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Dublin’s oldest fresh fruit and vegetable supplier celebrates 125th anniversary

Jackie Leonard and Sons Ltd was set up by Kate Leonard, who started trading from the Dublin Corporation fruit market on December 6th, 1892. 
She was one of the first traders to take a stand at the market on St Michan’s Street.

Jack Leonard Snr, Dublin Corporation Fruit Market Christmas 1930.

The stand sold fruit and fish until her son Jack went into wholesaling vegetables, also opening a shop on North King Street. Since then, the fruit and vegetable supplier has passed from father to sons, on down to Justin Leonard.

From the time he first went into the business in 1986, Justin says it has moved from being a vegetable wholesaler to servicing Dublin restaurants, hotels, nursing homes and greengrocers. It now supplies about 120 outlets.

Being versatile and open to change has kept the Leonard name to the fore of fruit 'n veg wholesaling in Dublin for 125 years.

Coming up to the end of the 19th century in Dublin, the city authorities decided, with what time has shown to be wisdom, which its fruit 'n vegetable traders deserved a proper, enclosed market from which to operate.

By 1892 the Smithfield markets were up and running, Victorian redbrick with a glass ceiling giving shelter to those who'd sold in the streets around Dublin 7 for years out of number. Kate Leonard was one of their number, and one of the first to move into the new market buildings. 

She couldn't have known she was starting a business which, coming up to the end of 2017, would be still growing, faithful to its roots and reaping the benefits, as her great-grandson puts it, "of being versatile and open to change".

Jackie Leonard & Sons of the Corporation Fruit Market and The Old Schoolhouse in nearby Cuckoo Lane, is run these days by Kate's great grandson -Justin Leonard. Schools and schooling, as the story unfolds, are something of a theme in the family.

A lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same, in the 125 years since Kate Leonard moved into the market buildings. Tastes are different these days and the availability of fruits and vegetables infinitely so. But the buzz is surely much as it always was, the early morning urgencies as demanding, the camaraderie a way of life that has always fuelled the markets.

Justin Leonard says he's steeped in the history, life and business. Working in the family business was a conscious decision, not an inevitability.
Jackie Leonard, was the third generation to run the family business.
"The markets were given the same design as Covent Garden in London. 

“The original market hall had a glass roof to catch the light of the cool, early morning sun and a slate roof on the other side for when it moved around and got warmer; the Victorian way of keeping heat off the produce. The corporation replaced the glass with Perspex in 1988/1989."

Kate Leonard's son, Jack, who was Justin's grandfather, took over from his mother in the early 1920s. He had three sons: Thomas, Michael and Jack Jnr. Tom became a Dublin North Central politician for Fianna Fáil and Mick worked in the company until he died in 1983.

In time, and in order to distinguish him from his father, Jack Jnr became Jackie. The company became Jackie Leonard & Sons in 1983. Justin came on board in 1986.

Jackie Leonard worked in the markets until he was 66 and died in February 2003, when he was 69."

In the early years the Leonards sold only home grown produce - turnips, parsnips, carrots and cabbages from north county Dublin. "Cabbage arrived in horse-drawn carts driven by the farmer growers, 140 dozen heads at a time," Justin says.

"My grandfather would auction it off, as all produce was auctioned then. There were no sacks and boxes, so the cabbages would be in pyramids on the carts. The farmers would drive on afterwards to deliver to villages like Rathfarnham, which were outside the city limits. That's the way things were until the 1960s."

Until the 1960s, too, a lot of fruit came into Dublin by ship, and was auctioned. The Leonards only came to fruit-selling in the late 1950s when Justin's father bought a pallet of Jaffa 105 oranges.

Justin, when he joined in 1986, brought with him his conviction that the company should have the independence of directly importing their fruit.
We found that the way to grow the business was to do the preparation of vegetables ourselves. “Today we wash, cut and pack to our customers’ requirements all root crops and potatoes. 

For more information:
Justin Leonard
Jackie Leonard & Sons Limited 
Tel: +353 1 873 3055
Mob: +353 86 867 4760
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