The Dairy in Gleno on growing from a coffee shop dream to a bistro and farm shop

There has been a creamery in the Co Antrim village of Gleno since 1914, with The Dairy bistro and farm shop keeping this tradition alive.

In 1933, the Gleno Dairy Produce Company was established on the site, partly run by James McDowell of Blackhill, Ballycarry, whose family continue to be associated with business and commerce here over to the present day.

It isn’t just the local produce side of things that keeps The Dairy retaining the spirit of those that came before it – the furnishings inside the building, from the tables to the walls, are from that original building built over 100 years ago.

And the bistro and farm shop that stands on the spot today is still run by the McDowell family – with mum Sandra heading up the ship, daughter Alana looks after all the menu designs, posters, and image of the business while son Mark runs the social media.

© Justin Kernoghan Manager Shezzell Horner, Sandra’s son Mark McDowell and Owner Sandra McDowell, pictured beside one of Alana’s new murals at The Dairy.

Speaking to Belfast Live Sandra McDowell told us how the formation of the bistro and farm shop came from her dream to own her own coffee shop and how things got a bit “crazy” from there.

She said: “My father-in-law worked in here in the 1940s, then he got married and moved into the business next door, Alex McDowell’s Dairyside Stores, which is our work place to this day.

“They started going around the village selling stuff in the van. The agricultural end of the business just kept on growing. Years ago, there used to be piles of grocers.

“I met my husband 41 years ago when I was 14-years-old, and we got married 31 years ago. I would have helped them in the shop before we got married. In the shop next door, our house is right beside it, so there was only a kitchen door between the two. I would have been making dinners for the staff and customers used to think it was a cafe.

© Justin Kernoghan Many of the furnishings inside the building, from the tables to the walls, are from the original creamery

“So I always had an idea from that to build a wee cafe. When I was 49, six years ago, my daughter was living in London and I went to visit her. We were sitting having a coffee and I said ‘when I get my coffee shop I’m going to have this in it’ and her exact words were, ‘Mum, just do it.’

“I thought well, I’m 49, if I don’t do it now I never will. My husband went mad and said I was crazy. I always said I wanted to make it a wee bit different because you can get a coffee shop anywhere. But I didn’t think it would turn into what it is.”

The 55-year-old, who lives a few doors down from the bistro, said it “wasn’t meant to be as crazy as it was” as she initially envisioned a small cafe with seven to 10 staff members.

© Justin Kernoghan Outside The Dairy in Gleno

However, nowadays The Dairy employ more than 30 staff members from the local area.

Whether it’s serving coffee and traybakes to those visiting the nearby Gleno Waterfall, lunch to passersby, or dinner and drinks to those looking for a night out, manager Shezzelle Horner says they “try to keep everybody happy.”

She said: “I’ve been here from The Dairy first opened in March 2019, as have many of the other staff members.

“We’re all about local produce, including selling beef and lamb from Sandra’s farm right here in Gleno, and featuring local beers on our taps.

“Watching the regulars come back to visit the farm shop is just great. We’ve loved watching this place grow.”

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