Meet the team bringing coffee back to the Waterworks Park in North Belfast after six weeks without a trader at the controversial site.
In mid-June former vendors on the site, Works Coffee Roasters, were informed that their contract would not be renewed as they had not been successful in the application process.
Disappointed owners Claire and Jim Mallon said they opened Works Coffee Roasters at a time when “no one wanted to touch” the park and over the years built up a loyal following.
They informed fans of their coffee van on social media that after six years, Belfast City Council had given them notification their contract would not be renewed “just days before it ends.”
In the weeks that followed, social media users had despaired at the lack of coffee provision in the park.
However, the site has now been filled, as father-and-son team, Matthew and Ciaran McAllister, of the Belfast Coffee Truck have begun serving from the Waterworks.
Speaking to Belfast Live about the controversy around the park’s pitch, Matthew said: “It was a very fair process in terms of how you apply and for the tender process. I didn’t rob them [Works Coffee] of their site, whoever is scored highest in the application process is awarded the site, it’s as simple as that.
“I’m not going to take it for granted in three years time that I’ll get the pitch, I’ll certainly apply, but everybody has a fair crack of the whip.”
The pair behind Belfast Coffee Truck have worked in family businesses all their lives, with lockdown giving them the inspiration to get into the coffee business.
Matthew has over 30 years experience in hospitality, starting out at his dad’s home bakery, and later working as a hotel manager and part-time lecturer in hospitality at Belfast Met.
However, whenever coronavirus hit, he “decided to take a new direction” and bought his first coffee truck to begin trading at Cutter’s Wharf in South Belfast.
In April, tenders came out for parks throughout Belfast so Matthew applied for a number of different spots.
In the end, he and son Ciaran were successful at Cherryvale Park in East Belfast and, after securing another coffee van, were successful in winning the pitch at the Waterworks Park in North Belfast too.
The plan was to begin trading at the Waterworks on August 1, however, torrential rain and weather warnings led to a slight delay in starting. But a week on, the team are raring to go.
Matthew added: “It’s a new venture, we have a quirky little truck. Sadly there was torrential rain last week on what was supposed to be our first day, it was a nightmare, weather warnings and everything else.”
Although they’re excited to serve the people of North Belfast, Matthew noted that the past few weeks have been difficult, with social media posts blaming them for no coffee provision at the park throughout the month of July.
He said they had been awarded the site in mid June, but that this was too short notice for them.
Matthew added: “I applied for a number of sites, so I wasn’t putting my eggs in one basket. When I was awarded the Waterworks, it was mid June. For me, that was still short notice in terms of moving in somewhere and it was also short notice to give Works Coffee to move out.
“I was then approached by the Council and asked if I would consider taking up the contract on August 1, to give me time and Works Coffee notice to move from the site.”
He said this issue had impacted them before they even began trading from the park
Matthew continued: “I had a couple guys coming over earlier today asking if we were open yet, and when I said we were, they said ‘you’re six weeks too late.’ But it’s not the case. The fact that there hasn’t been coffee here for the past six weeks wasn’t our fault. Our contract didn’t start until August 1. “
Regarding this issue, a spokesperson for Belfast City Council said: “The new catering contract at the Waterworks site was due to commence on August 1, 2021.
“Following the completion of a procurement exercise for the Waterworks site, an extension to the previous catering contract, to cover July 2021, was offered to the former supplier. This offer was declined, and the former supplier ceased trading at the site on June 27. Therefore, there was an interruption to service during the July period.”
But despite a rocky start, the father-and-son team believe the only way is up and they’re happy to finally be able to get going from the site.
Speaking of the former vendors at the site, who had built up a following at the Waterworks, Matthew said he wishes them every success in the future.
He said: “We wish Works Coffee all the best up at their new site up in St Enda’s.”
You can find out more about the Belfast Coffee Truck team on their Facebook page.