Wednesday 21 February 2018

Oil always be there for you... how these entrepreneurs were inspired on honeymoon

Social entrepreneurs John Jenkins and Katrina Crawford got the idea for their cold-pressed oils company on honeymoon

Katrina Crawford and John Jenkins met in 2008, when she lived in Dublin and he in the UK. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Katrina Crawford and John Jenkins met in 2008, when she lived in Dublin and he in the UK. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

John Jenkins was living over in Manchester and Katrina Crawford was in Dublin when they first met in 2008. They spent the next year flying backwards and forwards, and were kind of thrown in at the deep end with their new relationship. "It was all or nothing," recalls Welshman John. "We were living with each other at weekends, so it was warts and all. It was either going to work out or else die a death very quickly."

Happily, it was the latter, and the witty pair were married in 2013. They met when Katrina was sharing an apartment with John's sister Samantha, whom she originally met when they worked together in Australia. Her first impression when John came to visit was that he was "pretty hot" and his was that she was hilarious. "It was definitely instant for me, as I thought Katrina was really pretty," says John. "She was so easy to get on with."

Later that year, Katrina's mum Moira was diagnosed with breast and lung cancer. Katrina (37) and her brother Shane were raised by their very strong mum in North Strand after their parents' marriage ended when she was a baby. Their dad has since passed away. She describes her mum as a "little miracle", as she has survived cancer five times, and has also had skin and ovarian cancer. Happily, Moira is well now.

John moved over to Dublin when they were together a year. He began working with Dutch company LeasePlan and is now an IT manager there. While John is Welsh, he grew up in Preston in the north of England as the son of Jane and Brian, and he and Samantha also have a younger brother, Daniel. He studied telecommunications and engineering at university, and got a graduate job at Siemens before becoming self-employed.

Katrina did a travel and tourism course at Colaiste Ide in Finglas, and went travelling to Paris, New York and Australia. She works in administration for a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician in Holles Street. After her mum got better, she and John took a year out to go travelling and were fortunate to be given leave from their jobs. They backpacked around Southeast Asia and South America, and Moira even came to meet them in Argentina. They also went to Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and India.

John proposed just before they left for the trip with a small vintage ring, but they bought the proper ring while in Brazil and gave it to Moira to bring home. They had a ball while they were away and never once fell out. Now they're home and married, and are currently living in Blackrock.

The idea for their business came about when they went to Myanmar (formerly Burma) on honeymoon, as John's late grandmother, Emily was Burmese. His great-great-grandmother was believed to have been the last princess of Burma and her father was the last king. As there was turbulence there due to the ongoing civil war, they were glad to befriend a guy called Joe who showed them around. They trekked through the hills of Myanmar and stayed in random and very remote areas, and also visited schools and brought notebooks and pens. "The kids' eyes lit up, as some of them had never even had a pencil or a book before," says Katrina. "At this point, I knew we had to do something to help as everyone was so friendly and lovely."

While on a trek with their guide, Katrina and John saw chillies and nuts being grown in farms, but learned that the Burmese didn't know how to export because UN sanctions on them doing so had only just been lifted. They thought that if they were able to do something with the products, they could give money back to help the schools. They met up with Joe who said he would love to work with them, and explained that his village of Myin Sine produces amazing nuts and oils.

It was tricky and it took John and Katrina nearly two years to get it all organised and in motion, but they now work with farmers in the area to bring back the cold-pressed oils, which they sell under the brand name Bayin. They have been made into two products, a sesame oil and a peanut one, that are fantastic for cooking with. The pair do all the bottling themselves in a shared kitchen in Bray. They had the support of the government in Myanmar, because there were a lot of things to put in place. The UN also phoned to say that they couldn't believe a couple on their honeymoon had managed to export products when other big companies had failed.

The oils are now available in 24 SuperValus across Dublin and Greystones and in independent stores. Doing everything from bottling to accounts, social media, delivery and stock lists is hectic, especially as they both already have full-time jobs, but this lovely and very engaging couple are doing it with a heart and a half.

"John's best quality is that he's really funny and if I'm ever down, I know he will cheer me up," says Katrina. "He is very level-headed, whereas I'm more emotional."

Saying that, Katrina is strong and focused. John says their next aim is to expand the range and bring over other products, such as pickled tea leaves. The last time they went over to Myin Sine, they brought things like footballs and notebooks to the children in the village. "It was amazing because they had never seen a football before, and they were just running around with it and having great fun," he smiles.

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