Two experienced chefs are set to lift the lid on a tasty idea for food shoppers and diners in Fermanagh and for many artisan and smaller food firms throughout Northern Ireland.

Two experienced chefs are set to lift the lid on a tasty idea for food shoppers and diners in Fermanagh and for many artisan and smaller food firms throughout Northern Ireland.

Chefs Declan O’Donoghue and Paul Curry, who each run successful small food enterprises, have teamed up to develop the new Between the Bridges Delicatessen and Food Hall in Enniskillen. It’s a significant investment for both in the vibrant food sector that will also create jobs for local people.

Declan (35) runs Erne Larder in Enniskillen, specialist producer of gourmet sauces, ketchup, relishes and jams from his own unique recipes. He set up the small business in 2016 and has achieved sales from independent grocers, delis and farm shops throughout Ireland.

He has also supplied German discounters Lidl and Aldi Ireland and recently clinched his first business from a New York food distributor. His original products include Irish bacon sauce and ketchup and are all based on his experience in top hotel and restaurant kitchens here, in Britain and Ireland.

Business partner Paul Curry (40) owns Northern Smokehouse, a small batch smokery also based in the Fermanagh town, produces smoked meat and fish, unique products which have won UK Great Taste Awards for outstanding quality and rich flavours. He set up the smokery, Northern Ireland’s first and most successful, in 2014 on the back of a 20-year career as a chef in hospitality outlets.

Declan says the new super deli and food hall is currently being kitted out at Townhall Street in Enniskillen and will open its doors to shoppers and diners in April. “The new deli and food hall is the outcome of discussions with Paul “over many months”, he explains. “We’ve been close friends for years and have talked frequently about doing something different and exciting in food together that would capture the attention of shoppers, attract those seeking quality meals to eat on the premises or at home, and also support the growth of our fellow artisan producers and farmers,” Declan adds.

The strong growth of artisan producers offering a vast range of novel food over the past decade provided “a significant business opportunity”. “We’ve also been impressed by their successes in major awards such as UK Great Taste and Ireland’s Blas na hEireann,” he continues.

“We’ve shaped our retail and convenience food project to help increase awareness of the quality and breadth of locally sourced products among shoppers here and also to offer a new retail outlet and convenience eatery to them west of the Bann.

“The eventual lifting of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown should enable us to introduce the products to thousands of tourists and other visitors to Enniskillen and Fermanagh,” he says.

Between the Bridges, the new deli’s identity, reflects its location between the bridges to Enniskillen spanning the picturesque Lough Erne. The objective of their substantial investment, Declan continues, is to be a “one-stop food destination with everything for food shoppers, snackers and diners under one roof”.

He says: “We are using our experience as professional chefs and our knowledge of local food and drink to create an exceptional foodie experience.

“The deli and food hall will also focus largely on food and drink from Northern Ireland sources and especially from Fermanagh and Tyrone. There’ll be opportunities too for smaller companies from other parts of Northern Ireland to be part of our exciting journey,” he explains.

The entrepreneurs, both passionate about great food from local suppliers, have already created their own blend of premium coffee for consumption in-house or for takeaway. An expansive menu of hot and cold ready meals is being finalised by the chefs for lunch and diner on the same basis. They’ve also created distinctive brands for the eat-on-the-go snacks. The food hall will have a vast range of local artisan products from established producers including local farms and feature butchery and bakery sections.

“We’ve been encouraged by market research showing that independent fine food shops and delis in the UK are more than just surviving in the current pandemic and the lockdowns. Many are thriving from growing consumer trends including the increasing interest in reliable local food and drink,” Declan says.

“Delis and farm shops here and further afield are increasingly being seen as a source of abundant, fresh, seasonal produce, as well as offering a safe and friendly welcome from knowledgeable and experienced staff,” he adds.

Research, he says, showed that consumers had become keen on “authenticity and provenance in their food – something that the coronavirus pandemic had intensified”.

“Provenance and authenticity have long been central to food and drink being produced here,” he adds. “Our aim, furthermore, is to create a shopping and eating environment that’s safe and Covid-secure.”

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