40 years of Cork's Quay Co-op: For many years we were seen as niche and off-centre

The Quay Co-op in Cork city first began as a community project before developing into a workers cooperative
40 years of Cork's Quay Co-op: For many years we were seen as niche and off-centre

Simon Tiptaft, General Manager at Quay Co-op. Photo: Marcin Lewandowski | soundofphotography.com ©

The Quay Co-op in Cork city has pushed boundaries since it first opened its doors in May 1982. While a lot has changed in forty years, the core ethos of what they do has remained the same.

“The ethos of the co-op has always been to be sustainable. Even the model of being a cooperative is sustainable. It’s all about trying to make sure that we are doing things for all the right reasons,” explains General Manager, Simon Tiptaft.

“We’ve always been trying to find ways of producing products or presenting products to the customer that eliminates lots of big things like plastic and recyclable.” 

Marking its 40th anniversary this month, the Quay Co-op in Cork city first began as a community project before developing into a workers cooperative.

The project began during a time of rapidly rising unemployment in Cork and the Co-Op was set up thanks to a collective effort of feminist, lesbian and gay, environmental and other alternative groups and individuals.

It has been at the forefront of social justice campaigns locally and nationally, campaigning for gay rights, women’s rights and environmental issues.

Still owned by its members, Quay Co-op currently employs 50 people between its vegetarian deli, bakery, wholefoods store and restaurant on O’Sullivan’s Quay, its vegetarian food-production facility on Cove Street and satellite stores in both Carrigaline and Ballincollig.

More recently, an online shop has been established so that people across the country can enjoy their vegetarian, organic, sustainable produce, along with a new meeting room called the pawnbroker's office. The original building was previously a pawnbroker’s shop before it was transformed into a thriving hub in the 1980s.

Simon Tiptaft photographed outside the restaurant ahead of the 40th anniversary of Quay Co-op's opening. Photo: Marcin Lewandowski | soundofphotography.com ©
Simon Tiptaft photographed outside the restaurant ahead of the 40th anniversary of Quay Co-op's opening. Photo: Marcin Lewandowski | soundofphotography.com ©

Opening a vegetarian restaurant 40 years ago seemed “slightly mad”, but Simon said the restaurant has been a staple for “not just vegan and vegetarians, but people who decide they don’t want to always eat meat every day of the week”.

"For many years, we would have been niche, slightly kind of off centre. Now, not so much.

While they have expanded a lot since 1982, sustainability has always been engrained in Quay Co-Op from day one - and remains the foundation of everything they do to this day.

The other thing that “holds it all together,” according to Simon, is that Quay Co-op started as a cooperative and it still is a cooperative. While members are running it, all money is put back into the business.

“There is no profit being taken out of the business by anybody. We’ve done that for 40 years and provided lots of local employment,” Simon explains.

In keeping with their efforts around sustainability, one big step for Quay Co-op was making everything available in refills - from nut seed to dry fruits, coffee and tea.

“All these products [which] for years and years were arriving in big packets from various parts of the UK and Europe are now organically delivered to us in big units which are then put into refills and people come in and fill up their own containers.” 

This was a “huge step” for Quay Co-op who have been at the forefront of such initiatives for some time. Offering organic options in keeping with dietary requirements is another key focus.

“That’s how we started. We don’t know any different…we’re so ingrained in that kind of business that we just need to keep growing and keep developing and giving people more options."

The Co-op also has an electric vehicle for deliveries and exports vegetarian products that are sold in health stores across the UK.

In recent years, it has added its own range of foods to buy, including its famous dahls, curries, soups and vegan dishes which are produced in its industrial kitchen in Cove Street.

40 years on, the focus is “sustainability and continuing to be the leaders in the provision of organic vegetarian and vegan wholefood for Cork and beyond”.

For more information, see quaycoop.com.

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