AMANDA FERGUSON in the Waterworks
Sunday, October 3, 2021
As you know I am north Belfast born and bred, but I have to be honest - the Waterworks coffee truck saga is not something I saw coming, or thought would pique my interest, but here we are.
Earlier this year while I was busy covering the daily grind of our dysfunctional political system at Stormont I was cognisant of anger brewing on news sites and social media posts but didn’t pay much attention to them.
It’s the coffee culture story that just won’t go away - so prompted by an intrigued java fan, wondering what all the fuss is about, I decided to steam in, sip, and find out what is going on.
I wanted to make sure I spoke to everyone concerned so I contacted the purveyors of coffee, the council, members of the public and others…
Jim and Claire Mallon from north Belfast are hurting.
They ran the ‘Works’ coffee service in the Waterworks, pretty much seven days a week, for six years (two cycles of tenders).
Jim says the tender conditions changed, and their latest application and bid wasn’t successful.
For now they have a pitch up at St Enda’s GAC ~ Naomh Éanna GAC on the Hightown Road in Glengormley, selling coffee, ice-cream, crepes and more.
Suppliers include traybakes from The Grateful Bread, ice cream from Riadia Belfast and they roast their own coffee which is Fair Trade.
Their opening hours are:
Monday 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Tuesday 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Wednesday 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Thursday 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Friday 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Saturday 9.30am to 2.30pm
Sunday 9.30am to 2.30pm
Jim says he doesn’t know what the future holds.
They are grateful for the support in Glengormley, miss their regulars at the Waterworks, remain unhappy with Belfast City Council, but will “Get Christmas over us and see where we are”.
On the day I visited the Waterworks the new coffee truck was locked up due to “essential maintenance and MOT test”.
I asked park users about the coffee truck. Some didn’t know it existed, some said it was a good job, and others said it was there “sometimes”.
When I contacted Matthew McAllister by phone he sounded a little exasperated about the online roasting taking place since his family won the Waterworks tender, which was open to anyone to apply for, and would not automatically go to the Mallons even if the McAllisters gave up the pitch.
Glenarm man Matthew, who has a background in the hotel world, and hospitality lecturing, covers some events at the Lady Mary Peters track, and also runs the coffee service in Cherryvale park.
His son Ciaran (pictured), from north Belfast, runs the Waterworks park coffee facility.
Matthew says the tender process for this was rigorous, and they “want to make it work” at the Waterworks.
They sell coffee, tea, hot chocolate, tray bakes (the best seller is Fifteens) and ice cream. In the summer iced coffee was popular and as we move into winter hot chocolate is now being ordered more often.
Local food and other suppliers they use include Musgrave cash and carry, Capital Foods, Dale Farm milk, Craig’s Bakery and Glens of Antrim potato crisps.
As well as cow’s milk they have oat and coconut milk options. The coffee cups they use are environmentally friendly and they encourage people to bring their own drinks containers too.
Matthew says they were offered the Waterworks pitch in June but couldn’t take it immediately so agreed to start the contract in August and are due to be at the Waterworks for the rest of this year, next year and into 2023.
He concedes there have been a few technical issues, and teething troubles so far.
Find Matthew and Ciaran here: BELFAST COFFEE TRUCK FACEBOOK PAGE
When I pressed Matthew about the criticism that the Waterworks service isn’t regular enough he says they are still “trying to find our feet” but they are “not going to stand in the rain” when there is no one in the park.
I asked could reassurance be offered to latte lovers and other caffeinators regarding the opening hours in the time ahead.
He said the plan for October 2021 is to open:
Thursdays 12pm to 4pm
Fridays 12pm to 4pm
Saturdays 9am to 3pm
Sundays 9am to 3pm
“We are trying to work out what is best," Matthew said.
“If the weather is not there and there is nobody in the park we can’t be open.”
He wants people to let them “get on with it”.
“We are there,” he added. “We want to make it work.”
The following is a statement from Belfast City Council which has been issued to a variety of media outlets since the summer.
A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “The council has completed a procurement exercise for a trader to supply food and drink at the Waterworks.
“A candidate has now been appointed, having scored the highest in the procurement exercise, and unsuccessful applicants have also been notified of the outcome.
“While we regret any disappointment to unsuccessful applicants, the exercise was conducted in line with our agreed procurement process.
“Feedback is given at appropriate points, to all bidders, throughout the process, and we remain committed to working with local businesses and improving our parks for residents and visitors to enjoy.”
I asked the council for a comment on opening hour requirements.
A Belfast City Council spokesperson told Amanda.ie: “Specific trading days/hours are not stipulated in the terms of the contract.
“The contractor is responsible for ensuring they provide a regular service during peak periods, which may vary depending on the type of facilities, nature of activities and events happening at each site.
“The successful contractor, in terms of operating a viable business, is best placed to determine the optimal trading hours at the relevant site.
“These have been agreed for the Waterworks site and will be kept under review.”
So, that's where we are for now.
The new service providers at the Waterworks won a tender and want to be given a chance to prove themselves and stabilise the service.
Some park users are unhappy because they feel they are not getting the service they are used to, and questions have been raised about tender processes, protections for 'sitting tenants' and the impact that has on the development of services.
For now, enjoy your coffee, shop local, support independent traders wherever they are found, and keep me posted about any issues I should be looking at. Large, medium, or small. Venti, grande or short.
Maybe we'll catch up over a coffee...
Friday October 8th 2pm - I visited Extract and had a chat with Ciaran but not before I screamed all over the park because a bird flapped its wings at me. And I thought it was going to launch at me. As some of you know I have a bird phobia…
Anyway, two wee men were wetting themselves laughing at me. Onwards to the coffee truck!
Ciaran McAllister was dead on. I got a hot chocolate with marshmallows, a fifteen, a rocky road, and juice for £8.50.
While I was there, the two men who laughed at my close brush with death at the neck/beak/wings of a swan and two ducks, were over to get drinks. As was a young mum with her kids.
Solid 6/10 for the hot chocolate and fifteen. Basic stuff. There was no cream for the hot choc. Maybe next time!
Have a good weekend all!
Fancy a cup of Joe? Three North Belfast coffee spots I like:
1 Established in Cathedral Quarter’s Hill Street. And before you @ me it is in the Belfast North constituency. For me it serves the best coffee, not only in north Belfast, but in Belfast, full stop.
2 Cavehill Coffee at Mount Lennox on the Antrim Road. The hatch service was invaluable during the pandemic restrictions.
3 ATM is a new hatch which opened up on the Antrim Road near St Gerard's earlier this year. It is where the cash machine used to be beside Guys newsagent which is now the Belfast Back Clinic.
Let me know where else I should try for a decaf flat white!
I swear by the Aeropress which you can buy in Established, other shops, and online.
Check out this clip from the inventor Alan Adler:
NI COFFEE MAPS
Check out Gareth Patterson’s NI Coffee Maps guide: https://www.nicoffeemaps.co.uk
COFFEE JOKES FROM PUNPEDIA
What's it called when you steal someone's coffee? A mugging.
How are kids like coffee? They are always getting grounded.
How did the hipster burn her tongue? She drank her coffee before it was cool.
During the course of my enquiries into coffee provision in Belfast parks I was asked about public toilet provision across the city.
Here is a link provided by the council: https://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/publictoilets
That’s all folks…☕️
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