By Andrew Thompson OnTheLine on February 20, 2014
So its Friday lunchtime and you’re hungry. What do you fancy? Maybe a Kerala curry? Or some duck? Maybe a schnitzel or some sushi? Or how about falafel or fish and chips? A gourmet pizza or maybe some slow-cooked Moroccan lamb?
It’s all there and more just a short walk from Stillorgan Luas stop at the Sandyford Lunchtime Market. From 11.45am to 2pm every Friday, the normally unremarkable and grey Carmanhall Road on a busy industrial estate becomes a little piece of world food heaven.
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It’s certainly popular. More than 2,500 people drop in every week, says Des Vallely, the man behind the lunchtime market concept.
‘We continue to get great support from people who work for the big employers round here, such as SalesForce, Microsoft and Vodaphone,’ Des told OnTheLine. ‘And we also get visitors who travel to us on the Luas all the way from Cherrywood and Dundrum.’
It’s a proudly multicultural affair. ‘In the food stalls alone, you’ll find people of 15 to 16 different nationalities and that diversity is matched by the people who work around here and come down to us for their lunch,’ says Des.
On a typical Friday, market visitors can choose from more than 22 different food stalls. But what about the weather? No worries, rain or shine, the market goes ahead. ‘They are a hardy old bunch here,’ says Des.
‘There are other markets where people run off at the first sign of rain to cafes and restaurants. But customers here will come out no matter what to us, just to get their weekly fix.’
Des’ company is called Irish Village Markets which he runs with his wife Tara. The origins of IVM go back to the 1990s with fruit and vegetable stalls outside Monkstown Parish church.
‘We found out later with our farmers markets that when we introduced a few hot food stalls, they started doing good business,’ recalls Des. That realisation led the couple to a new market model – a market held at lunchtime, near offices, with the focus on excellent quality and reasonably priced hot food from around the world.
Today Irish Village Markets runs more than eight markets around Dublin with the same approach. On Fridays, for example, there’s an IVM food market on Grand Canal at Percy Place in Dublin city centre and from March to September, there’s one next to the Stillorgan Luas stop.
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So why have Sandyford, and its sister markets, been so successful?
‘Damn good food,’ says Des. ‘And at prices that are not going to break the bank. You can have a bratwurst for five euro or so – but whatever you do, the most you’ll spend is around eight euro.’
He is justifiably proud of the range on offer.’There’s even a Schnitzel Hut here. Ask most people and they won’t know what that it is,’ says Des. (For the record, it’s a German dish of a flat piece of bread crumbed meat, often pork, fried and served with a mushroom sauce.)
‘There’s also traditional Irish food here too like the breakfasts and there’s plenty of steaks. Many of our customers are big meat eaters,’ says Des.
A key part of his role is balancing the number of stalls to the number of visitors.‘You want the selection, you want the variety but you want to the stallholders to make a decent living so they come back next week,’ says Des.
For him, the stallholders are the stars of the show. ‘They come from many different sectors. Some are trained chefs, others would have come in from, say, the building industry. People with an passion for food who turned their hands to this and built up a business.’
Competition is intense. ‘Anyone here who doesn’t do any business, can’t blame the market because we get the numbers. The food has to be good. They have to fight for it,’ explains Des.
‘The food at our markets is up there with restaurant quality and in many cases surpasses it. Our guys may be operating out of makeshift tents as stalls but they know what they are doing. And they are passionate about what they are doing. And that’s what matters.’
Sandyford Lunchtime Market, off Carmanhall Road, Sandyford Industrial Estate Friday from 11.45am to 2pm
More here on the IVM website about their other markets at Spencer Dock, Waterways Ireland Visitor Centre, EastPoint Business Park, Mespil Road, Blanchardstown Corporate Park and Christ Church Cathedral. It also covers their corporate, wedding and private catering services and a downloadable guide on how to become a food stallholder.