Tale of two artisan bakeries: Dublin-based Bretzel to acquire Arbutus in Cork, as Declan Ryan retires

Ryan (80), Ireland’s first Michelin Star chef, took over Arbutus Lodge in Cork in 1970

Two long-standing Irish artisan bakeries, Arbutus Breads and Bretzel Bakery, are coming together, with the Cork bakery transferring as a going concern to the Dublin company when Arbutus’s Declan and Patsy Ryan retire next month.

The Ryans’ Arbutus Breads Limited is transferring ownership and certain assets to the Bretzel Trading Company Limited as a going concern, the companies said, with the transfer scheduled for July 8th.

Bretzel expects its turnover to surpass €6 million this year, while Arbutus’s turnover has been in the €1.2 to €1.4 million region. Bretzel will be taking over Arbutus’s goodwill, trade and the staff of 18 “who will become part of the Bretzel family”, says the Dublin company’s owner, William Despard.

Bretzel’s managing director Dymphna O’Brien’s immediate plans are “to keep everything as it is in Arbutus, which is what I did in the Bretzel for the first half dozen years”. But Despard is confident the Arbutus business and its brand name will “grow further, not only in Cork but in the whole southwest of Ireland”.

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Declan Ryan (80), Ireland’s first Michelin Star chef, took over Arbutus Lodge in Cork in 1970 with his wife Patsy Ryan, winning the star in 1974. They sold the restaurant in 1999 and Declan Ryan began baking sourdough breads. The couple set up the Cork-based wholesale artisan bakery, using traditional methods to bake more than 2,000 sourdough and yeast loaves nightly as well as having retail stands at Cork markets, including the English Market, making it one of Cork’s most renowned food businesses.

In 2000, Despard acquired Bretzel bakery, which had been in business since 1870. Bretzel still operates from its original shop in Portobello, Dublin 8, now with two additional bakeries in Dublin and Kildare, supplying a range of artisanal breads and pastries to retail and trade customers. The company has picked up numerous Blas na hEireann awards along the way, including the Supreme Champion award in 2020.

Ryan and Despard have long had a professional and personal relationship, with a shared passion for crafting sourdough and artisanal breads. “I’ve known Declan for 23 or 24 years. We’ve been very good friends and business colleagues,” Despard said, describing Ryan as “a bit of a father figure”. “He was really generous towards me. We are very happy with our place in Dublin as a bakery producing fresh bread in Dublin, and they are very much a Cork bakery. We could have open and frank discussions about where the future of bread was going. I learned a lot from him, and got confidence I was doing the right thing, concentrating on artisanal breads with good quality fermentation” rather than mass production.

Declan and Patsy Ryan are now retiring after a long career in food. The bakery, with 18 staff members, will continue to operate in Cork. For Bretzel, “the decision to acquire Arbutus Breads was an easy one, aligning perfectly with our mission to bake the best sourdough and artisanal breads in Ireland”.

Ryan told the Examiner, “Next July, I’ll be 81. The knees are gone and there are a few more things broken. The opportunity to work with Bretzel offered continuity, and even the chance to improve the operation, and we have admired what they were doing for a number of years. I looked at their bakery in Dublin before we opened [the current bakery] and they sent bakers down here, so there’s been a mutual admiration there.”

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