Ronan and Pamela the talk of the town
He was a poster boy for Celtic Tiger culinary success, and she was the darling of the TV world. Their careers imploded together, but Ronan Ryan and Pamela Flood are having a new baby and embarking on a new culinary adventure
In the recently published book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, author Jon Ronson describes 12 things that can happen to people who have been vilified online, following incidents such as ill-conceived tweets that went viral. Having read the book, talented restaurateur Ronan Ryan realised that at least eight of those things happened to him in the aftermath of losing the three restaurants he co-owned with chef Temple Garner.
"I didn't want to go outside the house or have to face people," says the former poster boy for Celtic Tiger culinary success. "The Sunday Times did a piece on myself and two other people who were in trouble, and they had the three of us sitting in a big pot that was cooking with our chefs hats on, like something out of Tarzan. I used to read all the papers and Google my name, but you won't get out of bed if you keep looking at all that stuff. It took a year to get myself back together, and I don't care what is said about me now."
As he sits with his beautiful, pregnant wife, Pamela Flood, in Counter Culture, his brand new cafe on the top floor of Powerscourt Town Centre, Ronan reflects on the financial and emotional maelstrom he has come through over the past eight years, with angry creditors snapping at his heels. Some contributed to the memorable on-air slating he received on Joe Duffy's Liveline, and it stung, he explains, as there's a considerable difference between those who can pay, but don't, and those, like him, who simply can't pay.
Pamela and Ronan met at hairdresser Dylan Bradshaw's wedding to wife Charlotte in the south of France in 2008. They clicked over the course of the three-day wedding during their synchronised cigarette breaks - they have both given up smoking now. Once back in Ireland they began seeing each other, which sparked huge media interest.
While Pamela was used to it, having been a staple of the social pages since she scooped the Miss Ireland title in 1993, Ronan had only ever been in the spotlight for work reasons."I was never in the media for my social life, but the first Sunday after we went out, all the papers had headlines like 'Flood of love', and they knew where we had gone for a drink," he recalls. "It was only a casual thing at the start, so our families didn't even know, and suddenly they were reading about it in the papers."
Soon after they got together, Ronan's family in Tipperary had more than his relationship to read about, as he hit the headlines when his restaurants ran into trouble. Back in 2007, he and Temple Garner opened South Bar & Restaurant in Sandyford, to add to their existing restaurants, Bridge Bar & Grill in Dublin's Docklands, and the jewel in the crown, Town Bar & Grill on Kildare Street, which was frequented by celebrities, politicians and the social set. While the banks lent them €1m to fit South out, €968,000 of which has been repaid so far, the renovations ran six months behind schedule, which meant the rent-free period was over before the restaurant actually opened.
"Town was doing well and Bridge was breaking even, but we were in over our heads with South," he admits. "We needed to take in €60,000 per week to make it work, but were only pulling in about €50,000. We were taking ten grand from Town every week and putting it into Sandyford just to break even. So when the recession kicked in and Town went down by ten or 15 per cent, everything snapped and South pulled the others over the cliff. I'd love to blame the economy, Anglo or everyone else, but I can only blame myself. Nobody put a gun to my head - the two biggest developers in the country wanted me to do it and I was flattered, so I borrowed the money."
South closed in 2008, and Bridge folded and Town went into examinership in 2009. Ronan continued to manage Town on behalf of Treasury Holdings, but failed in his bid to buy it back. While he was devastated at the time, he thinks making a clean break was probably the best option in retrospect. "I could have gone to the UK and gone bankrupt, but I didn't," he says. "I'm still paying for the ovens and bank loans, and dealing with all the suppliers piece by piece. I'm 44 now and hopefully it will all be cleared by my 50th."
Pamela and Ronan were only going out a few months when both of their high-flying careers were, as she puts it,"walloped by the recession." The model-turned-TV-presenter was at the end of her seven year stint co-presenting Off The Rails with Caroline Morahan, and was just about to start filming the RTE series, Marry Me, as well as presenting the Lotto draw. Within months, slashed TV budgets meant less work for freelance presenters, and the nice little gigs of MCing and opening boutiques dried up. A huge shame, as the classy blonde was wonderful on TV.
"I suppose our honeymoon period was over in three months, which wasn't fair, but they were three magical months," she smiles. "I smugly thought that my career wouldn't be affected because people still have to watch TV, but I was so wrong. Our worlds imploded together and they were testing times, to put it mildly. If only one person's business is going down, the other can be the strong one who supports them, but when it's happening to both at the same time, it causes a lot of hardship. That can put a strain on a couple, especially a newbie one, but as tough as things have been for us, and especially for Ronan, we've come through it together, and we're both better individually and better as a couple."
Pamela gave birth to son Harrison in March 2011 at 39, and daughter Elsie was born in October 2013, when she was 42. At 44, she's thrilled to be 18 weeks pregnant with their third baby. Some people asked if her career stopped her having babies earlier, but it was about timing, she says. "If I was someone who planned everything, there's no way I would have left having babies this late," says the glowing mum-to-be. "I definitely used to be a party girl and I had a ball. I was in every nightclub and at every party, so life is very different now but I love it. I'm getting more of a thrill out of being a mammy than my career ever gave me. I'm content, and I don't know if I would have used that word to describe myself before."
When they met, Ronan was already dad to Zach, his son from a previous relationship, who is now 13. Zach spends lots of time with them, and Pamela says that she feels lucky that they got on so well from the start as step relationships are not always that easy. "Zach was six when we got together, and I saw what a brilliant dad Ronan was," she said. "He did a great job as Zach is an amazing kid, and one of the kindest, loveliest children I've ever met. He's a fantastic big brother, and was over the moon when his brother and sister arrived. I think siblings are very important, and treasure my own amazing brother Glen."
Pamela's big regret is that her mother Paula never got to meet the children. Paula died ten years ago aged 59 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which devastated Pamela. "Mum was sick for four years, and her stints in hospital were getting longer,"she recalls, adding that Paula never had a great pair of lungs, and second-hand smoke from her job possibly aggravated the condition. "When she died, I think she had borne the burden for long enough, but I lost my pal and my confidante and felt the person who knew me best in the world had gone. It turns out that my dad Jim knows me just as well though, and he has been incredible."
Pamela and Ronan were married last August in 10 Ormond Quay, and the Tallaght girl was anything but a bridezilla. Ronan organised everything from the food to the venue, she explains, and all she had to do was dress herself and the children. She and her hairdresser friend, Stephen Kelly, went wedding dress shopping, and found the perfect gown in Debenhams - an off-the-rack evening dress from Coast.
"Stephen spotted it, I tried it on and we both said it was the one," says Pamela. "It was nothing fancy, just simple and I absolutely loved it. I think it's insane to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a dress you won't even wear for 24 hours. I stayed with Stephen in Ken Boylan's house the night before, and we drank champagne until 2am and had so much fun. They did my hair and make up the next day, and the wedding itself was amazing. It was so laid-back and low-key and was just a big party."
Ronan says that while Pamela is gorgeous, what attracted him was that she was very down-to-earth and warm. She's the real deal, he says, and the fact that she stayed by his side through the difficult times is a testament to that. What Pamela loves most is Ronan's sense of humour, which she says lurks under his resolute, businesslike demeanour.
"To a bystander, Ronan can look very serious," she explains, "but he's also a serious messer. He's extremely clever, has a natural, spontaneous wit, and has no problem looking absolutely ridiculous to make you laugh. The kids and I see Ronan at his funniest and maddest, and he makes me belly laugh every day. If I'm in a bad mood, he makes me laugh to get me out of it, and I have always loved that. He was even able to do it through all the shite we went through."
Ronan the rebel admits that he was an enfant terrible growing up in Thurles, as the fourth of Liam and Mary Ryan's six children. His dad was a baker, who owned 'Ryan's Bread' and Ronan wasn't interested in school as he knew he was going to become a chef. He left school after his Inter Cert to train at the regional technical college in Galway, and then went to work in London, Italy and the US. He returned in 1994, and worked as a chef at Guinness, Il Primo and The Mermaid, before going into business with Garner.
As Winston Churchill said, "If you're going through hell, keep going," and Ronan may have been bloodied when his restaurants went down, but he wasn't out. Last year, he became involved in Pizza e Porchetta, and working with the top team there restored his confidence. While he could have remained in partnership with Ross Lewis when Ross took over and changed the name to Osteria Lucio, he had a great idea and decided to run with it.
During his decades in the kitchen, Ronan noticed that many customers required dishes to be prepared a certain way due to health issues or food intolerances. While some chefs threw their eyes to heaven at such requests, he realised that there was an opening for an establishment that provided healthy lifestyle choices. For this reason, his menu at Counter Culture aims to bring clean eating to new levels, by providing delicious, filling choices such as slow-cooked rotisserie chicken, steak and eggs, and seared swordfish, all at great prices. Ronan got a lot of nutritional advice from Paul Byrne of BodyByrne gym while compiling the menus, and with an all-natural protein counter and clean desserts, customers can enjoy their food while sticking to their fitness and nutrition programmes. Those with special dietary requirements will be in heaven at the choice.
"A couple of my pals have heart and cholesterol issues, and people have genuine problems like intolerances to dairy and gluten," says Ronan, who is in partnership in the new venture. "People can get sick and have serious reactions if you can't cater for their needs, so we are aiming to do that here. It may be healthy, but the portions are big and filling, because I'm a sixteen-stone man myself and nobody has ever left anything I've been involved in hungry."
If ever anyone deserves a second chance at success, it's Ronan, as his sincerity, passion and genuine honesty shine through. Counter Culture opened its doors six weeks ago, and it also does home and office deliveries. Over the course of the interview, the people who drop in to dine include gym bunnies having protein shakes, old ladies enjoying scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and soda bread, and glamorous office girls out for lunch. The first wave of reviews have been excellent, and among its fans is mentalist Keith Barry, who drops by our table during the interview to tell Pamela and Ronan that Counter Culture is the "best restaurant in Dublin."
While their food may be clean, they're not puritans, laughs Pamela, and customers can still enjoy a glass of organic wine. Her input was mainly around the desserts, and while she works at the eaterie here and there, when their childcare arrangements are more structured she will be in more regularly. "We have Ronan home every evening now, which is amazing," she says. "We don't know ourselves. Harrison asked yesterday when Daddy was coming home and I said he would be home for dinner. Harrison's reply was 'Again?'"
Counter Culture, 2nd Floor, Powercourt Town Centre, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 679 9625 www.counterculturedublin.com
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