Early days: Tobin's Service Station on Letterkenny’s Port Road pictured back in the 1980s
Times were very different back in the early part of 1980 when Pat and Mary Tobin took the brave step to go into business by opening a new service station on Letterkenny’s Port Road.
With two pumps and a small kiosk, Tobin’s opened for business on Friday, May 9, 1980.
Pat, a native of Kilkenny, and his wife Mary (nee McAteer from Fanad), were encouraged by well wishes and goodwill from family, and friends in Letterkenny and Mary’s native Fanad.
But their early days of trading weren’t helped by the fact that back then, fuel was so much cheaper north of the border.
The couple worked the station every day on their own to save on outgoings, as very little fuel was being sold in the towns and villages this side of the border.
Their efforts to counteract the struggle for business prompted them to open a Bed and Breakfast from their home. They kept the B&B going for several years until the fuel trade eventually began to level off by the end of that decade.
Staff members at Tobin’s, pictured with Eddie and Annette, display a selection of the awards won for 'Best Forecourt in Ireland for Hygiene and Food Safety’ PICTURE: CLIVE WASSON
More pumps were added to the site and Pat put in a car wash.
By 1994, Statoil bought out BP Ireland, and Tobin’s decided to rebrand to Statoil, at the same time undertaking a major expansion. They added a shop and extended the forecourt to eight pumps.
Three new car washes were installed - the first in Donegal to be covered in for all weather use.
The Tobin family suffered the loss of Pat Tobin in August 1999 when he died at the age of just 67.
Many of those who remember the softly spoken businessman, speak highly of a man who was kind, friendly and extremely hard-working.
He put his customers first, and it was perhaps for that reason that people were quite content to keep buying their fuel from Tobin’s.
A newspaper notice announcing the opening of Tobin's 40 years ago
Even to this day, there are customers who first had their car filled on the pumps by Pat, who go nowhere else for their fuel than Tobin’s. It’s a point not lost on Pat’s son Eddie.
“Every so often, a customer will mention my dad and they’ll tell me a story about something he might have done for them. It gives you a great lift and it really does make you proud,” Eddie said.
“It’s amazing to think that even after all these years, he is still fondly remembered by so many people.
“His customers were always so important to him. His aim was to make sure they were looked after and given the attention and respect that everyone deserves.
“That’s something I have tried to keep going and along with our staff members, we strive to deliver that service everyday.”
Eddie has been running the business since his father’s passing almost 21 years ago.
And along with his wife Annette (nee Brunnick, originally from Dungloe), they have overseen a number of changes at the Port Road premises.
In 2004 Tobin’s undertook another major expansion adding the building that houses the current shop and diner and 1,0000 sq foot of office space. The diner includes a seated area for 60 people.
Up to 2004 Tobin’s had been trading as an independent shop but decided that the way forward was to be affiliated to a brand. They chose to go with the Irish brand Gala whose local supplier was Morris Bros in Convoy. This proved to be a very successful partnership with Tobin’s winning the National Gala Store of the year competition three times in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
Eddie and Annette Tobin PICTURE: CLIVE WASSON
In 2006 Annette took a career break from her job as Oncology sister in Letterkenny University Hospital to help run the business.
Again in 2008 Tobin’s undertook another major uplift with the rebranding of the forecourt to the Irish owned company Topaz. Topaz had bought out Statoil Ireland who were the contracted sole fuel supplier for Tobin’s.
Annette helped drive the high standards that Tobin’s try to achieve which helped culminate in winning many independent national awards over the years.
In 2009 Tobin’s were awarded EIQA’s hygiene award receiving their prestigious Emerald Award.
Incredibly for nine of the following 10 years, Tobin’s won the overall national award for best forecourt in Ireland for Hygiene and Food safety.
In 2015 Tobin’s won the overall EIQA National Hygiene Award across all sectors of manufacturing, hospitality and retail, which was fantastic for a small family owned business. To put this in perspective previous winners of this award included Manor Farm, Glanmor Foods and Joseph Brennan Bakeries, all national brands.
Today, Tobin’s employs 40 staff (22 full time, 18 part time) and their dedication to providing excellent customer service in modern high standard facilities continues.
In normal times, Eddie and Annette would have been planning major celebrations to mark the 40th birthday.
“Hopefully when things get back to a bit of normality, we can organise a proper celebration and mark the occasion,” Eddie said.
“We feel it’s important to thank our customers for their loyal service over the years, and our staff from over the years who have played their part in the success of Tobin’s.
“We’ve come an awful long way since my parents first took their steps into business and I know my dad would be very proud of all that it has achieved.
“It will be nice to celebrate his memory too, 40 years on from when he first opened for business here.”
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