A unique Corner Shop and pizza van have been developed by chef and restaurant owner Richard McCracken to keep his business turning over and to preserve the jobs of his staff during the pandemic lockdown
Richard had invested heavily in Cyprus Avenue, his high-end restaurant at the busy corner of the Upper Newtownards and North roads in east Belfast’s developing food hub at Ballyhackamore before the pandemic.
He quickly developed a response centred on a diversification into retail.
“We launched our Corner Shop from the restaurant in April 2020 along with takeaway coffee, wheaten bread and baked goods from a window we created,” he says.
“The hatch also offered a route to market for many small/micro food suppliers which had been badly hit by the closure of outdoor markets.
“We had always focused on local ingredients for meals in the restaurant and also met a number of smaller producers during our participation at Inns Market on Belfast’s Saintfield Road, where we did really good business, especially for our Irish wheaten loaves, cakes and tray bakes.
“Producers were quick to grasp the opportunity we were offering and have been supplying us with a range of handcrafted foods for the Corner Shop,” he adds.
The Corner Shop developed quickly since then into a deli that now offers a wide range of artisan foods not readily available in supermarkets.
“We’ve created a shop, a local artisan food destination for the neighbourhood, offering baked goods and ready meals made by our team of chefs alongside a wide range of dried and chilled products from suppliers across Northern Ireland.
“We also bake a variety of our own breads, including sourdough,” he explains.
At Christmas, local food hampers from the Corner Shop proved “a tremendous success with more than 4,000 sold in a relatively short time, some ending up as far away as Belgium”. Valentine hampers are now being packed with local food.
“What I believe we are contributing to and benefitting from is the growth in shoppers wishing to support local food producers,” Richard adds.
A separate website has just been launched for orders from the shop.
“The website reflects the strength of our commitment to the retail side of the restaurant.
“This is something we intend to carry on long after the lockdown has been lifted,” he continues.
“Furthermore, we’ve recently added a delivery service via the website. Irish Sea Border bureaucracy will not affect us in any way because of our long-standing focus on local products,” he adds.
The investment in retail, in addition, included the purchase of a Piaggio Ape van that offers freshly made sourdough pizzas for convenience meals, another service likely to continue.
“We’ve been able to provide pizzas and groceries for one-stop delivery from the webslte,” continues Richard.