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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Katy McGuinness

From sleepy seaside town to foodie haven: ‘Tramore was somewhere you went for chips, and now they were queuing for sourdough bread’

Nicola Crowley and Dvir Nusery of Mezze deli and café, Tramore. Picture: Matthew Photography

If it’s been a while since you last visited Tramore, it might be time to take another look at the seaside town long associated with bucket-and-spade holidays, old-school amusements and a food offering limited to fish and chips.

Following in the footsteps of its UK equivalents — traditional seaside resorts such as Brighton and Margate — Tramore has become trendy over the past few years, a magnet both for those with pre-existing ties to the town and those with no connection whatsoever, but a wish to base themselves on the coast in a family-friendly location where they might be able to afford to buy a house and put down roots. There are even those who say one of its restaurants is worthy of a Michelin star.

Everyone agrees the turning point for Tramore came when artist-turned-baker Sarah Richards and her husband, Conor Naughton, opened their Seagull Bakery in the town back in 2017.

“I grew up in Tramore,” says Sarah, “and I always knew the town had huge potential, with all the beautiful coves and cliffs, but I was desperate for its image to change. After art college at the Crawford in Cork, I couldn’t wait to get away and travel the world. When I came back to Ireland, I did the certificate course in Ballymaloe and I had an idea that I would go and work on boats half the year and paint the rest, but then I had my daughter, who is 19 now, and I knew it was time to come home. I could see Tramore had the best of everything and I would have family support.”

Starting a bakery was, says Sarah, “almost accidental”.

“I started baking at home and selling at farmers’ markets to pay the bills,” she says. “In 2013, I converted the art studio at the end of the garden into a bakery but I was having trouble keeping up with the demand. The queues at the markets were getting bigger and I never seemed to be able to bake enough.”

On her travels, Sarah had observed that there was often a bakery at the heart of many busy towns.

“It broke my heart to see Irish towns boarded up and supermarkets taking trade from small independent businesses,” she explains. “I reckoned the thing that really makes a town and invigorates its centre is a bakery. The tourist season in Tramore is about seven weeks long and I knew from the farmers’ markets, where I had built up relationships, that I should focus on the local market instead. A lovely shop became available and we took it on and renovated it, opening in September 2017. I thought perhaps I could help restore some pride in the town and I’m very proud other people think we had a role in attracting other businesses in.”

From the day Seagull opened, selling sourdough loaves, cinnamon buns and croissants — all made with a little more wholegrain and a little less sugar — there were queues of people outside until Sarah sold out.

The team at Seagull Bakery, Tramore. Picture: Patrick Browne

“I had a vision of a sleepy little bakery with maybe me and one other person working in it, but within a week I had to hire more staff,” she says. “Hopefully, it will inspire people in other towns to do the same. Now other interesting businesses have moved in and more are following. The pedestrianisation has worked really well — every seat is taken and the place is packed.

“The only downside is house prices, which are rocketing, and people are now worried about whether their children will be able to afford to live here. I love The Pier Café, the Doneraile Walk, Newtown Woods and Croke’s Pub. And the Beach House is really classy.”

Sarah and Conor have since opened two more branches, in Dungarvan and Waterford.

Inspired by the success of Seagull Bakery, Nicola Crowley and Dvir Nusery opened their Mezze deli and café across the road in 2019. The couple met in New Zealand and lived in Israel before returning to Ireland in 2015. They, too, are veterans of the local farmers’ market and festival scene, their food offering rooted in the Middle East and Israel, where Dvir is from, and from where they have recently returned from a trip to visit family and research new dishes.

This month, they self-publish their first cookbook, Mezze, which will be available instore, from, and selected independent food and bookshops around the country. It is a collection of accessible recipes for Middle Eastern food — think Ottolenghi but without the very long lists of ingredients — accompanied by stories about the food culture of Israel and Dvir’s family.

“Sarah definitely started all of this,” says Nicola. “When we were getting the loan from the Credit Union — not in Tramore — they kept asking us, ‘Why are you opening there?’ They expected us to open in Dungarvan.

“Now it all makes sense: there are places to go, it’s amazing for families, and now the food culture is growing. We love living in Tramore and having our business here. There is such a good buzz from our customers and a strong network of businesses. We are so delighted with what’s going on in the town. Some of our favourite places are Bardoe for pizza, Unbeetable for healthy take-out and Sea Brew at Newtown Cove.”

Nicola Crowley and Dvir Nusery of Mezze. Picture: Matthew Photography

Nicola and Dvir’s two young children both attend the local Educate Together school, where there are parents from all around the world.

“One couple from Australia picked Tramore off Google Maps and just moved here because they could see it had everything they wanted,” says Nicola. “Even pre-Covid, people could see Tramore as a town with schools and facilities, on the coast and accessible to Waterford city. Then, post-Covid, they copped on pretty fast that they could work from home and live by the sea. In the past, people visited Tramore for the amusements, but now they come into town to pick up pastries for breakfast and head to a wild-swimming location before coming back to Mezze for lunch. We are promoting it as a food-and-drink destination with Taste Tramore and the Vitamin Sea Festival in September. The idea is that in Victorian times, when people came for the sea-bathing, that was when there was the most iodine in the water, so it’s a good way to promote the outdoor side of Tramore.”

Chef and founder of Conbini Condiments Holly Dalton grew up in Tramore.

“I did like it,” she says, “but there was nothing much there. I went to school in Waterford and, while there was a buzz in Tramore with tourists in summer, it was very dead in winter. It was hard to get people to come out — even though it’s only 9km from Waterford, it felt far away. I didn’t socialise in Tramore, and my parents didn’t go out for dinner there because there was nowhere to eat. I left at 18 — I couldn’t wait to get away. My parents have been saying for years that Tramore is going to change but I couldn’t see it. Now it’s unrecognisable. There’s a skate park and public loos and so many great places to eat.

“I think the opening of the Seagull Bakery was the turning point. The idea of an artisan bakery with appropriate pricing in Tramore? Until then, Tramore was somewhere you went for chips, and now they were queuing for sourdough bread.”

These days, when Holly visits for the weekend, she walks in the Lafcadio Hearn Gardens. “I never thought Tramore would be home to a Japanese garden and cool vintage clothing shops,” she says. “I just didn’t think these things would be supported here, that there would be so many things to do.

“I always visit the Seagull for a malted loaf or one of the seasonal cruffins. Their focaccia is amazing and so are their dillisk salted caramel squares. They have a natural-wine selection, too, so I go in and pick up a bottle or two, and call into Mezze for a falafel wrap and to choose things from their pantry selection.

“If I’m barbecuing, I shop at Cove Stores, a small grocery beside my parents. I supply them with my condiments and it’s like a mini Ardkeen Stores.”

Having been desperate to get away from Tramore at 18, now Holly can’t wait to move back. “I’m moving there, 100pc,” she says. “Just as soon as I can get a mortgage. I always thought I’d live in Dublin, but I can base my business anywhere and Tramore offers everything I want, and it’s more affordable. There are places to eat and go for a drink. I like The Vic and the garden at the Beach House for a drink before or after lunch, which is a real treat. It’s not missing anything. My husband, Sebbe, is Swedish and at first he wasn’t as convinced, but he’s on board now. I still feel not that many people know about it — it’s still undervalued, but when people go there, they tend not to leave.”

Another of Holly’s favourite Tramore spots is Molly’s at the beach, beside the T-Bay Surf Club, one of the busiest in Ireland.

“The café is upstairs and there’s a panoramic view of the sea, and the coffee is amazing. There’s a queue out the door all day every day — the staff chat to everyone and the atmosphere is really nice.”

Owner Molly McCann moved to Tramore — her dad’s hometown — from Dublin at the age of 14.

“The summer we moved, I started working in the café that was here then,” she says, “so I knew it really well. After school and college, I went travelling and spent a year each in New Zealand and Australia, and when I came home, the tenants were leaving. It was probably a little sooner than I would have planned, but it had always been my dream to have a café here and I opened on July 2, 2019, when I was 24.

“In New Zealand, I’d worked in a coffee shop that had no food and in Melbourne in a vegan café. I wanted to keep things simple and focus on the coffee and a very small food offering. It’s absolutely flying; we get through 70kg of 3fe coffee a week. That’s a lot!

“I have five full-time staff and 16 on the books. I feel extremely lucky to be here opposite the beach and the surf club. I’m not a surfer myself — I’ve tried lots of times but it’s not for me. But the members are great!

“Tramore is definitely much busier now than when I was a teenager. I remember winters used to be quiet, but now it’s really fun all year round. When I was younger, we used to go out in Waterford but now we always stay in Tramore.”

Peter Hogan is another Tramore native who has returned home to his roots. He and his wife, Jumoke Akintola — they met when they were both working as teachers in London — opened the Beach House restaurant in 2020, so this will be their first full year in business. They also own Fish Shop on Benburb Street in Dublin.

Jumoke’s confident cooking owes more than a little to the low-key elegance of her favourite London restaurant, St John — and this year it’s become even more confident, as the menu is wholly based around fish. The restaurant is open for lunch only, serving a small menu of whatever is landed that day. It’s booked out weeks in advance.

Jumoke Akintola and Peter Hogan of Beach House Tramore. Picture: Patrick Browne

“People from Tramore are fiercely proud,” says Peter, “and definitely when I was growing up, there was a sense that you were lucky to be growing up in a nice place on the coast. I left to go to college and I definitely wanted to live in other places, but it’s a pretty open place and doesn’t feel claustrophobic like some other Irish towns. I always had a sense I might end up back here.”

“I had no idea we might end up here!” says Jumoke. “Although it was actually me who came up with the idea. I think it was meant to be. I wouldn’t normally be looking at commercial property on Daft, but I was, and I saw this and said to Peter, ‘We need to go and have a look at this.’ We loved the place, the building. I’ve always lived in cities so I had really no idea what I was letting myself in for, and then the pandemic came and we were trapped in Tramore, which was a bit overwhelming at times. But over the last year, we’ve spent more time in London and Dublin, and I can appreciate Tramore as a lovely base.

“There are lots of people gravitating back. Quite a few of Peter’s friends from home lived near us in Hackney and they have all moved back to be closer to family, and to raise their own families. Some have their own businesses; others work remotely, or travel to Dublin a day a week like we do.”

“One works in London City Airport and spends a week there and two weeks here,” says Peter. “The modern working way makes Tramore a desirable place.”

Local auctioneer Michael Griffin says he has never known demand for property in the town to be as high.

“Tramore is really on the map these days,” he says. “People appreciate there aren’t many places with the amenities we have — between the beach, the surfing and swimming spots such as the Guillamene, and the accessibility of those things.

“During Covid, people knew how lucky they were and as soon as the lockdowns were over, the phone started ringing. There was huge demand. There’s always been a tendency for people to come back to Tramore when they reach the stage of having their own families. But those are people with a connection to the town; now there are people coming who have no connection, or who are friends of friends. With hybrid working, if people have to be in Dublin a day a week, they know it’s only a podcast up the motorway.

“It’s very affordable compared to London or Dublin. People see the value. You can get a detached house with a view of the sea for €400/500,000. Property turns over very quickly; there is undersupply and we are waiting for new schemes to start. You can get a two-bed holiday cottage for €175,000 and you might spend up to a million on a large detached house on the Cliff Road. Sea views are what everyone wants, but every type of house is in demand.

“In town, the food element is catching on and the pedestrianisation of the public realm has created a lovely hub. On a sunny day, the plaza outside Seagull is very buzzy with people sitting around having coffee, and even in the winter months you’ll see people out getting coffee and walking dogs in the evening. Even at the amusements, there have been lots of improvements — the dynamic has changed, the mindset of the town is progressive, and it’s safe.”

While Tramore still lacks a smart hotel — all eyes are on the once-grand Grand Hotel, now sadly closed, to see what will become of it — and the best Airbnbs are booked up long in advance, Peter Hogan has no doubt that the coming years will see Tramore’s potential fully realised.

“In the way we could see Beach House having a long-term future 50 years from now,” he explains, “you can see where the town is going. It has all the elements. I think the traditional seaside-town amusements are a real positive and not at all at odds with what we are trying to do.

“The Greenway has been transformative and the town itself is super-clean and well looked after; the local council does a great job. It’s a real fun package — there’s history and a sense of place, it’s very beautiful, it has its own charm and it’s an easy sell. It takes time, but in the way that we could see how Fish Shop would work in Dublin, we can see how Tramore will work. Our long-term goal would be to have rooms at Beach House as well, but for now we are concentrating on the restaurant.”

While Tramore has come on in leaps and bounds, if a visit to the seaside town just wouldn’t be complete without a flutter at the amusements followed by a feed of chips, you can of course still do that — though now it’s an option to book a table at Fancy Chips on Queen’s Street, and order them with monkfish scampi and a bottle of wine alongside.

Seaside towns with great food…

Kinsale, Co Cork
Has everything from Michelin-star dining at Bastion to small plates and natural wines at Saint Francis Provisions, to the best of local seafood at Toddies at The Bulman.

Clifden, Co Galway
The Sea Hare — now located in the Alcock & Brown — will be summer 2022’s hot ticket in Clifden. Venture a little farther out into Connemara for Dooncastle Oysters’ seafood truck in Claddaghduff and the new Little Fish in Letterfrack.

Dingle, Co Kerry
The town has everything, from superior tapas at Solas to upmarket fish and seafood at Out of the Blue and classically rooted fare at the exemplary Chart House. Not to mention brilliant fish and chips at Reel Dingle Fish.

Carne, Co Wexford
The good news from Wexford is that Nicola and Josef Zammit of TwoCooks in Sallins have taken over old favourite The Lobster Pot (known locally as The Pot) and early reports are that they are playing a blinder. Nearby in Kilmore Quay, you’ll find what many consider to be among the best fish and chips in Ireland at The Little Saltee.

Downings, Co Donegal
Bar Fisk is a destination in its own right for great fish and seafood, either to take away or eat in situ, but The Olde Glen Bar in Glen Village, where Ciarán Sweeney — formerly of Forest & Marcy — is cooking, is only a 10-minute drive away. Throw in some locally caught lobster to cook in your holiday rental and you have yourself the makings of a culinary adventure.

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