The Pantry: Mother Knows Best
By Rico Biriah
In the true spirit of Irish hospitality, the only job requirement is to provide excellent service in the hope that your paths will cross again. Add to this mix, a large helping of generosity, delicious food and a quaint notion that any favour is never too big or too small to ask. So, when a guest walks away feeling that the staff went above and beyond, they will keep coming back, again and again. Annette Dalton, the proprietor of The Pantry on Main Street in Moate and The Pantry Dún na Sí could write a book or two on this subject.
Born and reared in Moate, Annette was one of six children and freely admits to being someone who has always preferred the sunshine and fresh air of outdoors life. This suited her in spades, when aged 13, her family moved further into the countryside and took over Coolatore House in Rosemount. Coolatore is now forever linked to the late singer Michael Jackson, who stayed there with his family in 2006.
But, there was no showbiz glitz and glamour, when Annette lived on the estate. Instead, she gained a sound footing in the world of hospitality:
“My father was a farmer and to help support the family income, we opened Coolatore as a guest house and named it Farmhouse Holidays. Staying guests had a bed, a big hearty breakfast and home-cooked evening meals. Of course, being one of the girls, I was roped into the kitchen. But, I loved it and the hard work of running a guest house never fazed me.”
After secondary school, Annette headed off to train as a professional horse riding instructor in Dublin which was followed by a course in Montessori teaching. However, every weekend she travelled back home to Coolatore to help out. “My boss would always jokingly say that I didn't have to go home to work and that I was more than welcome to stay in Dublin for the weekend.”
The Pantry, Main Street.
In 1987, Annette’s family sold Coolatore House and her mother Ann decided to open a little coffee shop on the Main Street in Moate. She called it The Pantry. Ann had discovered a passion for cooking and wanted a way to continue working her culinary magic in the kitchen. Despite Annette’s initial determination not to get involved, she found herself being drawn back in the latest family business: “A week into the opening, my mother said, Oh it's really busy, will you ever come in and give me a hand. I did and 33 years later - my mother has now retired, and I'm still here!"
Over the years, The Pantry on Main Street has become a very successful mother and daughter project. Ann was content in the kitchen (and staying behind the scenes) while Annette, successfully ran the front of house.
Predictably, this family tradition of helping out has continued to the next generation. Annette proudly says that every one of her three children has worked at The Pantry on a Saturday for their “college top-up!.”
The Pantry at Dún na Sí
Over the years, The Pantry, has given Annette a great opportunity to get to know the townfolk of Moate very well. “In 1987, when we opened, Moate was a different town because there were no housing estates. There were just old families that knew each other. It's lovely now to see new families coming to the town.”
By 2017, Annette’s mother, Ann, had retired from The Pantry in Main Street. Annette’s vision at the time was to increase its seating capacity and open the restaurant at night time. “We were more of a bakery and deli and despite considering a move to a new location, I was never actively looking elsewhere.”
At this juncture, Annette's youngest daughter Gemma, started showing an interest in The Pantry as a business. When an opportunity to take over a lease on a former restaurant at Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park arose, Annette and Gemma decided to put in a tender. They won the contract to provide a service for the park and named the new venture The Pantry Dún na Sí.
Annette explained why she was drawn to the location, “I have always loved the outdoors. I remember thinking, 'oh my God wouldn't it be beautiful working here'. Every day, I would be looking out at the green grass, the beautiful trees and working in this glorious environment.” Her start-up costs for the new restaurant meant that she had to obtain a small bank loan and use every cent of her savings. “It was a blank canvas that suited me well. Everybody considered The Pantry on Main Street as mine, but it was my mother's brainchild. Here I could put my stamp on things.”
The Pantry Dún na Sí was received well and Annette could see the business grow steadily and employed 10 part-time staff. “A lot of people liked that I was someone local running a restaurant up here. Also, the park itself is very busy and good food was a huge added attraction for visitors.”
When her chef left in August 2019, she decided it wasn’t viable to remain open. So the Pantry Dún na Sí shut for winter season with a plan to re-open in March 2020. [The restaurant remained closed till July 2020.]
“The park management agreed to me serving coffees and baked pastries food from a mobile trailer while the restaurant was closed. So, in September 2019, I bought a horsebox from DoneDeal and put the restaurant’s coffee machine into it. Hey presto! after a super paint job, it became the Bean Box.”
Annette decided to offer The Pantry quality street food from the Bean Box. Customers can order cooked food that is rustled in the restaurant kitchen. “We keep the
menu for the street food simple but tasty. We offer a delicious burger, buttermilk chicken, loaded fries, chicken wings, a kiddie’s meal and seasonal salads.”
Covid-19 prevented The Pantry Dún na Sí from opening in March 2020. A new replacement chef that Annette had hired never got to set foot in the kitchen. While the restaurant remained shut with no income, Annette was thankful for the Government's financial supports that kept them ticking over. The restaurant finally re-opened in June 2020 when indoor dining was allowed for a while.
“I was very worried about keeping things safe in the restaurant. But, having the Bean Box outside to serve takeaway only customers, meant that only diners came inside. Buying the Bean Box was the best thing decision that I ever made!”
Annette plans to overhaul The Pantry on Main Street. She plans to have more baked goods, a bigger range in the delicatessen and an array of new artisan foods. Also, outdoor tables for dining in their private alleyway is going to be a new and exciting addition.
“The Pantry Dún na Sí and the Bean Box are here to stay. Recently, I've bought a nice ice cream cone machine and can't wait for the summer weather! I have a simple principle that has guided me my entire life: If it’s for you, it won’t pass you.”