Making It Work: Online ordering firm serves up modernised restaurant systems

Unify Ordering has signed up 1,500 hospitality businesses to its wholesale ordering platform, and is ready to scale as soon as the sector reopens

29th January, 2021
Making It Work: Online ordering firm serves up modernised restaurant systems
Barry McNerney, chief executive and co-founder of Unify Ordering: ‘The market is open to disruption. We’re ready now to tap into that opportunity.’ Picture: Fergal Phillips

Unify Ordering, the Dublin start-up behind a wholesale ordering system for cafés and restaurants, is planning to ramp up sales in 2021 following its first funding round.

The company has raised €1 million from Elkstone Partners, the Dublin-based wealth manager, and Enterprise Ireland, the state agency.

“Hospitality in general is still very old-school and paper-based. There are a lot of wholesale food suppliers out there who still receive orders by fax, even in this day and age,” Barry McNerney, chief executive and co-founder of Unify Ordering, said.

“That gives you an idea of just how open the market is to disruption. We’re ready now to tap into that opportunity.”

The Unify Ordering platform allows cafés and restaurants to place and track orders with wholesale suppliers. Suppliers can use it to list products and respond to and record orders coming in.

About 1,500 cafés and restaurants are using the system in Ireland. Suppliers signed up to the platform include Italicatessen, KC Norton Foods and La Rousse Foods.

“We’re building a huge amount of functionality so we can be ready to scale when the [hospitality] market reopens,” McNerney, who also co-owns a number of restaurants and delis in Dublin, said.

“In December, we did about 20,000 orders worth about €4 million. Our target is to be handling 100,000 orders per month by the end of the year and to be making inroads into the UK.”

Unify Ordering employs 11 people in sales and development roles in Donnybrook in Dublin and five further software staff in Russia and Ukraine.

McNerney, 39, runs the company with Paul Lawless, a software developer and UX specialist, and Louis Williams, operations director at the Two Fifty Square coffee shop in Rathmines.

“This whole thing came about because of Louis’s experience managing Two Fifty Square,” McNerney said, “and trying to keep track of orders using lists, texts and emails.

“He went to Paul, his friend, and asked him if he could develop a system that would make the whole process easier, and that’s how I got involved.

“I’d gone to school with Paul and they came to me asking if I would be interested in using the platform they’d built. I didn’t want that, I wanted in and that’s when I came on board.”

Originally from Dún Laoghaire, McNerney began his career as an equity trader, but moved into the hospitality sector in 2008, opening Juniors Deli & Café with his brother Paul on Bath Avenue in Dublin 4.

They subsequently opened Paulie’s Pizza on nearby Grand Canal Street in 2010, followed in 2013 by Lotts & Co, the deli and grocer, on South Lotts Road and the Old Spot gastropub on Bath Avenue.

The brothers sold the Old Spot in November and expanded Lotts & Co in the same month, opening a second premises in Clontarf.

“Starting out, I knew I wanted to be an equity trader, so I studied finance, but I found I didn’t really enjoy working in a big office environment,” McNerney said.

“When the recession kicked off back in 2008 and the arse fell out of that, I went into business with Paul. I’ve found that hospitality is very much a meritocracy. If you work hard, you get results.

“Unify Ordering has allowed me to make use of my experience in both finance and hospitality. We’re not techie people, but we have an implicit understanding of hospitality and the problems we’re trying to solve.”

Now, with fresh funding on board, McNerney has ambitious plans for the tech venture.

“One of the major reasons we wanted to partner with Enterprise Ireland is because of the doors they can open in foreign markets,” he said.

“They have this amazing on-the-ground network of offices in Britain, mainland Europe and the US. We plan to make full use of that as we grow.”

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