Paul Lenehan is the person behind this latest venture for this food emporium in Kildare Town. Having had success with Hartes, Dew Drop and Ashtons properties, Paul and his Business partner Ronan Kinsella are probably among the industries more positive and driven entrepreneurs. Pauls vision and awareness are to be applauded. His career began within hospitality, and his success is testament to what is possible when you enjoy your work.
His latest adventure – Firecastle – is something of a departure. Having purchased the site in the heart of Kildare that had been derelict for 35 years, the hope is that his unique melange of services could transform the centre of the town. Firecastle offers a range of services that are inter-related – a hybrid shop, if you like…” it’s a family grocer with plenty of twists, we’re all involved, especially my wife Pauline and my sister Jill”.
“That’s exactly what it is,” says Paul, “A hybrid. In fact, when I was doing our business plan for the bank, that’s precisely what I called it – a hybrid store.
“We always said, that we wanted a ‘market shop’ and the site we bought was on market square (in Kildare) so straight away, we were thinking of a market-themed shop. So, the market-themed shop became a kind of grocery store and we decided to add in the café element to it, which had the delicatessen side to it.We’d be going around for years, admiring the likes of Neven Maguire’s in Blacklion with the cookery school element to it.
“We realised also that it would be suitable as a place to stay as we were in an ideal spot on the square to put rooms in it… we could put a cookery school in it – we could put a grocery store in it, we could put a café in it. And then we realised that there was nothing around at all like what we were doing.
“For example, there are plenty of cookery schools around but they but few have rooms. There are a lot of restaurants with cookery schools but no rooms or no shop. This is very much a hybrid store that has everything from a slice of Neven Maguire’s to Avoca to Donnybrook Fair and to a Fallon & Byrne… It works here in Kildare because of what the Market Square offers.”
This one-stop-shop is a kind of microcosm of what you’d find in somewhere like the Market Square in an Irish town. Even the range of the food offer goes from the fresh basic ingredients like vegetables and fruit to prepared meals covering a variety of tastes.
Through the Covid restrictions, the takeaway element of prepared foods has been the mainstay, but so too has the fresh food section, Paul says.With a staff of thirty- five, the biggest learning curve for the operation has been in trying to find a gross profit in an operation that incorporates so many different elements at different stages of food production and such a variety of services.
“It is a very labour-intensive operation,” he says. “That has been our biggest challenge to date .Trying to a balance and trying to establish a steady gross profit in a business that encapsulates everything from a cookery school to a café to a deli to a shop. Its hasn’t been easy and every day is different, we’re still trying to find our level but its what drives us to succeed.
During the last few months, he says, the rooms have been full and they haven’t needed to push the cookery school too much but now that they are deeper into winter and Christmas is coming, the relevance of the cookery school should come into its own. Packaging over night stays with a cookery lesson is an area that they feel will help fill mid-week and weekend trips to Firecastle.
“That was always the idea – that the cookery school would keep the rooms and the restaurant busy during the week for people that wanted to come and do a few days of the cookery school with friends and then go for a meal in Harte’s.”
The building in which Firecastle is housed has had a chequered, interesting history, having been used in the past for a variety of services.
“The owner would have lived on site, there was an abattoir to the rear of the place and it had previously been a forge so there’s an awful lot of history attached to the place.”
In choosing the name for the new business, they tried to incorporate a nod to its past use or uses as much as possible. Having toyed with the idea of naming the cookery school The Forge Cookery School, they took inspiration from Firehouse Lane – the lane that runs adjacent to them and the Church of Ireland cathedral.
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