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Surviving and Thriving: Gourmet Tart Co getting a bigger slice of the action!



Is your business bucking the trend during Covid? Have you found opportunity in adversity? How are you doing your best to survive and thrive despite the pandemic? Tell us your story by emailing Mark it ‘Surviving and Thriving’ – and we’ll do our best to feature the good news over the coming weeks on the pages of the Connacht Tribune or Galway City Tribune.

The Gourmet Tart Company must be one of the rare operations in the country to buck the trend of closures – instead increasing their staff to meet the new demand for a newly-launched service.

All six of their shops — bakeries, coffee shop and the restaurant in Salthill — closed during the first lockdown, but that time has been used well by owners, Michelle O’Donnell and husband Fintan Hyland.

“It was all new to us, the lockdown. We felt it was safer for both our staff and customers to close as we were not clear on the safety measures or how or if we could implement them. But we all learned during that time and we made sure we would be well prepared for a safe re-opening.

“Fintan was a scientist and he was so aware of safety and health issues and we weren’t comfortable opening during the first lockdown.

“We did open after lockdown and for the current lockdown, we ensured that we would keep our staff working, which we are doing, ensuring of course that they were able to do so in a safe environment,” said Michelle.

The demand for take-out and ease of shopping via click and collect and deliveries led to Michelle and Fintan deciding on expanding a successful hampers service they provided last Christmas.

But it seems now, more than ever, the demand for home delivery services has never been higher. And with Christmas around the corner, it’s timely that the Gourmet Tart has started selling hampers a lot sooner than they had anticipated.

To experiment and see how a non-Christmas hamper would go down with local customers, they did a trial with Home Sweet Home hampers.

There was no doubt about it, when people couldn’t visit family and friends, ordering a hamper for a loved one appeared to be a lockdown staple. The Halloween Hocus Pocus hampers sold out too.

Their Salthill restaurant has been turned into a hive of activity as it is their hamper packing hub. Where once tables were filled with regular customers enjoying the menu, those same tables are now covered in bubble wrap, paper, boxes and other accoutrements needed to pack a hamper.

Another skill learned is meeting the packaging requirements of the couriers ensuring that goods arrive safely in one piece!

Hampers start at €25 plus €5 delivery charge nationwide (thanks to a deal with a courier company) and luxury ones especially for Christmas will go up to €100.

Apart from wine, most, if not all of the goods, are made in the Gourmet Tart kitchens from baking, to jams, to spices, to seed mixes, granola to relish. And the ones not made in their own kitchen are all sourced locally.

“We were determined to support local and we are thrilled to include Calendar Coffee roasted in Barna to Galway socks from Irish Socksciety, as well as tea blends from Solaris Teas, another local company.

“I think many of our customers hadn’t realised just how many products we made ourselves as most think of us as a bakery, coffee shop and restaurant. Fintan has always been experimenting in the kitchen and we are very proud of our own range of products which we are now able to use in the hampers,” she added.

Though there are a range of hamper selections on their website, Michelle, says that people can email and custom make their order.  Cookies, bars, Christmas cakes, pecan snowballs and macaroons all travel well for hampers making their way further afield in the country. But the main thing for the business, Michelle stresses, was being able to hold onto their staff during this lockdown — and even increasing it to keep up with the demand on their hampers.

Fintan is kept busy in the kitchen making relishes, mixing Middle Eastern spices and jams.

“We stand over our product and we are happy we were able to diversify a bit to ensure the business stays open,” said Michelle.

The Gourmet Tart now employs 70 people in its six outlets around the city and will celebrate its 20th year next year.

(Photo: Michelle O’Donnell of Gourmet Tart Co, bucking the trend).

The Connacht Tribune & Galway City Tribune – supporting local business


Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises



From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.

Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.

She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.

“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.

“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.

She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.

In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.

But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.

“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.

“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.

Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.

However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.

“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.

“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”

In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.

“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”

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Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge



The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.

Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.

A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.

The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.

The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.

One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.

Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.

The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.

(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).

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Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City



From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.

Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).

Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.

He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.

The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.

At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.

Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.

And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”

Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.

Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.

He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.

The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.

“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.

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