Monday 19 August 2019

The best friends behind this Dublin restaurant explain why their 20-year-friendship is the secret to their success

Foodies: Lorraine Heskin and Lorraine Byrne of the Gourmet Food Parlour. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Foodies: Lorraine Heskin and Lorraine Byrne of the Gourmet Food Parlour. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Liadan Hynes

It is testament to the determination of Lorraine Heskin and Lorraine Byrne, the best friends behind the Gourmet Food Parlour, that in the last ten months, they each had a third child, with a mere 12 days between the births, and kept their business going, barely breaking step. "It was really challenging," Lorraine Byrne smiles ruefully. "We knew we were both going to be out at the same time," Lorraine Heskin elaborates. The challenge might have phased some, but the pair share a positive attitude that has stood to them in the last ten years in establishing the Gourmet Food Parlour, with branches in Swords, Malahide and Dun Laoghaire, as well as a hugely successful catering division.

Now 39, they met in 1994, when studying European Studies with Spanish and Politics and Economics, in the University of Limerick.

Lorraine Heskin's father had mentioned that there were some girls from his ­village in Mayo starting at the same time as her. She poo-poohed the notion that she, a Galway girl, might ­befriend country girls, she laughingly recalls.

As it happens, the two Lorraines instantly became the best of friends. After college, they moved to Dublin and lived together, with Lorraine Heskin doing a post-graduate course in business before going on to work for IBM, and then moving to New York for four years, where she worked in the food business. Lorraine Byrne worked in Eagle Star insurance before moving to the IATA and working in their financial services.

Out shopping for Lorraine Byrne's wedding dress in 2005, they realised they were both at a crossroads. "The two of us were fed up in our jobs," the then bride-to-be recalls. "We wanted to have something ourselves, in food." "That whole concept of the gourmet sandwich, the deli bar, antipasti, meat and cheese platters, wasn't really here," Lorraine Heskin explains.

They sat down for coffee and thrashed out the idea of starting a business together. "The most important thing for us was that we said to each other if we're going to do it, it won't affect our friendship," Lorraine Heskin recalls.

In fact, they suggest that the shorthand such a familiar relationship ensures is actually a plus in running a business together. "And obviously we socialise together as well," Lorraine Byrne says, "so any kind of problems or concerns we have we'd be able to thrash them out over that." So far, the pair have never had an argument.

They were rejected by every financial institution they approached, and forced to turn to family members to guarantee their loans, and to invest their own savings. In fact, being best friends was what gave them the ability to white-knuckle through the difficult first years. "Only that we had each other, just to keep looking each other in the eye to go 'we're gonna be fine'," Lorraine Heskin recalls. Neither took a wage in the early years. They agree that their husbands, Tom and Alan, both also self-employed, were an invaluable source of constant support. Now each a mother of three, at the time they were childless. Would it have been possible with small children? "I don't think so," Lorraine Byrne reflects. "We were working full time. Round the clock. Seven days a week."

Their first premises opened in Dun Laoghaire in 2006, with a second in Swords in 2008. With the recession, things quickly became tough. People's orders changed - "soup rather than the big sandwich. And the tap water." They kept going, and the business kept growing, with a new branch in Malahide "in between babies," they smile, evening openings in the restaurants, a catering division, and a partnership with Alan Clancy, providing the food in House on Leeson St, and 37 Dawson St.

They both smile at the notion of maternity leave. "But look it, we did it," says Lorraine Byrne pragmatically. They're naturally glass half full types, and laud the benefits of the flexibility being your own boss allows.

They now employ 130 staff, have recently opened a new branch in Dun Laoghaire, and the business has doubled in the last three years. And the friendship? It's as strong together. "We just think the exact same about everything," Lorraine Heskin smiles.

Sunday Independent

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