James Whelan opens 8th Butcher’s Shop
Son Pat keeps his feet on the ground.
I met Pat Whelan at the original James Whelan shop in Clonmel in November 2011. He took time out to have chat about that shop and also a new one in Avoca in Monkstown (Dublin) to which he was applying the finishing touches. Now he has eight in total. Progress has been amazing.
I met Pat again at Dunnes Stores Bishopstown Court last Friday. He was there to play a role in the weekend celebration of the extensive renovations of the popular supermarket, a weekend to highlight the newcomers to the store including Whelan’s, Sheridan’s Cheese, ABC Bread, O’Connell Fishmongers, Baxter and Greens and Café Sol.
Again, the Tipperary man took time out for a chat. I reminded him about our first meeting and how he enjoyed going out to the marts and farms to meet the producers. Has the expansion put a stop to that?
I was glad to get the answer that it hadn’t, an answer that I had more or less expected from a man who stays in touch with the grassroots, staying connected to the source. He goes out weekly and told me that only the Tuesday before he had bought about 40 cattle in the Fermoy Mart but what I hadn’t expected was that his 80 year father, after whom the shops are named, was on the road with him. Respect to both!
|Dunnes Kiwi chef Matthew Brownie was promising the Irish an All Black grilling ahead of the big game.|
He was just joking, of course!
But some things have of course changed and not just over the last seven years. Pat was (still is) a regular visitor to the English Market in the good old days. Then he felt it “was alive” when he walked through. It certainly was in your face. The food scene began to change back in 60s and 70s. It became “sanitised”, the connection with its source fragmenting, we agreed, me thinking of sliced pan and supermarkets as being among the agents of change.
People like Pat, and luckily there are quite a few of them, kept the flame alive. “Good food is an investment in your future,” he says. “Great to see the youngsters coming into it, great to see them make the connection and great to see it done right. We owe it to ourselves and to the planet to really reconnect with nature.”
“Training is important,” he emphasised in answer to my query about Whelan’s Butcher Academy. Indeed, the good work of the academy has been recognised by a counterpart in South West France. “They want to do an Erasmus exchange with us where our trainees can swap experience with their French counterparts. It’s great for us to be recognised like that and great too for the apprentices.”
The eight Whelan butcher shops are in Clonmel, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, The Swan Centre Rathmines, Dunnes Stores Blanchardstown Centre, Pavilions Shopping Centre, Swords, Avoca in Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue as well as Dunnes Stores Bishopstown Court. Pat is very happy about the link-up (now 30 months old) with Dunnes seeing them as a family company that “is all about the customer, the Better Value is not just a slogan, and they are very warmly regarded in Cork".
And it looks as if the Whelan shop is warmly regarded as well. “We’ve had a great welcome from our fellow debutants, Pat O’Connell’s and Sheila of ABC”. Whelan will have in-house competition from Dunne’s own butchers. He knows that his produce is top class and may cost a little more. A customer may like a treat at the weekend and something good but less pricey on a Monday. “Retail is all about choice,” he says and is quite happy with that.
Earlier Donnacha, the manager of Whelan's Bishopstown shop, showed me some of that choice. The Tralee native has worked for two and half years for Pat in Dublin and jumped at that chance to get back nearer home. “We started off four weeks ago and it took off straightaway, so far so good. Now we’re setting up for Christmas.”
The shop has a beautiful lay-out and lighting. It is well manned with expert help at hand as you choose between the different meats and the different cuts.
A lot of the weekend focus was on “the big reveal”, the collaboration between Pat Whelan and Peter Hannan which has resulted in the amazing Himalayan Salt Aged Beef, now on sale exclusively in Whelan’s eight shops and at their online shop.
Hannan has constructed a Salt Chamber made of rock salt bricks from the Himalayas and here the beef spends over 35 days and the final result is exceptional quality with a truly unique flavour. More details here.
“We got a great welcome to Cork,” said Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan's as we chatted in front of their very impressive stall. And I use the word stall deliberately as it does resemble a market display. A big stall, mind you. Space to display the many cheeses - lots of Cork produce there too - and all the little bits and pieces (crackers, relishes for example) that go with them.
‘We have more Cork cheese here - in Galway we would have more from Galway - and find the customers very enthusiastic. Great to be in Dunnes too, as they are part of the Cork heritage.”
“We started as a small cheese stand, and this weekend, we are celebrating the opening of the Cork Bishopstown Court location with many local producers that we are proud to call our friends. We feel so lucky to work with many quality Irish producers and are thrilled to share their amazing work all under one roof in Dunnes.”
Like Pat, Kevin emphasised the importance of training. Sheridan’s have brought some of their more experienced people from their other shops to Cork for the time being, passing on that experience, all for the benefit of the customer.
Didn’t see Pat O’Connell himself but got lots of fish there, some frozen, some fresh, and some smoked (including Goatsbridge trout produced by my friend Mag Kirwan in Kilkenny). Must go back and try that red mullet!
Also met some regulars on the food scene: Padraig O’Farrell was showing his Carrigaline cheeses at Sheridan’s and Aoife was doing a Kinsale Bay tasting nearby while Dunne’s Kiwi chef Matthew was threatening to grill the Irish at the rugby! Could have spent the day there but time caught up with me.
- You may see a YouTube clip of Peter Hannan’s salt chamber here.
- And see Hannan cook those amazing steaks here.