focus on sustainability isalso seen in all of its packaging being 100 percent compostable or recyclable. “Combined with our overall environmental and food sourcing policies we believe we are one of the most sustainable companies out there,” he adds.
Why invest in hospitality after such a difficult period and an uncertain short-term future for the country? “We think it is right to show our confidence in the future of our business and the wider economy in Portadown and beyond.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear from research that people here want to have alternative shopping experiences and are now keen to buy more from trusted local suppliers. We are confident that our new, rustic botanical theme and enhanced range of local dishes and products available in the deli market will appeal to even more shoppers,” says Simon.