Thursday 14 December 2017

Jack Kirwan... 'everyone in our business is under 26 - I'm the grandad'

Jack Kirwan (26) is the founder of Sprout & Co juice company. He studied e-commerce at university, then trained as a chef and worked for Avoca, before launching his own business. He lives in Dublin city-centre with his brother and business partner, Theo (24)

Jack Kirwan, left, and his brother Theo. Photo: Tony Gavin
Jack Kirwan, left, and his brother Theo. Photo: Tony Gavin

Emily Hourican

When I started this business, nearly two years ago, I was getting up at 4am, going to the markets, and buying what we needed for the juices. There were times I had to be in at 2am, having to make 600 or 800 products, with just one other person. I'd be begging friends to come in and give a hand on a Sunday morning. But as it has progressed, we have taken on more people - there are eight of us full-time and three part-time - so I now I get to start at 6am.

I live in the city centre. I grew up in Blackrock, with four brothers and two sisters. We weren't all under the same roof at the same time, but there was always plenty going on around the family home. Now, I share an apartment with my brother, Theo, who's also my business partner. Working and living together is a bit mad, but so far we've managed to avoid killing each other.

I'm used to keeping it to a bare minimum in the mornings, so I get up around 5.25am, and I'm straight out. I have breakfast when the early rush is finished. The team might start at 1am or 2am, because we make the juices, cold-pressed, fresh, seven days a week. Then at 9am, we start to ship out. So we generally try and have breakfast together once we've finished production. My day is broken up into different areas, but that early morning rush is definitely the most hectic part. We're based within an Avoca store, in Rathcoole - we've a production space there, and a juice bar - so there's lots to choose from for breakfast. I usually have eggs and avocado, with one of our green juices.

After university in the UK, I came back to Ireland and trained to be a chef. I worked in the kitchens at Avoca for the best part of two years, but I've always had a skin condition, eczema, and it got steadily worse. I'd had it on my body previously, but then I began to get it around my face and on my hands. It got to the point where it was unbearable; it just wasn't workable to continue doing what I was doing. Whatever way my body worked, it wasn't suited to being in that kind of environment, so I had to give up. Around that time, I'd been to America and had seen the new trends for juice bars and healthy eating, so I started Sprout & Co.

I began it because I liked the idea, but as I started to include the juices in my diet on a regular basis, my skin began to improve, as did my whole body health. I had been applying steroid creams and, after a while, I was able to stop using them. That really woke me up to the reality that by eating healthily, you can cure yourself.

Juicing became really popular around the same time as we opened, so we grew pretty rapidly. We were very fortunate to be connected with Avoca; they gave us the opportunity to sell through their stores, which gave us immediate access to lots of customers. From there, we just grew. The last six months have been madness. I never predicted this.

Until recently, we would have been trying to grow our customer base by getting out and doing tastings. More recently though, we agreed to take a premises on Dawson Street, so we've been working on a food concept with the same name, Sprout & Co, supplying salads and some foods, as well as juices. It'll be a to-go, healthy-food premises, with 10-15 seats in the place itself. Also, we're ready to move into new production facilities, because we need more space. We want to move somewhere that will be big enough that we can grow the business for the next five years without moving again, so we have a few places in mind that we're looking at.

But we also need to get round to all our stockists - the restaurants and cafes that we supply. I love my food, so I don't tend to miss lunch; instead, I try and kill two birds with one stone by taking half an hour to have lunch in one of the stockists. I try and have meetings over lunch, with my brother and colleagues. And we give something back to our stockists by buying lunch from them.

I suffered plenty of anxiety before we launched. I remember thinking 'what am I doing?' 'Will it be good enough?' But it's not helpful to start getting too anxious. Everyone who works with us is under 26; I'm the oldest, the granddad, so we're all of a similar mindset, and excited about the possibilities.

The afternoons are spent getting back to customers, developing new ideas and doing accounts. I usually try and finish up about 6pm, because my brain turns off after that. I'm very active and I do a lot of exercise. I used to play hockey for my university, but now I usually go to the gym two or three times a week, where I row or I cycle. I'm not Superman, but I try.

My brother and I usually cook together three or four times a week and invite friends for dinner. We make lots of different things, not one specific kind of food. I don't go out that much, because I can't really face work with a heavy hangover. There's too much going on. I prefer to go for something to eat, rather than to nightclubs. I don't think I can handle them, with the early start.

We're producing seven days a week, but I don't work seven days. I take Saturdays off, and Sundays are mainly about getting everything ready for the following week. I think it's important to get a day or a day-and-a-half off every week. I find I do very little on those days; I'm worn out. So I try to relax, read newspapers, and see friends.

Before bed, I watch a bit of TV, and I read a lot, mainly autobiographies, biographies and business books. I try and go to bed by 11pm, or I'm like a zombie the next day. I'm a bit of a planner; I go through things in my mind and write them down. I find I can focus a lot more the next day if I've done that. In terms of sleeping, I sleep better now that the business is up and running and we've got a strong team. I'm finding things a lot easier now.

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