Times are very strange here in Ireland at the moment as you all well know! To be honest I knew it was going to come to this sooner or later, since the recession began all I heard in the shop was ” ah sure it will come back again”, this seems to sum up everything about where we are at the moment “ah sure”, it’s this attitude that has got us here. I’ve gotten a lot of strange looks over the last couple of years because I have been quite vocal in the shop disagreeing with the “ah sure” attitude. It was never going to come back again, things just don’t happen unless you make them….

If I took this attitude when business started to go down when the recession hit and sat waiting for it to come back again we would probably be closed down by now. I decided not to wait and have fought tooth and nail for the last 2 years to improve my business and survive this recession and no it’s not a blip, it is going to take a long time to come out of this. I cut costs, I improved staff performance, I improved customer service, I improved quality, we sold our car because the bank wouldn’t give us money and put the money back into the business by renovating it, I found new ways to advertise and promote the business without spending a penny through social media, I reduced our prices a lot, I gave great deals (€10 for a pasta & glass of wine). I took responsibility for MY business and it has paid off, we have been busier in the recession than we were during the boom times, I run a small business but it is no different to any other business including running a country, the same principles apply! We were very cautious through the boom times and never expanded, we did try once but pulled out in the end which was the best decision we made but I always got the impression from auctioneer’s etc that we were foolish and wasting their time by not entering into long leases with massive key money and rents, I always felt they looked on us as young and naive and hadn’t a clue what we were doing. Well if we were young and naive at the time I’m glad, I like to think we were clever…

Nothing is going to change here until the attitude does, nothing has changed for the small business, everything I have done I have done myself with no help or incentives, by making these changes we employ more full-time people now, it was a very hard slog to get here and I more or less missed out on a couple of years of Mini Italian Foodies life as we had to work so much, there were weeks where Mr Italian Foodie worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day and didn’t see Mini Italian Foodie for days but I’m not complaining as this is what had to be done! Now I WANT to develop my business but I can’t, everything is still too expensive and the same red tape is still there, nothing has changed! All I hear is “the small businesses is what will bring us into the future, well if I can’t expand my business which is established with a very good brand and customer base, what hope is there for a new business? Now I could open a 2nd shop in the city centre but I refuse to work 80 hours a week to pay high rents, rates and everything that goes with it and probably take no wages for the first year or two and then a bare wage after that. Something has to give even though I don’t hold out much hope! Everybody says they are sick of the doom and gloom but unfortunately it’s the “REALITY” at the moment and I for one find it very frustrating that it’s not changing….

I have to say the food industry isn’t much better, there seems to be no fresh thinking there either! We are open 7 years and have never been reviewed in any newspaper, we are never mentioned in any food article or magazine article, we weren’t even listed in this years Food & Wine Eat Out magazine even though we won Best Casual Dining in Ireland in the Restaurant Awards and have a massive customer base and loyalty! The one group that have always included us are The Bridgestone Guides, they seem to be the only ones getting out there and seeing what is going on out in the field!  Nobody else seems to go out and find the “new faces”, it is always the same ole, same ole! I’m sure there are lots of young ambitious food businesses around the country that never get mentioned or acknowledged, if you are outside of Dublin forget it, the rest of us don’t exist. Thats why I love watching the English food channels and reading the English food magazines, they find the new food bloggers, the best local restaurants, the upcoming chefs, the best farmer, the best cupcake etc etc. I recently picked up a beautifully packaged Glenilen Farm butter in Superquinn recently, it caught my eye straight away and presumed it was English because it was packaged and marketed so well like a lot of food products in the UK, they do local food so well. I couldn’t believe when I saw it was from Cork, now I am fairly well up on what goes on in the food industry as I read a lot and try to keep up to date as well as I can and I had never heard of this husband and wife team from Cork, I read through their website and they are now supplying Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK, wow, what a success story but I hadn’t read a thing about them anywhere and why not?

I obviously travel to Italy a lot and can’t help but compare the two countries but I also visit my sister a lot in Canterbury which would be a better comparison to here especially in relation to the food industry! We spent a week there in July travelling around the area sampling the local food delights and what struck me was the amount of farm shops at every corner. It’s all about the local food and the local community, we visited one farm shop in the middle of nowhere and it was the coolest little place ever, we sat out the back in a make-shift garden on the farm which had been cornered off and had home-made milkshakes with local ice-cream and home-made doorstep sandwiches, so simple but so damn delicious, the owner served us, everybody had a smile on their face, they had recently opened a deli with all the produce from the area supporting the local farmers, it was fabulous! Do you think that could happen here? not a hope with all of our planning laws, health and safety laws, laws for paying for tables and chairs outside for the 3 sunny days we get a year. My sister is in the process of opening her own wedding shop in Canterbury, a very affluent and wealthy place, she’s taking a premises the same size as mine for a lot less rent than me PLUS and this is where the big difference is her rates for the first year should be 2k+ but because it’s her first year in business she pays just £57 and the second year she pays 50% and so on, now that is forward thinking. This is actually the difference of her opening the business or not, she’s got a 3 year contract with a breakout clause after 1 year. This type of thinking is evident everywhere in the area, you drive out to the local seaside town and it’s buzzing, it’s full of independent small niche businesses, a cupcake shop, a little wine shop, the smallest ice-cream shop you’ve ever seen, a tiny Oyster cafe(which I had read about in Olive magazzine) small places like these wouldn’t last a week here becausse you need such a high turnover just to survive and pay the bills. Limerick city centre is dying, actually it’s dead, something innovative like this to encourage people to open little small businesses in their craft where they can make a decent wage and employ 1 or 2 people is where the future is plus it would bring some culture to the city and a better sense of community. I can dream I suppose…..

I contacted the Enterprise Board recently looking for help for my new business idea as I haven’t a clue where to start, I might aswell have rang my local Fire Station for the amount of help I got. I also sent an email recently about entering the Local Enterprise Awards and never even heard back from them, not a word! I’ve approached Bordbia now and sent my first email the other day and got a very postive response and I’ve been promised somebody will come back to me, I hope this time I will be surprised but I’m not holding out much hope. We will see….. There is a lot of positive things happening out there though and food business owners along with the likes of the Bridgestone Guides, Bordbia etc etc are becoming  more creative , the Kilkenny Food Camp was a great success and shows great creativity, this is the kind of thinking that we need! It’s not just a case of “if we build it they will come”, no they won’t…..

There’s a lot of begrudery and bitterness in Ireland and some don’t like to see others do well, this starts at the top,  there is no support from the government to help and encourage businesses and want to be entrepreneurs, all they do is punish you with new rules and regulations and make it harder and harder to do business, if we are to get out of this mess this needs to change, small businesses need to be supported, encouraged, helped, nurtured, acknowledged, incentivized! The amount of negativity I have come up against down through the years as I am quite ambitious makes me wonder why I ever stayed here and I probably wouldn’t have only for I met Mr Italian Foodie(damn him:)) I do struggle with the mentality that exists here and somedays I can’t stand living here but I just get on with it and try harder…

 To be honest I don’t hold much hope for Ireland for the future as there seems to be no one in Government with the “cop on” to change this attitude and catch the country by the horns and change it, we need a radical change, they go on “Oh Ireland this, Oh Ireland that, the Irish people are this, BLA BLA BLA BLA!!! I’m sick of listening to it and the thing that makes me most angry is that even with a general election there is no alternative that gives me any hope and I will be sitting here this time next year saying the same things. On a positive it has made me think outside the box and I am now looking into another avenue of developing the business which doesn’t involve opening more shops, I won’t be beaten by this crazy “ah sure” attitude and will continue to try to grow even in these crazy times…..

Anyway rant over, time for a recipe seen as this is a food blog:) Another low carb recipe today, very simple and delicious, does require a bit of washing up though for such a simple dish but worth it…

what you need:

  • 4 large mushrooms
  • 400g spinach
  • 2 shallots
  • 20g butter
  • 150g gorgonzola cheese
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • olive oil

 

what to do:

pre-heat your oven to 190 degrees

season your mushrooms and drizzle with a little olive oil and cook for 15 mins

heat a tbsp olive oil in your pan and cook your shallots until soft but not coloured, add your butter towards the end

cook your washed spinach in a hot dry pan, when cooked squeeze out excess moisture

add your spinach to your buttered shallots and season

heat a dry pan and cook your pinenuts until coloured

fill your mushrooms with your buttered spinach, toasted pinenuts and top with your gorgonzola cheese

cook for about 10 mins until your cheese has melted and serve…

ciao xx

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