Talking Healthy Food with Vanessa Clarke of The Good Food Store
The Good Food Store on South Great George’s Street is much more than just a, well, good food store, so we sat down with passionate foodie and owner Vanessa Clarke, whose extensive experience ranges from the surprising to the amazing.
From breakfast, brunch & lunch to coffee and many milk alternatives, there really is something for everyone within this Creative Quarter store. Alongside manager Ellie Myler, we got chatting about this wonderful business and their good food.
Tell us Vanessa, what is the background story behind The Good Food Store?
Vanessa: Well, it’s a bit of long story. When my son was four years old, I was quite the conscientious good mother and wanted to feed him properly. But at the time, I couldn’t find anywhere in town to buy organic food, it just didn’t exist. So when I opened my own shop, it became Ireland’s first organic food store, stocking so many organic products we even were given an organic license – I was the person to bring Innocent Smoothies into the country!
Nobody else was doing vegan, nobody was doing vegetarian. And when anybody came to town, like Moby or when ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ with Meryl Streep was being filmed in 1998, we were called on to do the catering. Vegetarian food was being viewed as “hippie food” not “hip food”, we were the only people making that kind of healthy food for the stars.
But then it all got too much, I had two stores, I had the catering company and I let it all go, sold it all and moved into the events business with John Reynolds of POD. When we launched Electric Picnic, it was the first festival in Ireland to have actual good food at it. In its first year, we had no processed food, no processed chips, we really went to town on it. And after I built that up, I came against the same problem in Sandymount, often looking for lunch but my team and I couldn’t find anywhere that wowed us, and there was no good coffee! I found a premises and decided to open The Good Food Store mark two.
We opened the shop on the first day to a queue out the door and it never really stopped. We had a captive audience out there, where the food was lovely and the coffee was fabulous and it really worked. But we outgrew Sandymount…so we opened another shop on George’s Street! When renovating and redoing this place, everything had to go – the only original thing here is the pole in the middle of the shop. But I love the vibe, the colours, the people – I love this shop!
How would you describe The Good Food Store?
Ellie: It’s in between wholesome, healthy food and very satisfying food. We worked on it being a more open and comfortable space to spend time in, rather than rushing in and out of. In the centre of town it’s important to give people time to enjoy what’s in front of them, and especially when we put a lot of effort into the way the place and the food looks.
What’s your favourite breakfast, brunch and lunch dish on the current menu?
Vanessa: My favourite breakfast, without a doubt, is the guacamole with scrambled eggs. And strangely enough I don’t drink caffeine, but the decaf coffee here is the best in town – and I’ve had decaf all over the world! And for lunch, I love the salad box, and when it’s a bit chilly out I do love to have a small soup on the side. As I’m on a carb-free diet, I love to have some tuna or chicken as extra protein on the salad, which works very well for me. And in the evenings, I love to take home a hot pot, as I can stick it in a pot and have my dinner in five minutes. It’s easy peasy!
Ellie: I really like the vegan breakfast burrito, even though I’m not vegan myself. It’s one of the few things I’m still not tired of. I’m still mad about the porridge too, we have loads of nice toppings and vegan milk that really makes a difference – porridge with coconut milk is very nice, it doesn’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. And all our staff love the vegan chili! I guess when we’re eating the food everyday we don’t want to be eating the heavy stuff. The vegan chili is a big hit with the staff, we’d probably eat that more than anything else.
What would be your have a guilty pleasure from the menu?
Vanessa: My guilty pleasure is the flourless brownie! Warmed up very slightly, with a scoop of natural yoghurt and some fresh raspberries. It is delicious! They’re nice cold, but they are just out of this world when warmed up that little bit. And sometimes when I feel I’ve deserved it, I’ll bring one home, pop it in the microwave for only five seconds and stick on the Netflix. And then the chocolate biscuit cake is just to die for, it is so good! If you let it warm up a little as they should be room temperature to be more delicious (we keep all our cakes in the fridge by law).
And what are your most popular dishes?
Ellie: The avocado toast is really big one, our breakfast burritos are also in high demand, whether it’s the vegan ones or those with eggs, and actually the superfood wrap that we recently added is hugely popular with everybody. We’ve noticed many of our loyal customers who used to get the roast in a roll all the time are now ordering that instead. And then our falafel is a popular choice as well.
When it comes to new ideas on the menu, do you think them up by yourself or is it a collaboration with the team?
Vanessa: It’s a combination of things as we decided not to keep changing the menu, it was confusing for people. The only thing we’re evolving and changing is the vegan/vegetarian food, and that is customer led. We are adapting to ensure our dishes can be made vegan/vegetarian-friendly, and we consciously use less and less meat, whereby our soups are never ever made with meat and are 99% vegan. We’re developing more hotpots to be less meat-based too, but all are still healthy, wholesome and delicious. When I look back to when the Sandymount store first opened, about 5% of coffee orders were non-dairy, and today here in George’s Street, about 60% are non-dairy.
What is your clientele like?
Ellie: It’s definitely mixed! Because we’re open 7 days per week, and we’re open in the morning and evening, it’s a great spot for all walks of life. On weekends it’s mainly families and tourists, when we do a huge amount of breakfast. We’ve had some quite strange requests from tourists for dishes not on the menu, and we’ll make something specific for young kids too. Whereas during the week there are a lot more working professionals, many of whom work in the local offices, so this is just one of their bi-weekly bases to eat. We see many of the same faces all the time, and we see the same faces for coffee every morning – we don’t even need to speak with them as we know their order, make it, hand it over and get a little friendly grunt!
Where do you like to shop or eat out in Dublin Town?
Ellie: I really like Designist, I’ve spend a fortune in there many a Christmas. And I do buy pieces in Retro the odd time, and we use the Asia Market when we have catering jobs that may require ingredients that aren’t on our usual suppliers’ lists. They’re lovely in there, and they’d come here for their coffees as well.
A few of our staff are also members of FLYEFit across the road, though I couldn’t join as I wouldn’t want anyone I know seeing the state of me at the gym! We like to keep things local for socializing around the neighbourhood. I also like going over to Ukiyo and Yamamori – they’re always good. I’m a fan of Wigwam too, over on Middle Abbey Street, they’re coffee is very good. And a browse around the charity shops too!
How does the name of your store reflect your ethos?
Vanessa: We’re called The Good Food Store but we don’t publicize it enough: everything here is genuinely good! We don’t use hidden ingredients, you won’t find any trans-fats, you won’t find any preservatives, you won’t find anything hidden in our food. It’s like when I was working on EP, I said I’d do it but I’m not selling crap food! And every one of our cakes is handmade by Daniella downstairs, here we use Kerrygold butter, we use fresh lemons, we use high quality chocolate.
It’s easy to eat well and I’m passionate about feeding people good food, and likewise about the awfulness of people being fed bad food that isn’t proper food, I find it just so bad! I believe if your body eats real food, you’ll be able to process it. It’s that simple. The Good Food Store is a lifestyle, we just don’t sell bad food – and that’s how we roll here!
The best way to really understand The Good Food Store is to stop in at 24 South Great George’s Street, and try their delicious food, drinks and enjoy a break away from the bustling city centre. Your body will thank you later!