'He was remarkable for small businesses'- How Gay Byrne revolutionised a small sandwich shop

A FORMER sandwich shop owner has heralded the help Gay Byrne gave to small businesses like his, saying he will be ‘forever grateful’ for the iconic presenter.

Following Gay Byrne’s death on Monday, Bernard Flynn said that the legendary broadcaster was ‘phenomenal’ for his sandwich-making business, as well as many other small businesses across the country.

The Westmeath man was running a fledgling sandwich business with his wife Jacqueline, when Gay Byrne mentioned the quality of his produce on his radio show in February, 1993.

As well as having their own shop – The Sandwich Man – the couple also supplied sandwiches to a few filling stations, in the days before delis existed.

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After Byrne read a letter praising their produce, however, every filling station around the area wanted their stock.

“The shop was in Mulingar. It was the early days of providing a sandwich service. It was at a time when you’d go to a filling station and all you’d buy at the filling station was petrol or diesel and lucky if you got a bar of chocolate,” he said.

“We were trying to fill this hole of providing a ready-made sandwich. Our biggest competition at the time would have been a USA biscuit tin going to work – so it’s that era.

“There was a guy passing through, going from the west of Ireland on the old road, and he stopped in with some Canadian tourists on the way to the airport and they bought our sandwiches at a Jet filling station, at something like 6am.

“The guy dropped his passengers to the airport and made his way through Mullingar on the way home and came into the shop that we had.”

“While he was ordering his sandwich he asked us a load of questions and the first we knew of it, there was a letter read out on the Monday morning by Gay Byrne,” he continued.

“It was just amazing. The impact of that was phenomenal. Suddenly the phones were ringing and the local filling stations wanted to be on the same service and off it took.”

Bernard said that this typified Byrne’s nature to support small, local Irish businesses. The 52-year-old, who after leaving the sandwich trade took up his current job as a sales representative, said that for this, and for the change Byrne brought about in Ireland, he will forever be grateful.

“Gay Byrne was fantastic for small businesses. He was always pushing and helping them,” he said.

“What is remarkable really is that Gay Byrne didn’t come from a self-employed background – his father was (an employee of) Guinness, which was almost like a state job – but he still had this empathy for the small businesses and continuously helped them.

“I never got to meet him. I sent him a thank you card and that’s as far as it went. I never got to meet him in person but I’m just one of numerous people he helped,” he continued.

“His velvet voice will forever bring me back. You talk about music or smells bringing you back but the sound of the signature tune of the Gay Byrne and his voice will be forever in my mind.

“His generosity too, and the social change he brought about, and that I have befitted from, and he definitely did bring them about and I will be forever grateful for that.”

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