Neighbourhood Cafe

Neighbourhood Cafe’s Story of Resilience and Community Spirit

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Updated on May 14, 2024

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In the bustling heart of Belfast, where the pulse of the city thrives, Commercial Court stands as a beacon of culinary excellence and vibrant culture. Amidst the array of establishments that grace this historic street, one gem shines particularly bright: Neighbourhood Cafe.

Founded over two years ago by Austin McAvoy and his close friend Ryan, Neighbourhood Cafe emerged as a testament to their shared passion for coffee, food, and hospitality. With Austin’s extensive background in the coffee industry and Ryan’s creative flair in branding, their partnership was destined to create something truly special.

As Neighbourhood Cafe celebrates its second birthday, Austin McAvoy reflects on the journey thus far and the promising future that lies ahead. From rising from the ashes of a devastating fire to embracing the vibrant flavours of locally sourced produce, join us as we delve into the captivating narrative of Neighbourhood Cafe—a tale of two journeys intertwined with passion, perseverance, and the boundless spirit of Belfast.

The Humble Beginning

Austin McAvoy is the passionate owner and operator of Neighbourhood Cafe, bringing over a decade of experience in the coffee industry to the table. With a background spanning from barista to manager, Austin’s love for coffee runs deep. His partner in this venture, Ryan, lends his creative expertise to the mix, specialising in branding within the hospitality sector.

Austin and Ryan’s partnership was born from a shared vision: to offer Belfast something truly unique. In a city where coffee culture and culinary delights abound, Austin and Ryan saw an opportunity to merge the two worlds seamlessly. Neighbourhood Cafe isn’t just about serving great coffee and delicious food; it’s about fostering genuine connections and providing unparalleled hospitality.

Initially located on Dunningal Street, Neighbourhood Cafe quickly became a beloved fixture in the community, trading there for 10 months. With each cup of coffee poured and every dish served, Austin and Ryan strived to create an experience that went beyond mere consumption, leaving a lasting impression on each and every patron who walked through their doors.

Yet, the parters’ ambitions didn’t stop there. With a desire to expand their reach and continue sharing their passion for coffee and hospitality, they made the move to Commercial Court, one of Belfast’s most coveted streets, although such a move was also partially tiggered by an unpleasant twist of fate.

The Story of Rebuilding After a Devastating Fire

Only a year after the opening on Dunningal Street, a tragic fire swept through Cathedral buildings in Belfast on 3 October 2022 and forced Austin, Ryan, and their team at Neighbourhood Cafe to close their doors for two months. In a blink of an eye, the partners moved from sipping their morning coffees and greeting new customers to grappling with the loss of their beloved cafe and the uncertainty of what lay ahead.

The first month was marked by a sense of disbelief and mourning. Adjusting to the reality of not having their cafe anymore was a difficult pill to swallow. But as the initial shock subsided, Austin and his team knew they had to pick themselves up and forge ahead.

With caffeinated resilience and determination guiding their every step, Austen and Ryan embarked on a mission to find a new location. Fate seemed to be on their side this time when they were offered a space that lay dormant, waiting to be transformed into their new home. In just four weeks, they worked tirelessly to breathe life into the new space, overcoming countless obstacles along the way.

On 5 December of the same year, Neighbourhood Cafe reopened its doors, welcoming back loyal customers and new faces alike. The outpouring of support from the community was overwhelming, serving as proof of the cafe’s place in the hearts of Belfast residents.

Reflecting on the journey of rebuilding, Austin recalls the doubts that plagued him at the outset. At the age of 26, opening a coffee shop seemed like a daunting task with no guarantee of success. But as the doors of their new location swung open, those doubts were replaced by a sense of gratitude and awe.

The resilience of Neighbourhood Cafe and its dedicated team serves as an inspiring reminder of the power of community and the human spirit. Despite the challenges they encountered, they emerged stronger than ever, ready to write the next chapter in their story. As they look to the future, Austin and his team remain committed to serving up more than just coffee and food—they’re serving up hope and resilience in every cup.

A Taste of Local Flavour

Neighbourhood Cafe

At Neighbourhood Cafe, sourcing the finest ingredients is more than just a priority—it’s a passion. With a dedication to supporting local producers and artisans, every dish and cup of coffee served tells a story of Ireland’s rich culinary landscape.

Step inside the cafe, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the vibrant colours and flavours of locally sourced produce. In fact, Austin takes so much pride in partnering with the best suppliers, ensuring that each ingredient tells a tale of quality and craftsmanship.

One such partner is David Jackson, renowned as the best greengrocer in Belfast. Located just around the corner, David provides Neighbourhood Cafe with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, including seasonal delights like rhubarb. It’s a partnership that reflects the cafe’s commitment to freshness and flavour.

When it comes to coffee—the cornerstone of Neighbourhood Cafe’s offerings—quality is paramount. That’s why the owners turned to Calendar, a Galway-based roastery recognised as the second-best roaster in the world last year. With beans sourced from around the globe and expertly roasted, Calendar’s coffee is just the other side of the artistry and dedication of Ireland’s coffee scene.

“We really, really take pride in our coffee,” says Austin. “We want to showcase it the best that we can.” And the response from customers speaks volumes. With rave reviews and positive feedback, it’s clear that Neighbourhood Cafe’s commitment to quality doesn’t go unnoticed.

But it’s not just about coffee. There is also the Neighbourhood Cafe’s menu that boasts a variety of brunch offerings with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. From fluffy eggs to hearty dishes featuring Mourne eggs from the Mourne Mountains, every bite is a celebration of Ireland’s culinary heritage.

As Neighbourhood Cafe continues to thrive, Austin and his team remain dedicated to their mission of serving up more than just food and coffee. They’re serving up a taste of community, a slice of Irish culture, and a whole lot of heart. So next time you’re in Belfast, be sure to stop by Neighbourhood Cafe for a culinary experience that’s as authentic as it is delicious.

Neighbourhood Cafe’s Journey in 2024

Looking ahead to 2024, Neighbourhood Cafe has exciting plans in store. From expanding their offerings to creating memorable experiences for their customers, the team is poised for success.

Recently, Austen and Ryan celebrated the cafe’s second birthday in style, transforming the streets into a vibrant party zone. “We just recently purchased a Citroën H-van, one of the old 1972 trucks, and kitted that out,” Austin shares. “That was our birthday present to ourselves.” Complete with coffees, tiramisu, and live music from the Backbone Blaze Band, it was a celebration to remember.

Reflecting on the festivities, Austin McAvoy acknowledges the incredible support they’ve received from the Belfast community. “That day alone, our birthday, showed us that there are people here who really want to enjoy good things and have good things, and we want to give it to them,” he shares warmly.

As they embark on the next chapter of their journey, Neighbourhood Cafe remains committed to building upon the foundation they’ve laid on Dunning Hall Street as well as to their mission of delivering exceptional quality with a side of community spirit. “It’s going to be an interesting year,” Austin muses, hinting at the excitement and anticipation that lies ahead.

With each passing year, both Austen and Ryan continue to redefine what it means to be a neighbourhood cafe, leaving a lasting impression on Belfast and beyond.

For those eager to experience the warmth and hospitality of Neighbourhood Cafe, Austin extends a heartfelt invitation: “Go on down to the neighbourhood.” It’s an open invitation to join the community, savour exceptional coffee, and create lasting memories in the heart of Belfast.

Video Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00)
Hi, I’m Austin McAvoy. I’m the owner and operator of Neighbourhood Cafe here in Belfast City Centre. We’re on Commercial Court, which is probably one of the best streets in Belfast. And neighbourhood was set up by myself and my best friend Ryan. Just under, actually just over two years ago. We opened in November ’21, just at the end of the pandemic. We both have a fantastic love for coffee. Me as an operator and as a barista, I’ve worked in coffee shops for the last 12 to 13 years. Between being a barista, managing, running. It’s something that I love doing. Ryan, on the other hand, is a creative. He works within the hospitality industry with branding and, yes, specialises in hospitality in businesses. We thought this would be a really good partnership, two of us as two guys who really care about people and really care about hospitality. We wanted to give Belfast something a little bit different. A lot of businesses are doing big coffee things, a lot of people doing a lot of food things. We wanted to combine both and add in a little sprinkle of customer service and hospitality in there. We traded just at the top of the street on Dunningal Street for 10 months.

Speaker 1 (01:30)
We were unfortunate enough to be caught in a fire. There was a Cathedral buildings fire here in Belfast on the third of October. We took two months off. The first month, we probably felt a little bit sorry for ourselves and tried to justify what had happened or We were trying to realise that we didn’t have that cafe anymore. The next two weeks, we find a location and we immediately started building. We were fortunate enough to be given a location here that wasn’t being used. Four weeks after getting that, we were open and trading on the fifth of December. We’ve been in this location for just over a year, and everybody’s been very supportive and very good to us. You never open a coffee shop or any business at the age of 26. And first of all, you don’t think that anybody’s going to come. You have that little bit of doubt, and you probably want people to come, but you don’t know if they’ll show up for you. And the first thing that happened was we the doors of 60 Dunning Hall Street, which was our first location, and people supported us in their droves.

Speaker 1 (02:43)
So all of our produce is locally sourced all within the island of Ireland. We have the best green grocer in the whole of Belfast in David Jackson, just around the corner. We get fresh rhubarbs when they’re in season. All our fruit is sourced from David. It’s the most incredible fruit and veg that you can get. We get our coffee, which is probably the most important part of neighbourhood from calendar, who are Galway-based roastery. They were voted second-best roaster in the world last year, which is such an incredible achievement. We really, really take pride in our coffee, and we want to showcase it the best that we can. We love everything that calendar are doing. We want to make sure that we’re putting it right out there for them. We’ve had amazing response from everybody. People seem to really enjoy our coffee. I’m always very biassed in that. I think our coffee is great, but everybody’s fed in on that and given us pretty positive feedback. We do quite a lot of brunch food, so our offering is half seven to four o’clock. We look at a lot of eggs on our menu and having the best eggs that we can get from a company called Morn eggs in Caber, just on the Morn Mountains.

Speaker 1 (03:59)
We love the quality of them. We work with a family who care about everything that they do, and that’s the president for everything that we do. We love to know the producer. We love to meet the people behind what we’re doing. We want to make sure that we’re giving people the best of what we can offer. I think the north of Ireland definitely has the best produce between dairy, meats. It’s incredible. 2024 is going to be a great year. I think we have a lot planned and a lot in store. We just celebrated our second birthday as a business, where this street here turned into a party zone. We have just recently purchased a Citroën H-van, one of the old 1972 trucks, and kitted that out, had it ready for the birthday. That was our birthday present to ourselves. We had coffees out of the back of that, tiramisu’s, birthday cake, but we We had a full band here celebrating it. It was a five-piece blaze band called the Backbone Blaze Band from Noury, who really lit up this street. That was probably a little bit of what we can do, and we want to do a little bit more of that.

Speaker 1 (05:13)
The community in Belfast is amazing. That day alone, our birthday, showed us that there’s people here and they really want to enjoy good things and have good things, and we want to give it to them. So 2024, we want to build on what we’re doing here on Dunning Hall Street. It’s going to be an interesting year. I would love to give you certainties on what we want to do, but I know that we want to be doing everything that we can to be the best that we possibly can. Go on down to the neighbourhood..

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