Age before beauty
After 78 years of supplying the goods in Ranelagh, Morton’s brings a thing of beauty to Dublin 2. Some locations are worth waiting for
8 December 2008
Set among the cavernous stone vaults of the old Harcourt Street station, Morton’s new deli cum convenience store at Park Place, Hatch Street, is a sight to behold. With its high vaulted ceilings and cut-stone walls over one metre thick, it is perhaps the most visually stunning setting any c-store ever occupied.
Sitting on just under 4,000 sq ft, the new enterprise had been open only a week on the day I met Gary Morton to talk about the latest venture for the gourmet retailer. Lunchtime trade, which is key at the centre of this sizable business district, is already picking up as new and old Morton’s fans learn about the store. And he expects it will soon be filling the gap in local wine and evening convenience trade, boosted no doubt by its proximity to the Luas.
Time to think big
With the exception of its small c-store at the Beechwood Luas stop, Morton’s has never opened another supermarket or food-store in the whole 78 years it has been in business at Dunville Avenue, Ranelagh. This is surprising for such a popular and well-known gourmet brand and I ask Gary, why now?
“They [Clancourt Developments] approached us about a year and a half ago but at that point we were developing the other shop and it just wasn’t the right time.” However, when they returned nine months later, Morton’s was ready to take its next step and expand beyond the old neighbourhood; a new departure for the brand, with a new format and a new focus.
“It’s certainly the biggest venture for us in a long time. We had the expansion of the shop last year, and we got awards and accolades for that and we’re very proud of the way it turned out,” Morton said. “[Beechwood] was the second shop, technically, but I think this is a major step up.”
Maybe it was a long time coming but for the location alone it was worth waiting for. “As a place to go; the history of the building, the stories behind it, the appearance of it, the architecture, it just makes it pure class as far as I’m concerned. If there was any place we would have wanted to come to this would have been top of the list.”
In that respect it was a stroke of luck for Morton’s that Clancourt was the developer to take on Park Place, as it especially wanted high-end food businesses such as Morton’s to fill the vaults of the stunning site. “They’ve had an interesting vision for this place for a while. They wanted to make it into a particularly classy place and we’re at the start of that now.”
When asked if he is in any way apprehensive about starting up a high-end deli in the current economic climate Morton was confident: “We’re feeling positive, we think we can do it. We have the support of our landlord and they want this to be a success, so we’re working together with them.
“There is nothing else like it around. We can do a good job down here, and we are doing a good job. Put all those things together and you’ve got a good offering. That will stand up no matter what the circumstances.”
The biggest challenge for the Park Place site will be getting noticed, given its tucked-away location. “We are a bit off the street,” admits Morton, who, while pragmatic, is nevertheless undeterred. “We’re going to work on this now and let people know that we’re here. That’s the challenge and it’s not a small one in the short term.”
On a positive note, the store does have the benefit of a series of shortcuts that will funnel people from the crowded Luas stop on Harcourt Street, and also, eventually, from Earlsfort Terrace, directly past its door. And it is the intention of both the retailer and developer to utilise these channels to market the business and draw attention to what will hopefully become the epicurean centre they envisage.
Food for thought
Location and marketing aside, Mortons’ confidence lies fundamentally in its own offering, which has deservedly become a well-known gourmet brand in its own right. The deli and chilled prepared food business at Hatch Street is serviced by the kitchen above the supermarket in Dunville Avenue, and this makes up the bulk of the store’s trade.
“All of the stuff we get in here is homemade. We get in very little from other suppliers,” says Morton. “We’re rather proud of that and we’re highlighting it down here. The deli is pretty much all our own production. The salads, cooked meats, all of the tarts, quiches, baked potatoes, it’s all our own.”
At the salad bar in the centre of the deli space customers can take a bowl already containing lettuce and add whatever other elements they like, from simple cubed feta to different dressed pasta. “It’s quite an American style of doing it,” Morton says.
The deli itself shows a great deal of thought and clearly aims at providing high quality and plenty of variety. “We went for a wider selection of cheeses, principally Irish.
“I think that high-end delis are judged on the choice that they offer, and the wider the range you have, makes a difference as to how you are perceived. And that’s definitely what we’re trying to do.”
Also in the deli space, the self-service coffee station is supplied by Casa del Caffe, which provides coffee to Morton’s own coffee shop, adjoining its Ranelagh supermarket. And at the juice and smoothie bar, customers can opt for a shot of wheatgrass juice, for an extra healthy kick in their favourite drinks.
“We’ve raised out game here. The deli is a stronger offer than what exists at the original shop and we will be developing that along similar lines to what we have here. We’ve definitely upped our deli performance and spec with this store.”
Down to business
Morton’s investment in its deli gives the Hatch Street store a very definite focus. “We’re focusing very much on lunchtime trade; the sandwiches and food-to-go,” affirms Gary Morton. That is not to say, however, that the business hasn’t come prepared to build up other day part trade, particularly evening time, which is noticeably underserved in the locality.
In the adjoining ‘c-store section’ of Park Place, Morton’s fresh prepared meals, sides, and soups line a chill cabinet next to the select ambient offering. “That’s always been a big part of the main shop and again it comes down here from our Ranelagh kitchen.” As the store finds its equilibrium, the portions of its familiar homemade dinners and salads have been adapted to suit lunchtime needs also, but Gary Morton remains confident that there is an evening trade to be had at Hatch Street. Local offices can supply abundant after work shoppers and of course the Luas attracts thousands to within less than a minute from its door.
It is early days, he acknowledges, and potential has yet to be converted to real sales. “Wine is selling quite slowly at first,” he says, although the store is only a week old. Wine is another underserved need in this location and Morton’s fully intends to capitalise on it; the offering at Hatch Street reflects this intention.
“I was rather careful in selecting the wine suppliers. We’ve only a few but we have a terrific selection of wines now and if, as I believe, the people around here are well up on their wine and their food, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
All in all, Morton’s Park Place can already be described as a success. It is a complete package and yet it is prepared to work and adapt until it grows the business it knows is there for the taking. Best of all, at its heart is a clear concept and a genuine offer based on true quality and a real understanding of good food.
“We’re very proud of the food we produce and the way it’s enjoyed by so many,” says Gary Morton, and that’s why people will come.