Tuesday 28 March 2017

A heaven of good food and wine, on the double

A common love of Spain and its cuisine led two best friends to go into business, says Lucinda O'Sullivan

LORRAINE Heskin and Lorraine Byrne have a lot more than their Christian name in common. Both are from the West of Ireland -- with Lorraine Heskin's dad having come from Lorraine Byrne's home village, The Neale, in Co Mayo, both are very tall and blonde, both are 34, and both have a great love for Spain, which has been a major influence in their lives.

The women are best friends and business partners, with their highly successful Gourmet Food Parlour chain -- now in four locations, and which has just celebrated its fifth birthday.

The two Lorraines met at the University of Limerick in 1994 where both were studying Spanish and Economics. When they left college they went their separate ways to pursue their careers.

After a spell working with IBM, Lorraine Heskin went to southern Spain, to a little village called Salana de los Barros near the Portuguese border, which she said was a fabulous experience.

"It was very cultural. They really welcomed me into their lives, I learned so much," Heskin says.

Lorraine Byrne was in Madrid at the same time, so the two met up again, renewed their friendship, and checked out all the restaurants and tapas bars.

Heskin says, "It was one of the things we had in common -- even when we were in college, with the measly little bit of money we had, we would try and make up dishes. We are not qualified chefs but we have a big big interest in food."

After Spain, Lorraine Heskin went to New York for four years. "I was offered another job by IBM in the States but I didn't take it because I knew that sitting at a desk from nine to five wasn't for me. I knew there was something else that I just had to try and find.

"I got a job with Irish Food Distributors -- which is the biggest importer of Irish and English food in the US -- and started walking the streets of Manhattan as a rep selling Irish food to supermarkets, delis... you name it. I worked my way up and became a manager, working with the company for two years, involved in all the fancy food festivals, travelling all over America."

Heskin was then approached by a consultancy brokerage company, which represented many different parts of the food business, from the manufacturers to the supermarkets.

"I would present the foods to the buyers on their behalf and market and promote their products on the east coast of the USA. I was 25/26 and had the dream job, travelling also from Boston to California, eating with clients in fabulous restaurants, so I learned such a lot. It made me the person I am today, without a doubt."

Heskin then felt she had to decide whether or not to stay in America for good or came home.

She came home and got a job with Jacobs Biscuits, which was taken over three months later by Fruitfield -- so she became group export manager for Jacobs Fruitfield Food Group, travelling all over Europe to trade shows.

After university Lorraine Byrne went to work with an insurance company in Blackrock. "It was not something I had a great interest in, but after that I went to work with the International Air Transport Association, dealing with travel agencies.

"Over the years, Lorraine and I had always talked about having our own little place. I was getting married in 2006 and we were shopping for my wedding dress, we'd had a few glasses of champagne, and we decided, 'Let's just do it, we'll pack in our jobs and go for it!'"

The girls opened their first Gourmet Food Parlour in Dun Laoghaire in 2006, and it proved an instant success. They attribute a lot of this to the fact that people could see that what they were preparing daily was just good, fresh food.

Heskin says, "When we opened five years ago, some of the combinations we were using were a bit different -- really nice Serrano ham with Brie, or a really nice red pesto, and our lovely breads, tomato and fennel, posh sandwiches, antipasti boards which you can assemble yourself, gorgeous cakes and scones.

"We did a small wine list, but it was a really good wine list worked out very closely with two wine suppliers. I think when people came in they thought, 'This is different, I can have breakfast here, I can have lunch here, get something in the afternoon,' and five years ago that wasn't as common.

"Still to this day we get deliveries every single morning, we only buy in enough food for that day's business, and 99 per cent of our food is homemade on site each day.

"Most of our staff are fantastic -- they care. We are very lucky, we love our staff, they are part of our character. We all get on well together. You have to enjoy what you are doing; there is work to be done, but we can enjoy it. I remember meeting someone a few years ago and he hated going to work, and I never want it to be like that.

"We have learned so much in the last five years. Because we are best friends and get on so well, we can talk to each other about everything, bounce things off one another, and we always say, 'Yesterday's over, today is the start of a new day.' We never allow ourselves to get complacent and we are always trying to see what we can add and improve on."

When they were starting out five years ago, they looked at lots of premises in Dun Laoghaire before they managed to get one, as people seemed to think that at 29 they were too young and had no business experience behind them. They knew they had to prove themselves. But now it is the other way around, and they get plenty of people asking them to come to their premises.

In 2008 they opened in Swords with a 36-seat Gourmet Food Parlour. The outlets' food repertoire has increased enormously and their prices have been made more recession-friendly. Tapas has also been added to their range, and in addition the cafes host fun tapas evenings with plenty of music and cava or coffee.

Swords was followed on by a Gourmet Food Parlour cafe and wine bar at the Grange Gallery in Ballyboughal in north Co Dublin. This outlet has a gift store, and beautiful gardens to sit out in or to walk around.

The latest Gourmet Food Parlour is in Malahide on the Coast Road at MU Gym, with fantastic sea views as far as the eye can see -- and the two Lorraines clearly have long vision.

Is feidir linn is very obviously in their vocabulary.

www.gourmetfoodparlour.com

Sunday Independent

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