Belfast Telegraph

The Good Food and Wine Company - helping to showcase the very best of local produce

By Rachel Martin

Originally set up to showcase the best of Northern Ireland produce abroad in a bid to boost exports, the Good Food and Wine Company opened its first shop in Belfast earlier this year.

Founders Michelle and Nicholas Lestas said they were surprised by the level of support when they took part in a pop-up shop event, prompting them to open a store.

The pair founded the Good Food and Wine Company in 2013.

The husband and wife had worked as management consultants for small businesses and government departments for more than a decade and had become more and more aware of the issues facing small food producers.

Mr Lestas said: "We started to realise what the difficulties are in getting food produce out of Northern Ireland, especially the difficulties in competing against much larger companies.

"We set the company up with the aim of developing concepts and to bring together the best of what Northern Ireland has to offer and putting together a brand for it. There's been a culture of change and people like to support local. We have among the best produce in the world and we don't shout about it enough.

"We haven't been overtaken by mass production. We have small farmers and food producers who are close to the land and who care about what they produce.

"We're not a deli, we don't bring in products from anywhere and everywhere, we only stock the best of local produce."

The couple work with farmers and food producers to develop a range of fine foods which they feel can help to showcase Northern Ireland's food and drink abroad.

All produce sold by the business is made on the island of Ireland (80% from Northern Ireland and the rest from the Republic of Ireland), with the exception of their pasta and balsamic vinegar.

Earlier this year, the company opened a development centre costing around £60,000. The centre allows the couple to work with the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), and food producers, to create products for an overseas market.

Several of the company's products have been acclaimed by critics. Products made for the company which have won Great Taste Awards include a marmalade laced with Irish whiskey, dark honeycomb and traditional Irish shortbread with ginger.

Good Food and Wine Company goods can also be found on the shelves of Harrods, where the company has found a market for its non-alcoholic hot toddy.

The decision was made to open a shop and tea room in Queen's Arcade after the couple sensed a strong interest in what they were doing at a pop-up shop event held in June last year at Belfast City Airport.

Already, the business has involved substantial initial investment - £100,000 spent setting up the Drumaheglis development centre, and another £100,000 on the Queen's Arcade store. This year, the company is expected to turn over around £250,000.

While the store is still building a reputation in Northern Ireland as a destination shop, Mr Lestas said that he hoped to open another store in Dublin in the future.

The couple - whose business employs 12 people - are showcasing their products at the Designerie, a social enterprise in Bushmills which works with local artists and crafters.

Belfast Telegraph