Q & A with Derek Kelly, Founder of Nourish | Nourish
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Q & A with Derek Kelly, Founder of Nourish

Posted: Wed, 23 November 2016, 07:24

Celebrating 30 Years in Business: Q & A with Derek Kelly

Could you tell us what were your motivations behind setting up your very first Health Food Store back in 1986? Myself and my wife Yvonne were vegetarian at the time and had this idea to own and run either a vegetarian restaurant or a health food store. It was a dream really but based on our firm belief of the importance that whole-food plays on a person’s health. Back then you have to realise that it was a very different Dublin. A very grey and drab Dublin I should add. Requesting a vegetarian option in a restaurant usually resulted in a plate of lettuce leaves, six slices of cheddar cheese, two tomatoes and if you were lucky, a boiled egg! Ireland today it was not.

We had been vegetarian and even macrobiotic (or macro-neurotic as I called it) for many years and ate in the vegetarian restaurants of the time such as The Golden Dawn, The Supernatural Tearooms and Munchies and of course shopped in health food stores too such as the wonderful Green Acres on Great Strand Street and later on South King Street, Nature’s Grace and the Golden Dawn on Crow Street. I remember after some brave entrepreneurs opened a vegetarian restaurant and got into terrible trouble with the Food Safety Authority inspector for having wooden tables which was a first at the time but seen to be completely unhygienic, probably due to the lack of melamine or plastic tops. And so it was that the possibility of opening a store that could offer people a choice of natural foods was both very appealing and provided it would work out for us then be an extremely satisfying and rewarding venture too. 

If you go back 30 years was it difficult to get across to new customers what a Health Food Store was all about? Absolutely. I remember we had rows and rows of porridge oat flakes and organic brown rice on the shelves. People would literally pass by the door and shout abuse at us. That said we also had lots of incredibly open and loyal customers, many I should add that still support us to this day. For us it was always primarily about education; firstly continually educating ourselves and then in turn those who frequented our shop and it has not changed one bit to this day. Admittedly though yes, it was certainly a lot more ‘difficult’ to get our message across back then than it is today but in another way it was that exact challenge and the continual positive feedback from customers which kept the drive in us alive.

Where was your first store “The General Health Store” located and how quickly did you expand to opening other stores? Our first store was located in Marlborough Street, behind Clery’s department store. At the time a store such as ours did not have to be on a main street as we were a ‘destination store’. In other words those who were looking for what we had to offer were prepared to go that extra mile and find us. Of course nowadays that would just not work financially. But back then it did and our shop was literally a haven among the general madness of the area at the time. A few years later we opened in the Nutgrove Shopping Centre in Rathfarnham which a few years earlier had won the European Shopping Centre of the year award - but of course now it is dwarfed by the Dundrum Centre. This was an ‘interesting’ venture because at the same time the Tallaght Shopping Centre opened which drowned out all business in Nutgrove and alongside interest rates of 17.5% we very nearly lost all the wheels from our whole food wagon. But we survived, somehow. Next was our store on Liffey Street which was equally challenging but as its customers will know, Aoiffe our manager there and her staff are still providing a wonderful wholefoodie service. So you can see that we have never been like the Natural Bakerys or the Chopped of today with many shops opening within a very short period. Slow and steady has been our approach and it suits us just fine. Just as you should cook your short grain organic brown rice!

 

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