Under the archway – Cork’s ‘hidden gem’
The Franciscan Well Brew Pub on the North Mall in Cork City was winner of the Best Outdoor Space in the Irish Pub Awards. General Manager Noel Finn explains how the pub aims to offer customers a fresh and unpredictable experience.
Based a few minutes away from the centre of Cork city, The Franciscan Well Pub nestles a short distance from the street and is accessed through an archway. According to Noel: “The location means that people have a sense of discovery when they find us and the pub is often referred to as a hidden gem. People value the chance to escape from the bustle of the city into the relaxed environment of our beer garden.”
Broad Customer Base
The pub’s customer base is broad: “Our clientele includes students from UCC, who come in to the pub over the course of the academic year, as well as younger and older professionals. In addition, we have a lot of customers from the multinationals located in the city, which gives us a really cosmopolitan mix from Europe and the wider world. They find the pub a handy spot to come to just after work.”
This is also very much a family pub: “Our pizza kiosk, Pompeii Pizza, is very popular with families who tend to come in early in the afternoon and in the evening with children. It is a family-friendly pub. The focus is not primarily on alcohol, it’s on the experience and enjoying the space.”
The pizza kiosk is an important part of that experience: “We have a set menu of 10 different pizzas and there’s a range of toppings and people can make their own pizzas to suit their individual preferences. It’s been voted the best pizza in Cork on a couple of occasions. You can sit back in the beer garden and watch as the pizzas are prepared.”
Craft Beer Tourism
A large contingent of tourists come through the doors and the growth in craft beer tourism has benefited the pub. Franciscan Well Pub Owner Shane Long also founded the Franciscan Well Brewery which is located right beside the pub, enabling a regular schedule of brewery tours to be set up. The Franciscan Well Pub staff includes a dedicated tour guide, a role set up last year.
“We wanted to have an effective offering for the beer tourism market, we needed to have a dedicated person who was available to do the tours at scheduled times, and who could carry out other roles in admin, advertising and promotions and other activities when tours are not taking place. We advertise the tours all around Cork and throughout the province. We do brochure advertising all over the province and in Dublin airport.”
Beer tourism draws American tourists predominantly: “We offer branded Franciscan Well t-shirts, hoodies, and baseball caps. American tourists like that type of souvenir, particularly if they like the beer.”
The Range Of Drinks On Offer
Approximately 50% of the pub’s beer sales would be from the Franciscan Well brewery itself. “We’ve found in the last year that Franciscan Well Chieftain is very popular.” Alongside the Franciscan Well Brewery sales, the pub sells 10 or 12 kegs a week from breweries all over Ireland.
“We aim to bring in a special beer every couple of days. We try to keep our selection constantly fresh and we try to always have some new choice for the customer. We’re able to get an endless supply of brilliant beers from around the country, from brewers such as Yellowbelly and Trouble Brewing as well as local brewers such as Rising Sons Brewery.”
The idea is that when a customer comes in on a Monday, they could get three new beers and then on Tuesday they can come in and find three additional new options available. “Our Bar Manager, Michael Sheehan, keeps an eye on what’s happening in the market and is able to source the best possible beers, communicating what they are to the staff and highlighting their distinctive qualities so that the staff can engage with the customer about the beer.”
Noel says that spirit sales have grown massively at the pub, driven by the gin revolution. “Spirits now constitute between 25% and 30% of our sales, whereas in the past it would have only around 10%.”
As part of their commitment to keeping the Franciscan Well Brew Pub experience fresh, the team organise quirky and original festivals three or four times a year. Last year, events included the Fem-Ale Fest, organised by Marketing Manager, Kate Clancy, which featured a range of Irish beers and the female brewers who created them. The festival highlighted the important role that women have had in contributing to the success of the beer industry in Ireland.
Later last year, the pub ran its own Can (not Cannes) Festival to coincide with the Jazz festival: “We focused on beer cans that featured unique and distinctive art. It was very popular. People really responded to the novelty of holding a beer can in their hand with beautiful artwork on it.” This year, in an another innovation, a new cocktail bar, The Monk, was recently added to the pub’s attractions.
The pub has a team of 10 staff members, including Kate and Michael, the bar manager who runs the day to-day operations of the business. Because the pub doesn’t sell mainstream beers, it’s important that staff immerse themselves in the pub’s craft beer culture.“In doing so, they tend to develop a good deal of knowledge relatively quickly. Some of them would have started working as students with us part-time in their first year or second year at college.”
But Noel says the pub is looking to enhance the staff ’s knowledge and training in other ways: “We’ve recently joined up with Flow Hospitality Training, who provide a bespoke online platform to deliver training in different aspects of the work, developing our team’s knowledge of different styles of wine, different styles of spirits, how cocktails are made and so on.” “The module approach allows staff to do the training at their own pace which is important as the early s of any new job can be overwhelming.”
The pub is also taking part in a new local initiative set in motion by the Local Enterprise Office which aims to establish a customer service charter for Cork City. Noel explains: “The idea is that it is a city-wide campaign that all businesses will buy into, training their staff to a high level, so that visitors to the city will enjoy top-class service wherever they go in Cork. “We’ve signed up to the charter and the Enterprise Office has provided training for senior management here. Kate, Michael and myself have all done courses with them and we then sat down with our staff to pass on what we’ve learned.”
The objective is to ensure the team continues to provide a quality of service and innovation at the Franciscan Well Brew Pub that offers an exciting experience for all their customers whether they’re popping in from the North Mall or from North America.
The beer garden is a major attraction for the pub’s clientele. Consisting of two connected zones, an inner terrace about 5m by 5m and a larger outer space around 8 metres by 12 metres, it is modelled on the kind of beer hall venues you’d see at the Munich Oktoberfest.
One of the advantages of the beer garden layout is that it is easy to transform it as required: “All of our furniture in the beer garden is foldable and removable so that the space is constantly changing to accommodate different events and festivals that we hold. Because it’s malleable we can redefine it depending on what sort of event or size of group we have coming in on a particular weekend or occasion. Our team is as skilled at moving furniture as pulling pints!”
Quenching thirsts for 700 years
While the Franciscan Well Brew Pub first opened its doors in 1998, it is located on the site of an old Franciscan monastery and well that date back to the year 1219. Legend has it that water from the well had miraculous and curative properties and people would come from far and wide to drink it.
For more information go to www.franciscanwellbrewery.com
This article first appeared in the VFI Voice Magazine May/June issue.