Saturday 21 April 2018

For the dough to rise you must use your Loaf

Richard Fitzgerald has a great product – now he needs to achieve 24-hour production and get it out there on to the shelves

SWEET SUCCESS: Bill Cullen with Richard Fitzgerald of Loaf Bakery in Adare.
SWEET SUCCESS: Bill Cullen with Richard Fitzgerald of Loaf Bakery in Adare.

Bill Cullen

'His smile will get him past any gatekeeper and his products are highly saleable, but he has to get Loaf space on the shelves'

ADARE is a very special town in Co Limerick. Almost everyone driving south to the Kingdom of Kerry goes through Adare and in summer days like these the town is absolutely jammed, with traffic backed up for miles.

Tourists stop to visit the Heritage Centre, where they can buy some Irish gifts and, better still, Maeve runs the lovely cafe with freshly baked scones and delicious cakes and ice-cream, yum!

There are numerous heritage sites scattered around the town: the Augustinian Priory, founded in 1316; the Trinitarian Abbey dating back to 1230; Franciscan Abbey, founded in 1464 AD; and the Desmond Castle, first built in 1173. The historic Adare Manor, once the seat of Lord and Lady Dunraven, is now a magnificent five-star hotel and its imposing gates dominate the town.

Its golf course hosted the Irish Open and the JP McManus Pro Am which raised millions for charity, with top golfers and VIPs from all over the world including such guests as Tiger Woods.

Nestled on the roadside just across from the manor gates, next to the abbey is the lovely Dunraven Arms, a veritable throwback to bygone days, featuring hospitality, atmosphere and service which is long gone in most modern hotels. An ideal wedding venue as brides in high heels can just totter a few paces from the church to the banqueting hall. It is lovingly run by two brothers, Louis and Brian Murphy.

On the outskirts of the town lies another gem, the Woodlands House Hotel. Owned by the Fitzgerald family and run by the dynamic Mary Fitzgerald, with her son David as the frontline manager. Mary has developed this once 12-bedroom B&B into a thriving resort with over 100 bedrooms.

This hotel is a hive of industry with a whole wing at the back dedicated to a large spa, hairdressers and fitness centre. In that arena Mary's younger son Richard got the entrepreneurial bug – he decided to paddle his own canoe and has set up a bakery within the hotel kitchens. He called his start-up business Loaf, and set about making speciality tarts, cakes and bread for the retail market.

He saw an opportunity in that the hotel kitchens were used only up to around 11pm and so he decided to turn them into a bakery for the rest of the night. When the chefs knock off their shift just before midnight he ramps up his bakery. He gets his cakes and breads ready for delivery just before the hotel chef moves him out again at 7am next morning.

I came across Loaf produce at a little petrol station in Adare when stopping to refuel on my way to Kerry. I found a great selection of cakes to nibble on with a coffee. Having a keen eye and interest in new brands, I decided to investigate further.

We traced the young entrepreneur to the Woodlands Hotel. The branding was clear and the packaging was simple, and it really looked home-made. The taste was great – without a doubt I had the best almond and pear tart I have ever eaten. There are two different sizes. I try to stick to the small one as it is big enough to share and you don't have to feel guilty as you stuff it into your mouth – all that lovely fresh butter, and fresh fruit and icing.

I usually buy the bigger size to bring home and appear very angelic as it looks like I haven't touched it! However, my guilty secret is out now as I have to admit to having eaten the smaller one on the way.

Richard gave us a tour of his kitchen bakery and told us how he started as a one-man band a few years back. The early-morning baker became the driver of the delivery van, and the salesman as well on his journeys. Now, having got his sales up to a very respectable €250,000 last year, he has decided to take the next step and grow his business.

His current delivery stops mainly within a 25-mile radius and his next plan of action is to expand into Kerry, Tipperary and Clare. Because of his early start he needs a second van driver who will break out into new territory. Potential customers are shops, convenience stores, restaurants and hotels. As well as being the baker, he now has to don the hat of the sales manager.

His cheerful character and warm smile will get him past the gatekeeper in any company and his products are highly saleable, but he has to get Loaf space on the shelves. That's the sales strategy; now he has to tackle production.

He intends to negotiate with his family members to have his own bakery space and new equipment so that he can achieve a 24-hour production schedule. That of course means extra costs and staff.

Ready to go national? Yes, definitely, says Richard. He is up for the challenge and has already caught the eye of a national chain that is looking at listing Loaf. He needs to get listed with the chains.

Richard needs to go where the people are, and Cork is only a short drive from Adare. He needs to target Musgrave, which is already a big supplier to his family hotels. Mary Fitzgerald is expanding too and recently bought the Vienna Woods Hotel in Cork thus doubling their purchasing power.

ON YER BIKE

Richard, use your Loaf and target the obvious connections you have through your family.

Ramp up your action plan to include those connections. They are open doors and just need to be pushed a bit harder. Nobody comes knocking to give you business, you have to go out and ask for it.

Make no apology. You have a great product and you can stand over it all the way, with the best of pure, rich Irish ingredients and a really delicious taste.

Whatever chain gets there first will have a surefire winner on their hands so, on yer bike!

www.loaf.ie

Irish Independent

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