NR visits The Lunch Box in Belfast

Could you sandwich a business into your lunch hour? David Toner tells Neighbourhood Retailer how he manages to run a new sandwich shop while working as a fulltime graphic designer.

“It’s been hectic,” Belfast man David Toner tells Neighbourhood Retailer when we visited his sparkling new sandwich shop The Lunch Box in Belfast.

With only six weeks under its belt at the time of writing, a queue of hungry office workers was already moving steadily at the quirky café near Custom House Square.

It’s owner, David, has a background in retail and catering, but runs the businesses while holding down a fulltime public sector role as graphic designer in the city. And like many famished office workers, he too makes his way to his new business during lunch hour.

But, while David is dividing his time, he’s not doing things by half.

On The Lunch Box countertop sits crisp ciabatta rolls, stuffed with juicy Mediterranean ingredients that pop with colour – this is no greasy spoon.

“We’ve gone for high-quality throughout, but it’s come at a cost,” David said. “We source our breads from French Village (one of Belfast’s most popular bistros), and our coffee comes from Bewley’s.

“Coffee sales are huge. We were advised by some to have a self-service section for coffee, but we decided against that in the end. The selling point of The Lunch Box is good bread and good coffee, so we’re starting from that base and working up.”

Laughing, David added: “There’s a great mark-up on coffee, but you can’t sell a million of them, that’s the only problem.”

IMG_4369 (1)With city centre rates notoriously high, the business is shrewdly targeting the lucrative sandwich platter market, and surrounded by large public sector offices, such as the Revenue and Customs building, David said it’s a strategy that’s paying off.

“We’re well placed, and I saw the potential of the location when I first looked at it,” he said. “We’ve already been delivering business platters to government departments in the Gasworks (also known as Ormeau Business Park), and we’ve been in touch with the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and doing some stuff with them, so it’s looking really good.”

But business rates remain a source of concern for the entrepreneur.

“I don’t  yet know exactly what the rates will be. I’ve been given a big range of possible costs, so I’m very anxious about that,” David said.

“I was very sad to hear about The Chocolate Room on the Lisburn Road, and of course S&R Electrics. It’s very worrying.

“Land and Property Services haven’t been very helpful so far. It’s been very difficult to find someone willing to help.”

Despite the lack of clarity on rates, David is upbeat about the business, and is awaiting news on a grant from Invest NI that will give the café a welcome espresso shot in the arm.

Until then, he’ll continue double jobbing to ensure his young business gets off the ground.

“I don’t know how I’m managing it – it’s probably down to drinking a lot of coffee,” David jokes.

We’re still not sure if he was talking about himself or The Lunch Box.

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