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Foodies Fight Back: Waterford bakers spread their wings as Laois brewers get canning

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Sarah Richards & Conor Naughton, Seagull Bakery, Waterford

Sarah Richards & Conor Naughton, Seagull Bakery, Waterford

David Walsh-Kemmis, Ballykilcavan Farm & Brewery, Stradbally, Co Laois

David Walsh-Kemmis, Ballykilcavan Farm & Brewery, Stradbally, Co Laois

Jodie and Fergal Dempsey, Wild & Native restaurant, Rosslare Strand, Co Wexford

Jodie and Fergal Dempsey, Wild & Native restaurant, Rosslare Strand, Co Wexford

Ewan Plenderleith, Aghadoe Heights Hotel, Lakes of Killarney, Co Kerry

Ewan Plenderleith, Aghadoe Heights Hotel, Lakes of Killarney, Co Kerry

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Sarah Richards & Conor Naughton, Seagull Bakery, Waterford

THE BAKER

Owned by husband and wife team Sarah Richards and Conor Naughton, Seagull Bakery is an artisanal sourdough bakery in Tramore, Co Waterford. Tramore native Sarah began by selling her bread at the town's market. Her Saturday-morning stall proved so popular that she was able to move up to bricks and mortar, opening on Broad Street in 2016. They’ve recently launched a second Seagull, in Waterford city. Sarah told me how they’ve been getting on.

“March 2020 saw us close the doors of our beloved bakery for the first time ever. We made the decision to create an online shop with home delivery, but quickly realised it was unsustainable for us so we went click and collect only.” In May 2020, they decided to open a hatch at the bakery, and soon had to open a second hatch to speed up the queue.

“During the first lockdown I had to be home with my children and there for my father to provide shopping and meals. It gave me time to reflect on life and the business, and forced me to delegate more. It also forced us to analyse our space, due to social distancing guidelines. We realised how small and inefficient our workspace is, as much as we love the buzzing beehive atmosphere.”

They were also busy innovating products, such as pasta made with Irish-grown stoneground ancient and heritage wheat flours. “It’s exciting to see the results of all the creative chefs and foodies who had time to work on these ideas.”

For the second and third lockdowns, they teamed up with MoMo Restaurant in Waterford, who did a pop-up shop selling their bread and pastries.

“It got a remarkable response and opened our eyes to having a shop in Waterford city. There was a retail unit available next to MoMo, and we went for it. We opened our new Seagull Bakery on Patrick Street on April 7, and we’ve been blown away by the hugely positive response.”

@SeagullBakeryTramore

THE BREWER

“For my wife and me, building the brewery at Ballykilcavan was always about adapting to survive.” Based in Stradbally, Co Laois, David Walsh-Kemmis’s Ballykilcavan Farm has been in his family for an extraordinary 13 generations since 1639. “After taking over from my father, I realised that we couldn’t guarantee our financial future just from farming,” says David. “So we diversified by opening the brewery and using our own barley and water to make beers.”

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When the pandemic hit, they had to adapt. With pubs closed but off-licences open, they switched all their production to bottles and cans and with their production licence preventing them from selling directly to customers, online off-licences were a ray of hope for them. “We increased the number of beers in our core range of cans and also started a series of one-off canned beers, named after the five generations of the Clancy family who’ve worked on the farm.”

Their export markets were closed down, but are starting to come back now. “We have a deal ready with a French distributor that is still on hold, but we’ve picked up both a new Northern Irish distributor and a new Italian distributor since October last. It’s great to see the beers heading further and further afield and being enjoyed by people across Europe.”

They’re also about to build a new visitor centre and tasting room in the 200-year-old mill building beside the brewery to encourage domestic and overseas tourism. “I can’t wait to see it finished and ready to welcome visitors.”

ballykilcavan.com

THE RESTAURANT

Fergal and Jodie Dempsey of the popular Wild & Native Seafood Restaurant at Rosslare Strand, Co Wexford, told me how they’ve been faring in these peculiar times.

“When Ireland went into its first lockdown last March, we were in the middle of renovating the restaurant,” says Jodie. “We needed to create more space in response to the demand for tables. This worked in our favour when we finally reopened in July as we had more space to keep customers and staff as safe as possible. Fergal isn’t just a chef he did most of the renovations on his own, and eventually with a small team when it was allowed. At the point of reopening in July, we had been excluded from Government support as we weren’t open in March. This was an added stress, but we got through the very demanding season with a small but great team.”

During this latest lockdown they’ve continued refurbishing to create a light, bright place of relaxed elegance and laid-back ambience. Fortunately, they also have a shop in Wexford town called Wild Wexican, serving all things Mexican, which has allowed them to continue serving food to the public.

“While we look forward to reopening, we are concerned about finding staff to grow our team for the season ahead. It’s very hard to forward plan with no roadmap for reopening. We’re also worried that people will be hesitant to apply for new positions when they are receiving payments from the Government. After discussing this with other restaurateurs, it is apparent we are not the only ones having these thoughts.”

Fergal and Jodie are also in contact with their local suppliers, adjusting the ever-changing and growing menu, gearing up for an exciting summer ahead.

“The bookings are very encouraging and we’re looking forward to a busy but safe restaurant for our customers to dine in.”

wildandnative.ie

THE HOTEL

In March 2020, Ewan Plenderleith had only just taken on the role as general manager of the five-star Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa in Killarney, Co Kerry. Within one week of starting, the hospitality industry was closed due to Covid.

“I previously worked in the hotel in 1990,” says Ewan, “so I had a lot of ideas for going forward but those changed dramatically as we had to change focus to understand what Covid-19 meant for the hotel, the team and the expectations of the customers.”

They were given great support by Windward Management, who manage a significant portfolio of hotels in Ireland, and it all resulted in a successful but limited 2020.

“We can see many home market guests returning to Aghadoe this year. The remainder of 2021, after we open, is looking very promising. We have the 2020 experience behind us to ensure we continue to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations. We’ve retained our team for this year and we’ve tailored many of our offerings including spa, and food and beverage to cater for the Irish staycation expectations, which are different to those of our usual international clients who we don’t expect to see until 2022.”

During the current lockdown they’ve been developing signature dishes for their reopening menus and building a greenhouse to grow fresh ingredients on site.

“We’ve been retraining the team and using the time to improve on our systems and procedures, which has kept us even more unified in these difficult times. The team have assumed new tasks and responsibilities that may never have been expected of them before. I’ve no doubt the productiveness of this lockdown will reflect in the guest experience.

"We look forward to welcoming visitors to the Kingdom and extending the famous Kerry welcome. Céad míle fáilte.”

aghadoeheights.com


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