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Container Coffee: a coffee shop with a twist

From producing a medical reality-TV show to selling coffee from a shipping container in the Liberties is no ordinary transition, as Gordon Hickey explains.

“We had a shipping container. We were literally picking it up and dropping it into fields all around the country every night and using it as a mobile medical clinic.

“Because I wanted to get out of working in television, and I saw the space, I thought, oh my god, maybe I could put a shipping container onto the ground here and turn it into a café. That’s how the idea was born,” Gordon Hickey says.

In 2017, Hickey a producer on RTÉ’s ‘You Really Should See a Doctor’, decided to settle down and look for a regular stream of income. Sick of the inconsistencies of freelance work, Hickey was inspired to open a new coffee company – with a twist. 

On the TV show, doctors Pixie McKenna and Phil Kiernan travelled around the country with their pop-up style clinic in a container.  

Having a container-café, an idea that seemed simple, soon turned complicated for Hickey because of issues with insurance, planning and a start-up cost higher than he expected. 

“I thought setting up a container would be much cheaper, but I never thought that I’d have to buy the container, windows, doors. Then it needs water, electricity and waste so I had to pay for all of that, the set up. I couldn’t get insurance for the container because it was made of metal. It wasn’t bricks and mortar, I had to go through an insurance company in England. Naively, I thought it was going to be easy. But it was nine months of a long struggle, to be honest. 

Gordon Hickey outside his café, Container Coffee, on Thomas Street in Dublin 8. Photo: David Seagrave

“It’s like building our own shop, and having to do the planning permission, go to the council and wait three months. All of that takes time and money, you don’t have to do that if you rent a shop somewhere. It’s harder, and I never thought of that before I set it up. I slowly learned that over nine months, how difficult it was.”  

Having left television, Hickey struggled to find a job to fill the gap. “I was on social welfare for eight months before I opened this place because I literally couldn’t get a job anywhere… I was kind of forced into setting up a coffee shop because it was the only place I could get a job.” 

The Dublin native also likened his experience to building his own shop from the ground up, and admitted it was difficult, at first. But the Liberties was the perfect place to open up a coffee shop: “I’m a Dubliner, and I love the Liberties. To me, it’s real Dublin.”  

Situated next to Dublin’s Digital Hub, and the Irish headquarters for Diageo and Guinness, the Thomas Street café would have seemed to be perfectly located only 18 months ago. According to Hickey, COVID-19 has “affected us massively. 

“COVID ruined our business last year. Most our clientele were office workers. You had offices in here [Digital Hub] and the offices of Guinness nearby. We had NCAD students, tourists, and they were the lifeblood of our business. So, March last year we closed for ten weeks, and when we opened back up, we were operating at about 10% of what we were previously.” 

Rolling lockdowns have hampered business. Many of the offices in the Digital Hub have remained closed, with most staff working from home.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get back to where we were in 2019.” 

Gordon Hickey owner of Container coffee in Dublin 8.

“Our busy times would’ve been in the morning, getting coffee on their way to work and then at lunchtime. But we don’t have that now, it just kind of slowly trickles throughout the day. So yes, COVID has affected us massively, but we are slowly getting back to some form of normality. But I don’t think we’ll ever get back to where we were in 2019.” 

Despite tough times in the last year, Hickey says he stands by his decision to leave television and open his coffee shop, saying he will “never go back to working for anybody else again”. 

“It’s tough running a business, especially tough during COVID. But I still wouldn’t change it for anybody.” 

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