Belfast Telegraph

Deli pops up, then Johnny preserves business in a shop

As the Year of Food and Drink 2016 progresses, Business Telegraph looks at a new retailer in Comber and continued success for a well-known fishmonger and bakery

By Rachel Martin

A former accountant has turned from number crunching to catering for Northern Ireland's increasingly sophisticated food tastes.

Johnny McDowell has just taken the plunge and opened his first physical store in Comber, Co Down after operating Indie Fude as an online deli for a year.

He spent months testing the market across various Northern Ireland towns through stalls at farmers' markets before he settled on a location.

The business sells everything from preserves and snacks to drinks and baked goods.

Johnny (40) had fallen ill and after recovering, decided to try something new.

He'd realised there was scope for a Northern Irish deli when he was travelling and began to feel that produce at home was as good as what he could find anywhere else. He said: "We have chocolate, butter and cheese that could rival anything you'd find in France and I realised that we have enough of food here that we could set up a retailer and not have to bring in products from anywhere else.

"We're trying to do something different, we're not trying to be the same as some of the other delis. We're all about local food and nothing else."

Now he's trading in his shop in a courtyard off High Street in Comber.

During his period travelling around markets, he had found Comber Farmers' Market particularly receptive.

"It persuaded me that there was a strong interest in what I'm doing. I was working from a renovated loft at my parents' house but needed more storage space and the courtyard's landlord contacted me and made an offer I couldn't refuse."

The shop was planned to be a six-month 'pop-up' venture set up with a budget of just £1,000 and some borrowed furniture but now he plans to stay put.

Some producers whose goods are stocked by Indie Fude also use the shop for a small fee. It's used Brenda Fraser from Holywood, the force behind La Coquine - a high-end chocolatier with eight Great Taste awards -and Mike Thomson of Mike's Fancy Cheese and blue cheese, Young Buck.

Mr Thomson also runs a social media campaign, #cheesefridays, from the shop.

And Johnny hopes that his shop and website can bring an appreciation for Northern Ireland food to a younger generation.

Its image is fresher and cheekier than traditional delis, reflected in its packaging, and customers can also sign up to a subscription so that new products can be sent to them every month.

The shop has also been helped by Northern Ireland chefs such as Paula McIntyre, who uses many of the products stocked at Indie Fude in her dishes.

Johnny said: "Getting things in motion with the website was actually much harder than setting up the bricks and mortar shop.

"Websites can be very buggy and need constant investment to host them and keep them running but it's great to reach out to markets you wouldn't normally have access to."

He feels that a focus on food tourism in Northern Ireland would help producers here and says he would like to see Co Down become must-visit destination for food tourists.

Running a hot food deli inside the store is a future ambition for Johnny.

However, with the doors of Indie Fude only just open, building a brand and reputation for the store is first on the agenda.

Belfast Telegraph