Cork's Quay Co-op celebrates 40 years in business

The landmark vegetarian and wholefood store and restaurant has been at the vanguard of societal change for four decades
Cork's Quay Co-op celebrates 40 years in business

The Quay Co-op, the landmark vegetarian and wholefood store in Cork City, celebrates its 40th year. Picture: Marcin Lewandowski

The team behind the Quay Co-op, the landmark vegetarian and wholefood store in Cork City that has been at the vanguard of societal change for 40 years, has recreated a famous photograph to mark the milestone.

And its co-founder, Arthur Leahy, says their radical roots which drove them in the early days continue to inform their work today.

“I speak for all the Quay Co-op members when I say that we are hugely grateful to the people of Cork for their continued support, it means so much to us,” he said.

“Reaching this milestone anniversary is down to hard work, dedication, and also that spark of alternative creativity that we see every day in the people that work here, come here, and shop here.

Our radical roots inform what we do to this day — they make us proud of where we work and of what we've stood for, for 40 years.

“Today, we face new challenges, none more so than ensuring that our future generations may respectfully enjoy this beautiful planet in peace.” 

The Quay Co-op founders renovated a neglected former pawnbrokers shop on Sullivan’s Quay and opened its doors in May 1982. It soon became the home of Cork’s first vegetarian restaurant and cafe, a food co-op, bookshop, women’s centre, and creche thanks to a collective effort of feminist, lesbian and gay, environmental, and other alternative groups and individuals.

It was a case of all hands on deck for the renovation project with members carrying out the work themselves.

A famous photograph at the time captured them leaning out the windows of the three-storey building. Today’s staff members recreated that photo to mark their 40th.

What began as a community co-operative during a time of rapidly rising unemployment developed into a workers’ co-operative which has employed 750 people over the last four decades.

Today, the co-op employs 50 people between its vegetarian deli, bakery, wholefoods store, and restaurant on Sullivan’s Quay, its vegetarian food production facility on Cove St, and its satellite stores in Carrigaline and Ballincollig. It is still owned by its members.

It now has three buildings on Sullivan’s Quay, number 24, and the premises on either side, one of which was previously the Cork Fire Brigade headquarters.

The team behind the Quay Co-op on Sullivan’s Quay, Cork, recreate a famous photograph from its early days in 1982. Picture: Marcin Lewandowski
The team behind the Quay Co-op on Sullivan’s Quay, Cork, recreate a famous photograph from its early days in 1982. Picture: Marcin Lewandowski

The Quay Co-op has also been at the heart of some of the most controversial movements in Ireland, providing a safe space for countless debates and an area for those who sought to organise against prejudice and for equality.

The image taken 40 years ago in 1982 ahead of the opening of the Quay Co-op. Picture: Kieran Rose
The image taken 40 years ago in 1982 ahead of the opening of the Quay Co-op. Picture: Kieran Rose

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

Quay Co-op general manager Simon Tiptaft said Ireland was a very different place in 1982.

“It was a time of rapidly rising unemployment and many people didn’t have a voice,” he said.

“Hundreds of people have worked at the Quay Co-op over the years but many have stayed for decades.

“Our team and our members are so important to us. Our customers too are savvy forward thinkers who continually spur us on to be better, to do more for the causes that will make a better future for us all.

“As a workers' co-operative we have a unique view on trading — for us, it is not about profit — if we can break even while supporting jobs and the causes that matter to us, that will do just fine for the next 40 years.”

To mark its 40th anniversary, a celebration is due to take place in ‘Upstairs at the Co-op’ restaurant on May 25 to thank its supporters, suppliers, and workers.

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