Food glorious food: Why Casey’s Londis Castlebar is way ahead of the curve on foodservice
Foodservice may be one of the biggest trends on forecourts these days but back in the 1990s it was a very different matter – which is why Gerry Casey was very much ahead of the curve when he made deli the USP of Casey Retail Group.
In fact, the focus on deli was all down to a chicken curry recipe that proved to be a huge draw at Casey’s Londis Castlebar, the first of the five stores in the group, as managing director David Tarrant explains.
“They had a lady, Kitty Common, who started with them when they opened the store in 1996 and she had a great chicken curry recipe. She started making her own chicken curry and her rice and her chips and a few bits and pieces and it became very, very popular,” he explains.
“So Gerry said to himself ‘There’s something here’. There were a lot of people coming in every day for the curry and would come in for their lunches, but she was the starting point for it all and it just grew and grew.
“If you go in now the range is huge and we’re very proud of it, but it all started with one person and one recipe.”
These days Caseys would describe themselves as foodservice operators with a shop and forecourt attached.
“Everything we do instore is to support the food and foodservice team. Through our energetic, passionate people and market leading brands we aim to exceed our customers’ expectations through friendly professional customer service,” David says.
“We aim to deliver a vast and varied range of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and food to go options under one roof appealing to all ages, time of day and to all different tastes.”
The Castlebar forecourt alone sells approximately 3,000 dinner solutions a week across the Kitchen@Caseys, Freshly Chopped and Four-Star Pizza brands.
“We sell approx. 1,500 plated meals, 300 grab and go Kitchen@Caseys Dinners, 700 Freshly Chopped lunches and 500 large pizzas – not including sides, meal deals, sandwiches, rolls etc.”
Identifying a site
Originally in the car business, Gerry Casey identified a site 24 years ago which he felt could potentially make a successful forecourt for Castlebar, and partnered with Shell to open the store. When he put in the deli, it proved hugely popular and soon began to grow.
“We’ve really built it into a substantial food business. Kitchen@Caseys is our named deli concept – obviously we have the grocery and the off licence, but our business is mainly built around the food,” Mr Tarrant says.
“The store is now 5,000 square feet, employing 70 staff. We seat 60 people indoor and 40 outdoor, offering hot freshly prepared food from 6AM to midnight.
“We have up to 12 traditional meal options daily – beef, salmon, bacon and cabbage, turkey and ham, beer battered fish & chips plus a few different dishes for the more adventurous. We do it to a very high standard and that’s what we’ve built our name on. It’s restaurant quality but it’s in a forecourt and is reasonably priced. That’s our number one driver that drives the whole business.
“We originally had the deli and then in 2017 we added Chopped – they’re franchises but we run them ourselves. We added Four Star a year later to cover the evening business – we close the deli in the evening and we’re open until midnight so the pizza covers that side of the business.
“We also have our own scratch bakery in Castlebar so we make all our own breads which is fairly unique for a forecourt.”
The forecourt itself was originally Shell before becoming Statoil, then Topaz, and now Circle K: “We’re very happy with it – we have a very good relationship with Circle K. We have four forecourts and they’re very busy.
“The business will soon be installing new pumps and the forecourt is to be relined, we currently have parking for fifty customers but there are no plans to expand that end of the business.
“It was built bigger than was required at the time so it’s absolutely fine for our needs now,” Mr Tarrant says.
The store itself offers a full range of grocery, dairy and chill, with crisps and snacks, soft drinks, health and beauty and off licence.
One of the newest features is the Bewley’s concept which was installed just before Christmas.
“We would be very passionate about our coffee and we wanted to add the new plant-based coffee concept,” Mr Tarrant says.
“So, when you go into Castlebar, the new unit is five metres in length and it’s all coffee stations and one of them is dressed up green – it’s the Alpro plant-based milk.
“The concept of Bewleys is rolling out across the country and we have it in three of our stores now. They will become commonplace over the next few years, but I think we’re the second shop in Ireland to put it in.
“We’ve a lot of customers for it – it’s a different concept, a different tasting coffee and it’s fabulous. It’s a nice feature and we’ve had a very positive response to it.”
When the pandemic arrived, forecourt turnover plunged by about 80%, Freshly Chopped closed for about six weeks, but the deli and Four Star remained open for food to go.
“We went from about 200 staff to 120 overnight – that was due to lockdowns, schools being closed, childminders,” Mr Tarrant says.
“Our business fluctuated greatly but we maintained our deli business through very difficult times.
“The only people who were busy in the pandemic were the supermarkets or online retailers and everybody else was challenged. Customer numbers were way back, as nobody was going out and we had the 5K restrictions which made travel difficult for staff and customers alike.
“It was very, very challenging but we got through it and I think the government got it right in everything they did. I must say I think they should be commended over the two years – whether they supported business or supported people at home, I think everything they did was right. And our staff were brilliant – they got us through it.
“They had to do more with less because the team shrank. But the requirements were still the same. We were still selling groceries, we were still selling alcohol, we were still selling deli, we were still selling ready meals.
“We have a delivery service for pizza, but in the middle of the pandemic we introduced a delivery service for all the shops for people who needed anything. We did it more for our local customers who needed essentials brought to the house or were nervous to come out or wanted a bag of coal or wanted their dinner.
“So, it was very much a service, rather than a revenue generator. We have some older customers, so we wanted to be able to contact them and they wanted to be able to contact us and we provided that service for six months at the start of the pandemic as required.”
The chain took action very quickly in March 2020, installing screens and signage before they were required to, he says.
“We very much had a Covid policy and Covid point of sale presence in the shops early. By the end of March, we had the arrows and the lines, the two-metre rule, we cleaned down the pumps and used gloves and sanitizers and cleaned down the coffee stations after use. There was a lot to be done quickly so we had to bring a lot of people onto the floor to sanitise everything.
“But it was the right thing to do and it gave all of our customers confidence and that brought us back in April and May because people weren’t seeing the same elsewhere.”
The Castlebar store is all set for a revamp in the next couple of months, including putting in a new first fresh food aisle to showcase the grab and go ranges.
“We pride ourselves on our strong commercial partnerships with BWG Foods, Aryzta Foods, Freshly Chopped, Four Star Pizza, Supermacs and Bewleys who all share in our vision and very much work closely with us on all aspects of obtaining our shared goal,” Mr Tarrant says.
The size of the off licence will be trebled, similar to the recent revamp in Ballina which now has three metres of backlit spirits.
Proud of campaign
Meanwhile the company is rolling out its Caseys ‘Proud of’ campaign for 2022 with the tagline: ‘We are so proud of what we do we want to share it with you.’
Across the five stores in Castlebar, Ballina, Galways, Limerick and Newbridge, Caseys employs around 200 people and is proud of its working environment.
“We had a lot of newcomers when we added some of the food concepts in Castlebar but a lot of the staff are there for years and they take them under their wing. It’s a very positive environment and we’re very proud of that,” Mr Tarrant says.
“We have a very, very loyal cohort of staff, very few people leave us and the staff got us through Covid.
“We’re very busy and they’re very busy in turn, so it’s a fast-paced place to work – we have good fun but we’re busy people.
“I could always do with more staff, but I don’t have the same challenges with labour at the moment as some of my fellow retailers. I’ve a great management team, I’ve great staff in the store, I’ve a lot of people who are multiskilled and interchangeable, so if somebody steps out, somebody else can step in – that’s what has kept us together.
“Now that we’re coming out of Covid, thankfully, business is very strong and we’re very happy with the way things are going.”
To read the article in IFCR, click HERE.