Restaurateur Ronan Ryan: 'I could be doing eight catering jobs and your day is spinning out of control. Then I go home and it's more madness'
Ronan Ryan (46) is a restaurateur and businessman. Counter Culture and Capo are his two latest restaurants. Born in Thurles, Co Tipperary, he lives in Clontarf, Dublin with his wife, Pamela Flood, and children Zach (15), Harrison (5), Elsie (3) and Gracie (1)
I absolutely hate the mornings. The alarm goes off at 6.30am. I've never had to get up so early. For all my working life, I was used to starting at 10am and finishing at 2am. So I was wide awake at 10pm; still am. Now, I start work much earlier in the morning. This is since we moved our cafe, Counter Culture, to Mercer Street last July. We needed a bigger kitchen, and a by-product of our move is that we do breakfast for the hotel next to us. Now we start at 7am and finish at 4pm.
Everybody is up in the house. My wife, Pam, gets the kids ready. Harrison is in school, Elsie is in preschool and baby Gracie is just hanging around. Pam schedules all her work for the mornings, so that she can get back to pick them up. My son Zach lives with us, too. I bring him to school, with three of his pals. We live in Clontarf. I love it. It's only 10 minutes from town at off-peak time. Before I leave the house, I'll have filter coffee and porridge. I try to eat something hot. I watch what I eat, except when it's a crazy day, and then forgetting to eat is a problem.
This restaurant, Counter Culture, is a side line. The main business is the outdoor catering business. For example, we look after a company on Stephen's Green, so we feed 200 people lunch and dinner every day. Offices feed their staff. They have gone away from the 'sandwiches on a platter' thing. It creates a better space if employees are well fed, as opposed to running out and getting a ham roll. They are more productive. For me, from a business point of view, this work eases the pressure, because I know what's coming.
In the mornings, the chefs are prepping early. I have a meeting with them, and I plan the deliveries. We only do hot food. You get a hot dinner and proper big portions. It's gone away from this label of health food, to just being food; nutritious food. Everything is put together to order. There are no pre-made sauces. We saw that people were going out and eating allegedly healthy stuff, and then they were hungry three hours later. We like to feed people. It'll be busy at lunchtime. I'm out and about looking after catering, while other guys here look after the restaurant. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, we turn it into an Italian restaurant, Capo.
I started off as a chef, and then faded away from that to being on the floor. My career has been well documented at this stage. I'm at the tail end of it. We had eight years of everything going well, and then it went terribly wrong, and then we started again. Here we are again with our own business. I worked in restaurants that were busy - Il Primo was busy, The Mermaid was always busy, and when I opened my own restaurants, Town Bar and Grill and South, they were busy. It was the same customers, people going out and spending 50 quid eating dinner. People were always doing that, and they are still doing that. It's just a different age group.
There are a lot more opportunities now, whereas in 2008, all of a sudden they stopped. Our restaurant South in the suburbs closed, and it was the losses from there that pulled down Town Bar and Grill. There was no growth, and people were circling the wagons and not spending. But it's back on again. People thought that it was the last night on Earth or something, but it's the exact same now. We'll have a party of 20 on Friday night and they'll order wine and cocktails and stay until 2am. That's what they did back then, too. It's just life. People say, 'Well done' and I'm like, 'What are you going to do? Starve?' No, you're going to feed your family, and it's cyclical. Standing back, you can see this.
You have no experience of it, so you just ride it out. You just go with the flow until they decide that you are worth throwing back into the water, or, if not, they bankrupt you. It's just debt fatigue at this stage. That's all anyone ever talks to me about. This is going into the ninth year of it now, so it is 20pc of my life. I can see why people just go to ground, because it has affected everything. You don't have the same credit terms, so you're in a different category. You have to try and start again.
This year, I will be setting up a healthy fast-food takeaway - delivery and collections. The idea is that people can have proper grub delivered to them in half an hour. The take-away business is huge.
On week nights, I get home around 7.30pm. They are all beginning to settle down. I put the three-year-old and the five-year-old to sleep, and Pam is with the baby. We're in our mid-40s, and it's just absolutely natural. It all fits into place. We also have a 15-year-old kid going around the house, and it just fits into place. Sometimes, in work, I could be doing eight catering functions and your day is spinning out of control, and then you go home and it's madness as well. I don't get stressed about it, and neither does Pam. We have a one-year-old who is walking around the place, picking up everything and eating everything and trying to climb the stairs. You'd love to fast-forward it a bit to the stage where they all can talk and mind themselves.
We try to get a night out for a meal. I used to go to the Gate Theatre a lot, but since the baby came along, the last year has been a wipe-out. But I think it's just sad if you're trying to chase down what you were trying to do in your 20s.
I might watch a bit of Netflix, and then it's lights off at midnight. At the moment, I'm reading Gerry Thornley's book on Connacht Rugby. I love rugby and hurling. The kids might come into our bed at night, but it's about being able to move them around. Once they are asleep, you just lift them up and move them back to their own bed.
Counter Culture, 3 Mercer St, D2, see counterculture.ie.
Capo opens Thursday-Saturday from 6pm, see caporestaurant.ie
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