If there is one word that seems to encapsulate Blathnaid Bergin's consultative style it is practical. Anyone who has completed the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate course will already be familiar with her no-nonsense yet expert approach to setting up a business in the Irish food industry. One of the key elements of the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate course is Blathnaid's 2-day Business of Food module which provides students with a solid grounding in what it takes to turn their dreams into a reality. Many of our graduates go on to undertake one of Blathnaid's comprehensive courses at The School of Restaurant and Kitchen Management - a logical progression from their studies here at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
With over 25 years' experience in the catering and hospitality industry, Blathnaid has consulted to a wide range of food service businesses. In addition to delivering sound advice on navigating the tricky path of business start-ups, she covers Kitchen Management, Menu Planning, Costing & Pricing, Customer Care, Training Skills, and Restaurant Management. It goes without saying that completing one of her courses is invaluable, if not essential, to anyone launching their own food business. The School of Restaurant and Kitchen Management is one of its kind in Ireland, comprising a team of highly trained professionals with backgrounds in food, hospitality, law, interior design, accountancy, and more.
We are delighted to say that the success stories of Ballymaloe Cookery School graduates are many! We believe that equipping our students with basic business skills provides them with the necessary building blocks and confidence to set up their own enterprises when they leave us. Here are just a handful of the business owners that were inspired by their combined experiences at Ballymaloe Cookery School and The School of Restaurant & Kitchen Management:
The Storehouse Deli - Castlebar, Co. Mayo
Owner: Anne Staunton
Anne Staunton owns and manages a busy deli with a difference in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, which is making a name for itself for its commitment to quality and working with only the freshest, locally produced or sourced food. Wanting to offer something superior to the typical deli baked goods options, and inspired by the Ballymaloe ethos of quality, organic food production, Anne enrolled on Blathnaid Bergin's popular cafe start-up course. She attributes the current success her business is enjoying, not only to the course itself, but also to the expert hands-on training and team-building delivered by Blathnaid on a 3-day visit to her business in Mayo. Blathnaid effortlessly turned a somewhat reluctant team around, motivating them to look at things differently and focus on quality and the provenance of ingredients. They now have their own herb garden at the back of the deli and appreciate the difference in working with local produce. Anne herself has a simple direct approach - they only buy in what they cannot source locally or grow themselves. The Storehouse batch bread has become widely popular, as has their motto "Every batch made from scratch!" The deli is thriving, and Anne and her team are focused on the future of the business, with Blathnaid keeping in touch and continuing to provide key expertise along the way.
The Sticky Bun Cafe - Clonakilty, Co. Cork
Owner: Kay Burke
Kay Burke (who happens to have been Anne Staunton's classmate on both courses) has successfully set up her own busy little cafe in Clonakilty in West Cork. Kay maintains that she could not have done this without completing Blathnaid's course, her only regret being that she did not undertake the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate instead of our Start Your Own Cafe or Teashop course. When we asked her why, she explained that she learned such an amount in just one week, she then understood just what the 12 Week Certificate would have given her in terms of her cooking repetoire, her skillset and the ability to step into any role within her own business. The one week Start Your Own Cafe or Teashop course at Ballymaloe Cookery School taught her exactly how long it might take a staff member to bake or cook something on her menu (vital information for a business owner to have) and, as she says, "it took the fear out of doing it [herself]". Blathnaid's subsequent Business of Opening A Cafe course was invaluable to her. Among other things, she particularly valued expert advice from a leading barrister on contract law, the creative eye of an interior designer to assist with fitting-out her new premises, and of course, Blathnaid's advice on waste management and staff training. One of the highlights of the business course for Kay was the hands-on experience arranged by Blathnaid for her at various establishments before she set out to open her own. Would she be able for those long days on her feet? Did she fully understand what it takes to operate a cafe on a daily basis? By gaining this practical work experience beforehand, Kay then knew exactly what lay ahead of her, and she knew she could do it! The Sticky Bun has had a busy Summer, and Kay is already looking at new ways to keep the business fresh and interesting for the coming year. "You have to keep developing your skills in this industry", she says and promises to pay us a visit her at the cookery school to check out our short courses in the near future!
Pat Cohan's Gastropub - Cong, Co. Mayo
Owner: Sharon McGrath
Sharon McGrath and her husband Ray recently opened the doors to their new gastropub in Pat Cohan's Bar in Cong, Co. Mayo, famous for its involvement with the 1952 Hollywood movie 'The Quiet Man'. Sharon made a bold move in 2013, leaving behind a career as a Financial Advisor at an Irish bank and following her instinct to work in the food industry. She chose the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate for its immersive programme and focus on 'farm-to-plate' food production and traceability, something she believed would be the cornerstone of her future business. Coming from the financial industry, Sharon already possessed a number of key business skills, however she knew she would need a crash course in starting up her own business if she was to give it every chance of success. "A lot of people dream of opening their own restaurant but most people probably don't realise all the little things that have to be pulled together in order to make it work. It's the attention to detail. It's about putting systems in place that you never thought you'd need. Blathnaid's course gave me that." Another fundamental asset of undertaking this course was the introduction it gave Sharon and her husband to the close-knit food circle in Ireland. Blathnaid widened their network of contacts, enabling them to more effectively promote their business and build their new brand. Sharon particularly enjoyed Blathnaid's teaching style and advice on achieving an essential work/life balance. Life in the food industry can be tough with long unsociable hours and arduous shifts, "but it's just so rewarding" says Sharon.
The clear message that comes through from speaking with graduates of Blathnaid's business courses is that the training is holistic. There are many people who set out on the daunting path of opening a business by themselves and manage to do so successfully, but the reality is there are many more who fail along the way. What these courses teach is a cohesive strategy - practical cooking skills, creative inspiration, menu-planning, daily operations, training a team, waste management, how to make a profit, managing your accounts, the legal requirements, work-life balance, building a team spirit, knowing and handling customers, kitchen systems and processes - the list goes on! It is a risky business to attempt to try it all without educating yourself in all these important areas first, as each of these adventurous business owners tell us.
To hear Blathnaid herself, tune in to Bobby Kerr's Down to Business radio show on Newstalk on September 20th where she will be discussing some of her many experiences in the industry! For more information on any of the courses mentioned here, don't hesitate to contact us at Ballymaloe Cookery School on +353 (0)21 464 6785 or The School of Restaurant & Kitchen Management at +353 (0)87 679 0854.
Postscript 25/09/2014: Skip to 46mins to listen to Blathnaid's interview with Bobby Kerr.