For those of you who don’t frequent south Co Galway, by way of explanation, I think it’s fair to say Gort is similar enough to most country towns.
It’s probably not that different to your local town. You know the one you go to for the “big shop”, where the children go to secondary school?
Yeah, it’s like that.
It has a few of supermarkets, the hotel and the mart. Of course, there are also several watering holes and places to eat.
Still, you’d think any business, given half a chance, would pack the bags and head up the M18 to Eyre Square in Galway city, where the footfall is astronomically higher.
Sitting down in the newly opened Rooster’s Café and Farm Shop in Gort, I pose this very question to its owners, Tommy Staunton and Noel O’Connor
They have a different take on things.
Tommy – a farmer from nearby Kinvara (more on that later) – says they purposely chose a town like Gort. From schools to businesses and services, it has plenty of activity and rent is much more affordable than in a city.
More importantly again, keeping it local, keeping it rural, is a central concept of Rooster’s. A quick glance down through the menu tells you a lot.
They use Tommy’s own Shorthorn beef, as well as his lamb, all killed in a local abattoir. The chicken is from the Friendly Farmer in Athenry, the pork is from Andal Farm Glenamaddy and Kylemore Cheese is also used. The list of local producers goes on.
This is probably no surprise, really, given Tommy’s own background.
“The concept for here was driven by my background,” Tommy says. “Growing up I would always have been involved in farming. My dad was a market gardener. He went to Galway Market for 55 years every Saturday. He also did other markets throughout Co Clare. On the farm as a young kid I would have picked potatoes, picked carrots, bagged onions, all that.
“With Rooster’s, how it came about was, I wanted to bring that local produce back to the high street. It’s important that it’s the high street and not anywhere else. It’s an outlet for people of the local community to be able to come in, buy local produce and either eat it here or sample it at home.
“All our food here, be it on the shelves or from the kitchen, is produced locally. As nice as Wexford potatoes are, we don’t want them in Galway. That’s the concept. Whereas if there was a Rooster’s in Wexford, we’d be happy to sell local produce from there.”
As a business, Rooster’s takes a three-pronged approach. There’s both indoor and outdoor dining, takeaway and a farm shop. This allows it to have different revenue streams, which is prudent given recent restrictions.
Actually, speaking of restrictions, Rooster’s opened bam-smack in the middle of them. (Well, in-between them.)
To go back a bit for context, this is by no means Tommy and Noel’s first foray in business together. They also own and run SCL Sales, a third-party sales company. Since 2008 they have had a sales contract with Electric Ireland and for the past 10 years they have employed over 100 people north and south of the border.
With SCL Sales being field-sales dependant, in March 2020, the pandemic put paid to this for a time. So, the two men had a conflab – a brainstorm, if you will.
Noel recalls the meeting that led to Rooster’s vividly: “Everything was shut down. Our other business, they couldn’t go to work, they couldn’t go door to door. So Tom said, ‘What type of business would you do if you had a choice?’
“We both looked at each other and he already had an idea for this in his head. I said, ‘Retail or something sturdy, consistent.’ The next thing he had me out here showing me around, the deposit paid and ideas to launch it.”
With varying levels of restrictions throughout 2020, it was 9 December before Rooster’s opened. We all know the tale of last Christmas well – they weren’t open long when they were closed again. For many in a new business, this could mean panic stations, but actually, their takeout business was booming.
Of course, we’re all thinking at this point, were they not apprehensive opening a café in the middle of COVID-19?
It seems not in the slightest! They had a plan and it worked.
It’s important to know that, self-confessed on both sides, Tommy is the ideas man, Noel then puts a structure on these and executes them.
At a glance, their leap from sales to hospitality may seem random, but speaking a little bit more to the men about their background, it’s not at all. Tommy and Noel were both previously in hospitality.
Tommy’s hospitality story starts when he left the school up the road here in Gort.
“I left school at 14, so I had no education is one way to say it, and I still don’t,” he laughs with self-deprecating humour. “I went into catering and hospitality, so I’m not new to this. When I was 17 I went and trained with the Hotel Group in London. I did four years of hotel and catering management.
“Up until my late 20s-early 30s, I was involved in hospitality, but for the last 20 odd years I’ve been in sales and I’ve been running my own business alongside Noel for the last 14 years.”
Noel himself was duty manager for five years at the acclaimed Adare Manor. (He and I are both of the west Limerick persuasion, in case you couldn’t tell.) He then moved into sales, met Tommy and the rest, as they say, is history.
For the past number of years Tommy has also run another farm-related business, Pedigree Sales. It started as an online platform for sales of pedigree herds (says it on the tin!). As I visit Gort, Tommy has just launched another tier of Pedigree Sales.
He takes out his white tablet takes me through it, scrolling down along the website. This new element allows farmers to sell individual animals and farm machinery. DoneDeal specifically for farms, I gather.
On his own farm in Kinvara, Tommy breeds pedigree beef Shorthorns and has sheep also. His Caramba Shorthorn herd is very well-established, winning several red rosettes at the inaugural National Beef Shorthorn Show in recent weeks.
While Tommy is actively involved in the farm, he does have a farm manager, Trevor Chadwick, who was previously chief steward at the Tullamore Show. Alongside the farm, Trevor did the timber work for the interior of Rooster’s, making the benches and countertops. Another farm link.
As for Rooster’s strongest symbol of its farming connections, it has to be the name. “Rooster’s” is far from a catchy title, it has deep and powerful meaning.
The original name registered to the business was the Cock’s Café and Farm Shop, a nod to the Stauntons’ farming roots.
“My grandmother would have been from Kinvara and when my father was younger he got the nickname ‘The Cock Staunton’,” Tommy explains. “How he got that nickname was down to the fact that my grandmother used to have the only cock turkey in the village.
“At that time back in 40s and 50s they used to bring the cock turkey from one farm to another for the hens. He used to go on the bike with it and he got that nickname. It stuck with him all his life.
“The Cock’s Café and Farm Shop was kind of a referral to my dad and the local produce. He would have been well-known. Then my son passed last summer. He was born in 2005, he was born in the year of the rooster.
“He loved the fact that his grandfather was called The Cock Staunton and that he was born in the year of the rooster then. He always used to wear this cap with a rooster on the top. He said when he grew up, if he ever owned a bar, he was going to call it the Cock Staunton’s Bar.
“The funny part was, when my son passed, I knew I was going to change the name from the Cock’s Café and Farm Shop to Roosters Café and Farm Shop. That’s how the name changed. I think the name has a bit of oomph about it, it’s unique.”
It’s by no means easy for Tommy to tell this poignant story about his son, but he does so with love, and a comforting hand on his shoulder from Noel.
A touching tribute through the generations.
With all that said and done, I guess all that’s left to inquire is, what’s next for Rooster’s?
Well, the plan certainly isn’t just to stay in Gort. Remember Tommy’s earlier reference to Wexford potatoes? He wasn’t joking!
They want to bring Rooster’s to country towns throughout the country, says Noel. “That would be the long term plan, that rural town plan. This is the initial site if you like – mistakes, learnings, design, getting that right. Hopefully we’ll see a future brand developed.”
Tommy is looking forward to keeping local produce in communities, wherever that may be. “The concept is that if someone goes to a Rooster’s premises, they know they will be getting local produce from that area and that community. It’s scalable.”
So your big town, you know the one you have to go to for the bank, the one where the driving test is done? Keep an eye out, there could be a Rooster’s-led renaissance coming there real soon.