ORSO is an intimate neighbourhood kitchen & bar surrounded by activity in the bustling heart of Cork City centre. They use food sourced locally to serve fresh, healthy, and flavour-forward food. Everything they offer is prepared with the season in mind. Dee Munnelly, of Crosshaven is in the heart of it all.
The small but perfectly formed ORSO Restaurant on Pembroke Street in Cork city, which celebrated 12 years of successful trading this Autumn, has seen its business model pivot dramatically since the pandemic and cites its keen pricing policy and flexibility to continuously adapt to the changing needs of city center dining, to its on-going success.
Prior to Covid, the restaurant, known for its flavour-filled Levantine cuisine, was the scene of a busy morning takeaway trade with office workers queuing up for coffee and pastries, and later for lunch to ‘take out’ or have in the restaurant. While office workers are slowly returning to the vacant office buildings dotted around the city center, ORSO has shifted its focus to late morning and lunchtime seated dining and is now open at night-time 6 nights a week.
“Instead of reducing our opening times post-pandemic, which a lot of other restaurants did in response to a lack of staff or lack of trade, we decided to go in the opposite direction” says Dee Munnelly, owner operator of ORSO, which is part of the iconic Market Lane Group of restaurants.
“After the lock-down period, we re-hired 80% of our staff. Permanent outdoor dining almost doubled our seating capacity, so, despite the lack of office trade and take-away, we were determined to make the business work without losing any of our staff again. We are now open from 10.30 am until late 6 days a week” she adds.
In addition to extra seating, the Cork City Council and Failte Ireland funded the transformation of Pembroke St to a vibrant pedestrianised street through planting and streetscaping helped attract more people to the area and provided all of the restaurants on the street with a much-needed boost.
“We also saw a gap in the night-time trade in the city center and we worked hard with our two chefs, Karen Portela (from Brazil) and Grace Maduka (from Nigeria) to create an exciting new evening menu, using their skills to add extra spice and flavour and expanding our repertoire of dishes” Munnelly continues. Diners can now expect to see dishes such as ‘pan seared prawns with chili brown butter and dukkah, ‘slow cooked lamb shank with green harissa rice, tzatziki, feta and pomegranate’, and ‘Rogan josh cannelloni with spinach, feta and creamy tomato sauce’ on their new menu. Lunch-time and evening menus are very keenly priced with most evening starters coming in under €10, and most mains under €25. “Value for money has never been more important for diners and we deliver that in spades,” says Munnelly.
Earlier in the year the team decided to open on a Monday night as many of the other restaurants in the city centre stay closed. In doing so, the restaurant has attracted a whole new audience; many of whom work at the weekend and have Mondays off. ORSO also offers its evening menu from 4pm so people doing business or shopping in the city now have the option of having a good evening meal there before heading home.
“It’s perhaps easier for a smaller restaurant to adapt rapidly to the changing needs of diners,” Munnelly says. “We are very proud of the choices we have made and will continue to work hard to stay flexible and relevant to the city we serve” she finishes.
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