Breakfast of dreams – and everything else too
NR talks to chefs Declan O’Donoghue and Paul Curry who launched their own deli and food hall at Between the Bridges in Enniskillen during lockdown last year – and have just opened their second branch.
When comedian Fabu-D – aka Black Paddy – was visiting Enniskillen a few months ago, he discovered a new breakfast spot that made a lasting impression.
After stopping off at Between the Bridges Deli and Food Hall, he posted on Instagram that he’d had a dream about having breakfast there.
“That’s how good the food was – we need Between the Bridges in Kildare,” the comedian commented.
And at the current rate of progress, it might not be too long before Fabu D gets his wish.
Chefs Declan O’Donoghue and Paul Curry took a major gamble when they opened their Enniskillen deli and food hall in the second lockdown last year, but have just opened their second site in Lisnaskea and are busy making plans to conquer the rest of the island.
They’re already planning a third outlet in Fermanagh for later in 2022 and are hoping to be able to employ a total of 30 people by the end of the year.
“Paul and I want to eventually franchise this business,” Declan says.
“We announced that we were opening Lisnaskea in the middle of January 2022 and it took 10 days to turn the shop around. Our goal for the first shop was six weeks because we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. But now we’ve got our people in place, we’ve got our own little sort of refurb team now and it took 10 days to get the shop turned around.
“The long term plan is that we want to have a black site kitchen that would be somewhere based in the town. The shop in Lisnaskea has no kitchen so all the food is prepared in Enniskillen and brought down in a chill van every day.
”So if we want to pinpoint it across the north, we want to go to Belfast, we want to to go to Lisburn, we want to go up to Coleraine, we want to have different places around the north and maybe the south eventually, we’ll need a black site kitchen and maybe two teams.”
Paul (41) and Declan (36) first met in 2011 when they were working together in a local hotel and became firm friends who chatted by phone every day, even when they were no longer working together. Both went on to diversify and set up their own businesses – Paul setting up the Northern Smokehouse and Declan launching the Erne Larder which made artisan jams and chutneys.
“After 15 years of working as a chef and going through several mental breakdowns, I decided to step away from chefing when my second child was born and in that free time I started Erne Larder from nothing, basically with one spoon and a saucepan in the house,” Declan explains.
“I started in October 2016, did the first Christmas through social media and then next year I was upselling my jam from a blue gazebo in the Diamond from May time on. A lot of the customers I have now were buying from the Diamond stall but I turned Erne Larder from no branding, no idea going forward, into a social media presence with more than 5,000 followers. I got into 140 shops, I was in the Lidl kickstart in 2018/19 and I’ve another order going in very soon for Lidl.”
For a while, he was cooking pre-packed ready meals for a local butcher while making all the jams and chutneys, but he outsources the production for Erne Larder now.
“It got so big in 2018/19 that I was going to close it down because I was still doing a full time job, still trying to be a husband and a father, and I was getting four hours’ sleep a day and then either working for my employers or making my jams and chutneys to sell at a food show at the weekend and back to work on Monday. So it got to be a vicious circle of nothingness again. I was cooking around 5,000 meals a week.”
Erne Larder proved even more successful in the first lockdown, with business booming both online and in stores – and that proved the spur to bring a long-held dream to fruition.
“I’d been saying for years, I want my own shop – I wanted to have a farm shop and deli and put it all together in a package,” Declan says.
Meanwhile, Paul’s customers were mostly in the hospitality industry which was badly hit by Covid.
“My business was essentially wiped out for that period of time so I was helping Declan in the butchers to prepare the meals,” Paul says.
“We were driving on the road because we had deliveries to do and we’d speak everyday. We just spoke in the van for about a year about doing this idea and we just thought, you know what, when Covid came along the only places that were allowed to stay open were essential retail. Enniskillen town was closed apart from maybe two or three stores and we thought, if we’re going to do it, now’s the time.
“We just did it while we were sitting in the van, we’d a plan and a vision dreamed up and we came up with the name.”
Name of the game
Between the Bridges is familiar to anyone from Enniskillen as meaning someone who was born on the island itself, between the bridges that join it to the shores of Lough Erne.
“Between the Bridges is a really strong term in Enniskillen and we added on delicatessen and food hall, got a designer in Belfast to sketch some logos out and we put it all in place in six weeks.
“We took over a former restaurant called The Happiness Trap. Through lockdown they closed permanently and we found the building was up for lease.”
Declan says the ethos is fresh tasty food of chef quality and value, including plenty of heat-to-go ready medals such as lasagne, cottage and dirty fries which proved popular with customers during the lockdown.
“Everything’s kind of done for home. We’ve a dedicated deli sandwich menu with 10 sandwiches – one’s called Beat the Goats with beetroot and goat cheese, there’s the Dirty Bird, just smoked chicken with a classic Reuben on it. They’re really popular – we do about 100 every day,” he says.
“Then we make salad bowls and noodle bowls. What’s really important is supporting all our local artisan producers in Northern Ireland, so we have all the local cheese, charcuterie, chutneys, oils, vinegars, kombucha, iced coffees, tapas, hummus, you name it!
“We do our own brand coffee called Brew and Browse. The idea was you come in, pour your own coffee and walk around and drink it and shop, really relaxed, really informal.”
From eat to seat
The ethos has evolved over the year from a takeaway shop to a sit-in venue where customers can enjoy some of the delicacies on offer.
“At that time we didn’t want any seats in the shop. People were asking if it was going to be sit down and we were no, no sit down, we want people in and out, takeaway box, take it home, whatever,” Declan says.
“But we inherited four tables and we found that they were really popular, so we went ‘Oh god, right we need more seats so we went from having no seats to 38 seats.
“We’ve been quite smart with our space, we put in a lot of floating benches, things like that in two corners.”
They’ve even brought in two local artists, Megan and Jane Daly, to create a mural that would celebrate the local area: “It has Cole’s Monument, Castle Coole, Florencecourt, the Museum, the Boardwalk, Forthill, Cuilcagh, Devenish Island – there are Fermanagh hotspots painted all across it. I told the girls I wanted a New York skyline but I wanted it all to be Fermanagh hotspots.”
The shop proved hugely successful from the moment it opened.
“We opened in the middle of second lockdown so people were hungry to get out of the house because there was nothing open at the time apart from essential retail. It just went boom from day one and to be honest it hasn’t really let up since that. Demand was absolutely mad,” Declan says.
“We opened our second shop in Lisnaskea a few weeks ago on the Bank Brae and both shops are absolutely on a par with each other – we have 26 staff now and we need more because we’ve committed to two orders for ready meals as well, one at Cass & Co in Dungarvan and the second is Coleman’s Garden Centre in Templepatrick.
“It puts us under serious pressure because we’re doing 4,500 meals a week in the kitchen, we’re doing about another 1,000 sandwiches and then another 400 to 500 salad bowls and noodle bowls. But the kitchen are brilliant.”
The head chef is Hungarian chef Gergi Beres who used to work alongside Declan in a butcher’s shop “Once I opened up Enniskillen I knew I needed him to come and work with us. Without him, we’d be lost, to be honest.
“We’ve a really good core team and management team. Julie Anne Smyth runs Enniskillen, Jolene Keenan runs Lisnaskea and Gergi is our kitchen manager. We’ve a good structure below that of senior guys, part team, weekend staff – each one is as important as the other.
“But without our customers we have no business. We can have fantastic branding, amazing food, the best staff ever, but if we have no customers we have nothing. So we are really dedicated to thanking our customers and being very polite and friendly, because without those people coming in and putting money in the till we have no business.”
To read the full feature in Neighbourhood Retailer, click HERE.