Flavours from the Med in Broughshane

Sam Butler talked to Shay Mullan and Hugh Cushnan of Tom & Ollie, an enterprising business in Broughshane, Co. Antrim that’s creating new flavours and highly original products to Northern Ireland.

Dedicated foodies Shay Mullan and Hugh Cushnan are creating the delicious flavours of the Mediterranean in Broughshane for shoppers across Northern Ireland. And the enterprising duo has plans to bring their tasty products to the Republic of Ireland as soon as practicable.

Together they run Tom & Ollie at Raceview Mill business centre in the picturesque Co. Antrim village that’s just a few miles from Ballymena. As well as the production unit in Broughshane, they have opened a deli there featuring their products and those from other local artisans.

And they are reinvesting in expanding the business by means of an on-line delivery service and the introduction of gourmet food hampers. The planned on-line delivery service will have over 300 products available for next day delivery in Ireland. There will be an unrivalled selection of the best of Irish and European foods, from olives and cheese to honey and hummus.

They have a regular stand for their Mediterranean-style products at St George’s Market in Belfast and have become a popular feature at country markets throughout Northern Ireland and an initial foray into the Republic by taking part in the big food festival in Donegal.

The historic woollen mill, where the business is now based, also has a monthly market which has attracted other artisan food producers.

They chose the Tom & Ollie corporate identity and product branding to reflect their focus on tomatoes and olives, two mainstays of the Mediterranean diet that’s reckoned to be a healthier way to eat…and live.

“We both have backgrounds in food production and retailing especially in the local deli scene,” Shay says. “We worked together in another local business and decided to take the plunge and start up our own company,” he adds. That was in 2014. And they haven’t looked back.

They decided to pool their knowledge and experience in the new business and began building up an impressive portfolio of foods and products they were creating themselves from Mediterranean ingredients.

The next step was to set up the small processing and new product development unit in the Raceview Mill, a revamped business centre that came into existence as a bleaching green in 1806, then a flax spinning business in 1832 and a woollen mill in 1893 until the decline of the textile industry led to its closure. It has since been rejuvenated to include shops, cafes, an artisan bakery and a market/exhibition hall.

The ever-expanding Tom & Ollie range includes delicious and original pastes, pesto, tapenades, oils a vinegar, and hummus. They now have 10 varieties of hummus including a hot Chilli Basil and Garlic variety. They are assisted in new product development and marketing by Tracy O’Boyle.

“Hugh continues: “We have both travelled widely and been drawn by the flavours from places like Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Middle East including the Lebanon. We enjoyed the traditional Mezze dishes, which are selections of individual dishes and often served as appetizers.

“What we specialise in is the use of Mediterranean or Middle East ingredients to create our own distinctive products,” he adds. “Creating new products is what we enjoy most. We use the very best ingredients to develop deliciously different and flavourful products.”

The importance of innovation to the future of the business is recognised by both. “We are operating in a dynamic industry that’s driven by consumer tastes and preferences. We know that to continue to compete successfully we’ve got to be coming up with new taste experiences,” Shay says. “Investing in innovation, especially new product development, is the key to our continuing success and future growth in both short and long terms,” he adds.

They have extensive European contacts for products such as roasted tomatoes and roasted peppers, olives, pesto, tapenades, and hummus, with over 65 lines made in Broughshane. They have some 500 varieties of cheese.

How do they explain the success of the business? “So many local people have been on European holidays and city breaks and have enjoyed the food in places like Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Greece,” Shay says. “As a result, tastes here have changed and will continue to do so.

“They come back home and want to continue to enjoy the dishes they’ve experienced abroad. People are certainly travelling more in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We’ve also noticed that younger members of a family are influencing the choice of foods.

“What we do is to create our own distinctive flavours with ingredients from these countries.”

In addition to imported ingredients such as a wide variety of olives and tomatoes, they retail other locally sourced foods especially cheese such as Fivemiletown, Paul McClean’s Kearney Blue cheese and Mike Thomson’s Young Buck, another richly flavoured blue.

They also run a successful catering business for parties, weddings, and other events. “We can offer a quite different menu of savory dishes. We’ve even created a unique multi-tiered cheesecake instead of the traditional cake for a local wedding,” Hugh says.

The artisan business employs five people and has ambitious growth plans that include the development of a Tom & Ollie branded range of products for sale by other delis and independent traders.