Connemara Oysters

Reviving Tradition: Connemara Oysters' Bold Leap

Author Avatar

Updated on March 20, 2024

View transcript

By sheer coincidence, the accountant found himself at the helm of an oyster farm, a seemingly odd career transition fueled by an appreciation for the ocean and a desire to sustain the tradition. Connemara Oysters’ revival is not just a business venture, it’s a bold leap towards preserving Ireland’s aquaculture heritage.

The farm’s unique geographical position, coupled with sustainable farming practices, produces oysters with a distinct taste, rivaled by few. Yet, one can’t help but wonder, what challenges does such an endeavor entail, and how does the community respond to this unexpected shift in focus?

Background and Investment Decision

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd-W_rGQ93M&t=5s

Although primarily an accountant with experience in private practice and freight forwarding, the decision to venture into oyster farming was influenced by an understanding of farming principles, government support for aquaculture, and a desire for a business independent of market and political fluctuations.

The transition from the realm of numbers and ledgers to that of tides and oysters wasn’t incidental but a carefully considered move, reflecting investment insights gained over years of professional and entrepreneurial journey. The choice of oyster farming was a strategic one – a business resilient to market volatility and political turbulence.

It was an investment backed by a deep understanding of farming principles and boosted by government support for aquaculture, marking a bold and innovative step in his entrepreneurial journey.

The Unexpected Interest in Oysters

Connemara Oysters

Despite having no prior interest in oysters, a keen understanding of farming principles and an eye for promising business ventures led to an unexpected fascination with these briny sea creatures.

This unusual investment choice wasn’t impulsive but rooted in a deep comprehension of agribusiness dynamics. The increasing focus on aquaculture development by European and Irish governments further solidified the decision.

Transitioning from a traditional business sector to oyster farming might seem a leap of faith to many, but it was a calculated risk based on the undeniable potential of sustainable food production.

As the world grapples with environmental concerns, farmed foods, especially oysters, present a viable solution. This interest in oysters, therefore, is more than a mere fascination; it’s a visionary investment.

Finding the Oyster Farm Opportunity

Connemara Oysters

In a stroke of serendipity, the oyster farm opportunity was unearthed through the Irish Investment Network, sparking a journey into a deeply nuanced and complex world of aquaculture. Exploring opportunities in this field, the investor leveraged his background in farming and business, alongside industry insights, to understand this unique investment.

Despite no prior interest in oysters, their growth independent of market fluctuations and political influences attracted him. European and Irish government’s focus on aquaculture development further cemented the decision. The investor spent significant time learning about oyster farming, engaging actively with the industry.

The leap into oyster farming, therefore, wasn’t a gamble but a calculated decision, driven by a deep understanding of the sector and a recognition of the future of food production in farmed foods.

Unique Features of Connemara’s Oyster Farm

Nestled in Letterfrack near Clifden on the Davros Peninsula, Connemara’s oyster farm captures the essence of its unique location, nurturing oysters in the nutrient-rich waters of Balinakil Bay, fed by the Connemara mountains. This nutrient-rich environment, coupled with the Atlantic influence, creates a distinctive taste and quality in the oysters, setting them apart on the global stage.

The farm’s location isn’t just strategically advantageous but also historically significant – it’s one of the oldest oyster farms in Ireland, established in 1893. The farm’s oysters are a testament to the power of nature and the influence of locality on flavor. Each oyster is a reflection of its environment, absorbing the unique blend of nutrients and embodying the Atlantic’s bracing vigor.

Challenges and Community Engagement in Oyster Farming

While the restoration and operation of the Connemara oyster farm present significant challenges, it also offers unique opportunities for community engagement and education about sustainable aquaculture.

The upfront costs and ongoing financial sustainability of the farm are substantial hurdles. Yet, these struggles pave the way for public education.

The local community is deeply involved through farm tours, where they learn not only about oysters but also the importance of aquaculture in a sustainable future. In turn, this understanding fosters a sense of shared responsibility, encouraging locals to support the farm’s endeavors.

Although regulations and food safety standards pose additional challenges, they further highlight the farm’s commitment to quality, thereby enhancing its reputation.

Thus, despite the hurdles, Connemara’s oyster farm stands as a testament to resilience and community engagement.

Revitalizing the Historic Oyster Farm

Connemara Oysters

As the Connemara community rallies around its oyster farm, there’s a profound sense of revival in the air, rekindling the once-dimmed glory of this historic aquaculture site. The farm’s revitalization bears the mark of historic preservation, showing an acute awareness of the site’s past and its significance in the community’s cultural fabric.

The process, however, isn’t merely about restoring the farm to its former state, but also about adapting it to modern sustainable farming practices. By doing so, they’re not just preserving history, but also shaping the future. The farm now stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of tradition and innovation, mirroring the community’s resilience and adaptability.

It’s a bold leap indeed, one that holds promise for the farm’s bright future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Specific Skills or Knowledge Did You Need to Acquire to Transition From Accounting to Oyster Farming?

He needed to master oyster farming techniques, a stark contrast to his accounting background. His accounting skills transferred well, helping him manage the farm’s finances.

However, he’d to learn about oyster life cycles, disease management, and water quality monitoring. Additionally, understanding the local ecosystem’s impact on oyster flavor was crucial.

This drastic career switch required him to adapt quickly and constantly learn, applying his analytical skills in a whole new context.

How Has the Taste and Quality of Connemara Oysters Evolved Since the Farm Was Recommissioned?

Since the farm’s recommissioning, the taste and quality of Connemara oysters have significantly evolved. Innovative oyster breeding techniques have led to this evolution.

They’ve cultivated a distinct flavor, attributed to the nutrient-rich waters of Balinakil Bay and the Atlantic Ocean’s influence. The farm’s meticulous attention to the oysters’ growth stages ensures a consistently superior taste and quality.

Have There Been Any Unexpected Benefits or Positive Outcomes From Engaging With the Local Community Through Farm Tours and Collaborations?

Engaging with the local community has had unexpected benefits for Connemara Oysters. It has enhanced community bonds, sparked interest in sustainable aquaculture, and boosted local tourism.

Farm tours have become a unique attraction, promoting sustainable tourism in the area. Furthermore, collaborations have fostered a sense of shared responsibility for the area’s environmental health.

What Specific Measures Are Taken to Ensure Food Safety Standards at the Oyster Farm?

To ensure food safety at the oyster farm, they’ve implemented rigorous harvesting techniques. They carefully monitor water quality and regularly test oysters for contaminants. Post-harvest, they prioritize oyster preservation, using refrigeration to maintain freshness.

They’re vigilant about hygiene during packing and shipping. It’s all about minimizing risks and maintaining the highest food safety standards. Their commitment to safety doesn’t just protect consumers—it also preserves the reputation of their oysters.

How Are the Challenges of Fluctuating Regulations in Aquaculture Handled at the Connemara Oyster Farm?

At Connemara Oyster Farm, they’re adept at navigating fluctuating aquaculture regulations. They’ve built a strong rapport with local authorities, ensuring they’re updated on changes promptly. Adaptation’s key; they’re constantly tweaking their methods to maintain compliance.

Sustainability’s crucial too; they’re committed to practices that protect their bay’s ecosystem. Despite regulatory challenges, they’ve proven they can thrive, producing quality oysters sustainably. It’s a testament to their resilience and dedication.

Conclusion

Connemara Oysters’ rejuvenation of a historic oyster farm represents a bold, strategic move, merging business acumen with sustainable practices. Despite challenges, the endeavor embraces community engagement, environmental sustainability, and heritage preservation.

The unique flavor of their oysters, nurtured by nutrient-rich waters, is a testament to their effort. This venture isn’t just about food production; it’s a commitment to preserving Ireland’s aquaculture legacy while pioneering a sustainable future.

Video Transcript

Speaker 2 (00:05)
So welcome to the show. Today, we’re with the owner of D. K. Connemara Oysters, David Keen. How are you doing, David?

Speaker 1 (00:14)
Very good. Very good. And yourself?

Speaker 2 (00:16)
I’m brilliant, thank God. And it’s lovely to have you on the programme.

Speaker 1 (00:19)
Thank you very much. Yes, we’re all comparing our COVID hairstyles here before we.

Speaker 2 (00:25)
I’m actually trying to hide mine, David. Well, David, tell us a bit about your background on yourself.

Speaker 1 (00:33)
Well, I suppose, professionally, I’m an accountant. I had several years done in private practise. I then went down and worked in freight forwarding. I had a freight forwarding company. We had a large exposure there to China and Southeast Asia. I sold that business before the last crash, around about 2007. Came home, really The children then grew up. The two guys grew up. They were heading away to college. And then I went looking for an alternative business. And I came across the oyster farm back in late 2013, 2014, which was situated down in Letter Frack. Owning an oyster farm was fairly simple, really. It was looking for an alternative business. That was the idea, to look for an alternative business. At the time, we’d seen an awful lot of Property crashes. We’d seen a lot of the stock markets crashing out. We’d seen our pension funds decimated. And I suppose really looking back on it, if you take people like… On the stock Back markets, you had companies like on the stock market, you would companies like… Tesco is a very good example of it. The Tesco scandal broke, Volkswagen, and that scandal broke. These were mainstay companies that we trusted, and nothing ever happens.

Speaker 1 (02:01)
And I was there looking at this and I said, I don’t care. This is risky business. People used to go on about oyster farming. Yes, it is risky. It’s very high risk. But you know what? You’re not dependent on Donald, on Trump. You’re not dependent on what goes on over in the UK. You’re not dependent on some silly politician. What are they going to come out with next? Okay, your keeper is mother nature, but that’s it. That’s as far as it goes. I Had you any interest at all in oysters, maybe other than eating them? No, none whatsoever. It was an unusual investment. I suppose, number one, I understood farming, because I come originally from North County, Dublin. So there’s a lot of market gardening down there. And as a young guy, I would have been like as well. We all work part-time, summer’s jobs, pick up potatoes and that stuff. So I understood the basic principles of farming. That’s the first thing. I also understood animals and a lot of farming is about observation. So for me, the understanding of it was probably easier for me than it would have been for a lot of other people.

Speaker 1 (03:16)
Then the other thing was there was a big push on within Europe at the time and the Irish government, and there still is to develop aquaculture throughout Ireland. And if you consider it, the future food is in farmed food. I mean, the future of sea, the fish, shellfish, all this is the future of it is in farmed foods. It’s not in as much as we would like to see it, but the truth of the matter is we’ll probably just drawing our oceans. And if we’re not actually farming, where are you going? I mean, the world needs food. So that’s really what brought me into it. It was an interesting, completely different than anything I’ve ever done before. But because it worked private practise for so long, it’s much easier for me to get the idea of various businesses and how they operate. And once you understand that each business has its own central core, once you get to identify that, then the rest of it is like buying and selling sweets, buying and selling computers. It’s the same thing. It’s production. You have your production, your admin, and your sales and marketing. That’s basically all this, three segments of every business.

Speaker 2 (04:35)
I’m interested in this, the fact that did you happen upon this or did someone approach you? Or how did you even know that the oyster farm was for sale?

Speaker 1 (04:42)
Well, at the time, I was involved with a group called the Irish Investment Network. And I was actively looking for alternative investments. And it came up there. It came up on that website. And that’s how I came across it. So then I spent about a year, maybe, well, the goods of a year, travelling up and down and looking and trying to learn about it. Obviously, the state agencies like BIM, they were very helpful. There was a lot going on at that time, which even at that time, if you consider the banks were being asked to support this as an industry. So there was a lot of activity back in 2013, 2014 around that. Brilliant.

Speaker 2 (05:34)
So tell us a bit about the location and what’s maybe special about it?

Speaker 1 (05:41)
Well, the farm is situated down in Lederfrack. Lederfrack is Connemara, obviously very, very close to Clifton. It’s on a peninsula, the Davarish Peninsula. And the Davarish Peninsula is just off the Rheneville Peninsula. And what makes it so special? Well, I suppose you have the Connemara National Park. And the Connemara National Park is basically the Connemara Mountains there. And the rivers and streams coming down off the mountains flow into Ballina Kill Bay. And Ballina Kill Bay flows in around the D’Avray’s peninsula. It brings nutrients from the mountains and They merge with the Atlantic Ocean. And that gives the oyster its unique flavour. An oyster, it takes its flavour from the bay it’s growing in. It’s like a wine. It’s like the Torre War, the relationship between the grape and the soil. An oyster is no different. It has its relationship between the rivers and streams that flow into the bay it’s growing in and the oceans surrounding it. So in our case, it’s the Atlantic. If you think of the vastness the Atlantic Ocean, the saltiness of it, the cleansiness of it, the lack of any pollution over on the West Coast. I mean, there’s no industry, there’s no heavy farming activity.

Speaker 1 (07:12)
So to a large extent, there is a big difference between, say, the Irish Sea, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean. They all have different offerings to bring to the seafood that’s grown. So if you come to our bay and you taste our oysters, they will be completely different to the oysters growing, let’s say, five miles down the road. There are different influences there. Also, what makes it unique is it’s one of the oldest farms in Ireland. It dates back to 1893. It’s licenced number 171, so it’s 171st ever licenced farm in the country, and it’s pre-the-state. So it’s one of the few that can be bought and sold in perpetuity. At the day, if you get a licence, you get a licence off the state for 10 years. And after that, you never own it. Whereas in this instance, we actually own the licence to the seabed where we’re entitled to grow the oysters in.

Speaker 2 (08:15)
So you can basically sell that on to someone and they’ll have the same benefits for the rest of their lives as well?

Speaker 1 (08:21)
Correct.

Speaker 2 (08:23)
Which is amazing. I have to say, I’m salivating listening to you talking about that, the land. And obviously the Atlantic And the West is amazing. The West is a beautiful part of the country. Absolutely love it.

Speaker 1 (08:35)
Well, if you consider that the Atlantic Ocean, as far as Ireland and the West Coast is concerned, is hugely influenced by the North Atlantic Drift. And the North Atlantic Drift starts out somewhere just to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a huge distance to cover from the Gulf of Mexico all the way across to the East Coast of Ireland. And the West Coast of Ireland. Now, they tell me, if for a moment you can imagine you’re a droplet of ocean, a droplet of water sitting under the ocean. And if you were to come all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, all the waves, if you were a cartoon character, and you travel all the way across up along the West Coast of Portugal and France, come down there to the South Coast of Ireland, hang a left, come on up along the West Coast of Ireland, down into Balna Kill Bay and all the way back out. That journey and then to go all the way north again to bring you back down to go from Mexico would take a thousand years if you were a droplet of water, so they say. So if you can imagine, there is a huge benefit there and the cleansiness of that water.

Speaker 1 (09:47)
And the other unique factors about Ballina Kill Bay is, obviously, it’s a great A water, but we have been part of a European study. The Europeans have been trying to get the idea of norovirus, which is the a vomiting book. And oysters by nature are mollusks, and they clean up the water. So they’ve been trying to get the idea of what is a safe level or how much norovirus do we have in the water? So as part of a European study, Ballina Keel Bay was tested on a monthly basis, and more recently on a weekly basis for the last four years. And we’re either zero norovirus or if it does exist, we are below measurable quantity. And that’s a very, very unique factor. And a lot of people would say we’re very, very lucky.

Speaker 2 (10:40)
A selling point in itself?

Speaker 1 (10:43)
Well, certainly when you go into, if you consider food and the safety of food moving forward in the world that we’re in, and the idea of food being safe and being positive for our immune systems. If you enjoy shellfish, you enjoy oysters, there’s no doubt about it, it’s very, very good. The factors, the positive contributions that oysters make to nature and to the human race is far, far greater than any farming activity will ever take back, if you understand what I mean. We’re positive.

Speaker 2 (11:28)
I didn’t know that. That’s amazing.

Speaker 1 (11:30)
Yeah.

Speaker 2 (11:30)
So tell me, David, I think you’d said that it takes you years to grow the seed until a fully fledged oyster. So when you’d bought the farm originally, was there already adult oysters there or did you have to start from scratch?

Speaker 1 (11:46)
No, the farm had been run down. As I said, the farm is back to 1893. There have been various owners there from the early 1900s all the way up to when we took it over and we bought it off a French man by the name of John Monget. It had been run down. For all intents and purposes, we spent the last four years recommissioning it. Now it takes three years to grow an oyster. From seed to plate, a minimum of. And so we put down our first seed in 2015, in the autumn of 2015. So I’ll be, see how to describe it. I mean, No, there was nothing there. And we were basically recommissioning. So we were cleaning it up, but at the same time putting out new tressels, putting in new equipment, et cetera. What happened was we asked BIM for assistance and they introduced us to a consultant who came down and we employed a local team of men. They all live on the Rhenevile Peninsula. Great guys. We have Michael Leighton, Patty Lacy, and Chris Lacy down there as our permanent trio. They’re very, very good guys. And we all learnt it together.

Speaker 1 (13:06)
As I said earlier on, a lot of it farming is about observation. And once you The basics are explained to you, the rest of it is about observing what’s going on and how you handle it. And it’s been a very interesting and it’s been a very, I suppose, rewarding journey in many respects, as I’d always say, if it wasn’t for the money, it’s great crack.

Speaker 2 (13:39)
I’m actually interested in knowing, maybe the viewers will be, maybe someone wants to start an oyster farm. What do you do for income And there is none in the gestation period?

Speaker 1 (13:47)
Well, there is none. And it’s money out, money out, money out. So when you start off, you have to have a very, very large working capital facility. So Now, obviously, once we realised that and we had something, so we say around about 2016, we now had seed growing on the farm. 2017 came along and we had fast growers. I couldn’t believe it. We actually had a tonne of oysters which were at commercial weight of 65, 66 grammes. Now, really what happened was I turned and said, look, what are we going to do with a tonne of oysters? Commercially, it might generate whatever, but it wasn’t really going to… It wasn’t going to put our lights out. It certainly wasn’t going to make much difference. So I got the idea of doing farm tours. So the idea of doing the farm tours was come and visit an oyster farm and see how oysters are grown from seed to plate. And guess what? We’ll do oyster tasting with you. And because it was money out, money out, money out, it was a great… It was a novel And I really got it from friends of mine up here who own New Grange Farm.

Speaker 1 (15:05)
They started to do farm tours. And I said, why not try it? My wife thought it was absolutely crazy. I had it off down with my A4 sheet of paper. I said, we’re going to try this. So we spent in 2017, I suppose, basically inviting people onto the farm free of charge. We were just developing the tour. And And really people started to enjoy it. And then in 2018, we really launched it. And in fairness, again, I have to say, I think there’s a novel lot of government supports out there if you know where to go to find them. And in this case, we had Fáilte Ireland and the local Discover Ireland. And I went into the local tourist office in Clifton with my A4 sheet. And the lady in there, whose name escapes me. Sorry, I didn’t think I’d be bringing this particular thing up, but my apologies to the lady down in the Clifton tourist office who very kindly helped me to put together a leaflet. That was the start of it. And she pointed out to me some of the things that I’d put in wrong and that thing. And so we developed from that and then we got in with…

Speaker 1 (16:23)
We got in with Fáilte Ireland and we got some of the training there and that allowed us to go on and do things like metal, which introduced us to operating with tour operators. And that brought in the idea of the private tour and the public tour. So what we do is during the season, we run a public tour. Well, we did pre-COVID. We run a public tour daily at 11:00, open to the public. We were getting a lot of bookings coming in from Airbnb and online. And then after that, we worked with tour operators leaders who brought with… If you give me the idea of the couple who want to do something different. So they’re coming and they’re staying in the likes of Asford, Tramolan. They’re in the show for a driven car, and they rock up down to the oyster farm. And we close the farm and we do a private tour with two people or whatever the number that they wish. And we offer them a private tour of the farm on a one for one basis. So we do everything. We try to make it an interactive tour, encourage questions. We do oyster tasting.

Speaker 1 (17:36)
We do oyster shucking demonstrations. We show them how the oysters are graded. And we go through the whole process from start to finish. Including, and this is a peculiar word to most people, the depuration process. And depuration is spelled D-E-P-U-R-Depuration. It’s purification. And so what we do there is we take water in from the bay, we pump it through ultraviolet light, and the oysters are allowed to flush out using the ultraviolet light. So how I describe that is it’s preserving the integrity of the flavour of the oyster. We’re using the same water that they’re grown in. It’s like cooking with alcohol. We’re getting rid of the alcohol or any impurities, but we’re preserving the integrity of the flavour.

Speaker 2 (18:29)
Would that be a normal process for oyster farms?

Speaker 1 (18:36)
I would think nowadays, yes. In theory, grade A, B, you don’t have to do it. Okay, in theory. We do it all the time. So if we go out to… Any oysters that we’re selling off the farm, go through the depuration process. And then during the season we’re testing, now it’s mostly true to the winter season. There’s weekly testing for norovirus, and we also maintain samples of the meat, we freeze it. So if something does go wrong, it gives a great security, a wonderful bit of security to the restaurants, et cetera, that we’re providing. Also, going abroad, nowadays, getting to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden, all those countries, if you’re not purifying, you’re not getting in. That’s basically it.

Speaker 2 (19:30)
So David, I’m sure people really enjoy the tours because your natural storytelling ability shines through.

Speaker 1 (19:37)
What we try to do is we try to use whatever is happening on the farm on the day and make a part of the tour. Now, I’m not the only one, by the way, that gets tours. Christopher does tours and Carmel does tours. And while the basic tour, shall I put it in this way, the transfer of knowledge remains the same, how we Delivered the tour is completely different. And we don’t… It’s not scripted. We let it go. We let it run. And you can be out there and people just rock up and we take it as it goes, whatever’s happening the other day.

Speaker 2 (20:13)
Sounds great. So Tell me, and you touched on it in this a wee second ago, where do you actually sell your oysters? Would it be mainly at home in Ireland or abroad?

Speaker 1 (20:23)
Well, there’s a combination of factors there. Initially, we were aiming mostly for the French French Bulk market. In the bulk market, you are a price taker and not a price maker. So likewise, when we started to develop the farm tours, I said, Hang on a second. Very shortly now, we’re going to have more than just one done because we put in seed and the infrastructure to grow a lot more. And we’re going to start looking around for markets. So initially, we started to develop a website and create a market presence. And And I was looking at different opportunities. And obviously, one of those opportunities are restaurants and bars, the gastro pubs. Another opportunity is retail, as in the likes of SuperValue, done stores. So I went into our local SuperValue in Clifton and I met with Joe. He’s the manager in there. And I asked the question, do you ever take stuff in from local suppliers? He said, yeah. And Joe and Brian, Brian is the food manager in SuperValue in Clifton. They came out to the farm, they visited, and they said, no problem. We’ll take your product in. And that was the start of retail.

Speaker 1 (21:42)
So that brings with it a whole set of criteria such as HACEPs. And I mean, HACEP is a technical document, but it just allows you to… There are certain procedures you have to put in place before you’re allowed to purify product and be recognised by the SFPA, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, to sell oysters to the public and to the retail. So that started this down the whole process. Out of that came Food Academy. We went for Food Academy which is run by Bord Beia and SuperValue, and we were accepted there. In the meantime, the local restaurants became very, very important to us because without realising it, every time we did something like this, we learned from it. Now, one of our very, very first customers were Dominic and Maura down in Loughina Lodge. They were absolutely brilliant. And I left in oysters with them for the first couple of weeks, and they would just put them out, offer them to customers as tastings. We got their feedback. We did the same thing. We did the farm tours, same idea. And then out of that, we started to produce and we started to supply to them on a weekly basis.

Speaker 1 (23:02)
And then the customer base grew from there. Others started to take it in. And a lot of the local restaurants around, like the Clover Fox in Letto Frack itself, E. J. King’s Clifton, the Renvile House Hotel, and they were all local to us. And we learned a huge amount from doing the packing process in a small way. And that allowed us then to expand and allowed us then to start supplying into restaurants and gastro show pubs in Dublin. Moving along then, we started to see, well, okay, as our product development got further, we started to look further abroad rather than, again, the bulk market. So while selling online, we were also supplying it to the UK. We started to look at further afield. And prior to Christmas, prior to COVID, we sent out some trial shipments out to places like Singapore. And Singapore is zero-tolerant to norovirus, and so it was an obvious place for us to go. And again, with the assistance of Boardbea, we got trial shipments out there. And we were looking forward to a very, very healthy and very strong 2020 both in the tourist market, the retail market, the restaurant market, and developing our markets for their field.

Speaker 1 (24:21)
And now we have a new situation to try and live with.

Speaker 2 (24:26)
Yeah, it’s obviously very difficult. And But I think like the rest of the people who’ve been on the programme, they’re finding very innovative ways of coming around things. And maybe your tour should go online.

Speaker 1 (24:42)
Well, we discussed that slightly, and especially since this idea of Zoom came along. And we’ve decided against it. I mean, you touched on it earlier on. First of all, when you come on to a farm tour, you’re live in the farm. I’ll give you an idea. I never thought that we would get an American family or families to arrive into Dublin Airport, hop into a four-wheel drive or a mini bus, drive all the way four hours down to Letter Frack to do a farm tour, but they have done. The same thing with people coming in from Southeast Asia. So they come for the overall experience and the experience is everything. It’s all of your senses. It’s the touch, the smell, the communication. It’s even not knowing what the weather is going to be like. And the funny thing is people rock up to the tour and they’re not worried about the weather. We all in Ireland, we all worry about the weather. People coming in from abroad, they’re not interested in the weather. They come very well killed out. And they have an interest in food, where it’s coming from. And to be honest with you, what would we be doing?

Speaker 1 (26:03)
Zoom is great, but you lose that… You lose that… The person touch maybe. Well, no, the essence of it. Yeah, the person in touch, maybe. But the essence of it, what actually happens on the day. And so we decided against that. Now, it’s not to say now that if someone will say, for example, we’ve offered this before. We’ve brought some of the schools, the cookery schools have come on, GMIT, Notre Dame, these places have come on to us. And from an educational point of view, where it wouldn’t matter to be delivering a lecture, you can do that in Zoom. But No, I think the farantours are more unique. So we’re not going to do that aspect of it. One of the difficulties with COVID-19 is you’re trying to plan for something that you don’t know. We’ve never been here before. We don’t know what the future is going to be like. That in itself makes it difficult. But what we did do was if we didn’t stay in production, obviously the oysters need to be mined. That’s the starting point. So we are farming behind closed doors. Now, I say behind closed doors because we don’t encourage people to come down onto the farm at all.

Speaker 1 (27:28)
So where local people would have maybe in the past have come down and collected oysters, we’d say, please don’t. The reason for that is very simple. The team of guys all know one another. They all live in the same locality. They all have the same raison d’être to be free of COVID because they have the same elderly people to mind. So if one person on the team were to develop it, it means we’re shut down and then we’ve nobody to look after the farm. So that’s really what’s happened there. But the farming back behind the scenes, we’re still farming as if there was no change. We continued to purify. We continued to offer online sales. We have been delivering online sales, both in Ireland and the UK. We have some distributors who supply out to the retail markets. And in the beginning, it was pretty stark. I mean, some people were saying, the orders were so small, were you going to do it? And my attitude is pretty simple. If you don’t do it, people are going to find someone else to do it. And then you’re not going to have a customer. So the important thing here is to maintain your customer during these crises.

Speaker 1 (28:55)
And hopefully it will strengthen relationships. And you’ll have a better customer base post-COVID-19. Now, I’d also have to say the government initiatives have been… I mean, they really just proved what is achievable when everybody pulls together. I mean, I don’t know who’s behind the scenes helping the likes of the government ministers in developing their various strategies, but they responded extremely quickly. I would think from a commercial point of view, the wage subsidy scheme and the way in which they managed to try and look after people has been very positive and has been a big help. And I think that needs to be recognised. I don’t know what they’re going to do post-COVID-19. That housing situation can’t be fixed because everyone’s going to turn as you did it. You did it back in 2020 when you were able to.

Speaker 2 (30:02)
Yeah, open the purse again?

Speaker 1 (30:04)
Well, I suppose. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was absolutely necessary. It was absolutely necessary.

Speaker 2 (30:10)
Great. In terms of there’s a focus on healthy eating and clean eating. Has that been a benefit to your business?

Speaker 1 (30:20)
I suppose on a business to business basis, yes, because we can explain on a business to business basis the security aspects that we have in place. And I mentioned, Jenny, around the idea about a HACCP. Now, again, all of our staff are HACCP trained. Again, those courses are run by BIM. We’re highly police by the SFPA. There’s monthly testing done. We ourselves do weekly testing then together with the Marine Institute. And so on a business to business level, yes, that’s very advantageous. On a customer base level, on a retail customer base, not really. People either like oysters or they don’t. And if they like them, they’re going to enjoy them. If they don’t like them, not really too pushed about it. And we see it an awful lot with the farm tours, the idea that opposites attract. So we often see couples arriving down, and one person loves I was the oysters and the other person, no, thanks, David. Don’t give him my share. I brought them here as a special occasion. It’s his 50th birthday or whatever.

Speaker 2 (31:43)
Tell me, David, How important are trade shows, if at all, for small businesses like your own?

Speaker 1 (31:50)
Well, we’ve done a couple of trade shows. Again, the business to business level, there is a place for them, certainly. But I think what’s far, far more important than a trade show is we go out and we do tastings. So if we go to it and do an in-store tasting, there’s no doubt about it. That’s certainly helps promote the product. Doing what we’re doing today. That’s certainly equally, and I would probably say even more important than trade shows. The difficulty with a trade show is there’s usually a lot of people. There’s a lot of people passing your stand. You can only talk to one person at a time. So as an example, we did the holiday World Show, which was run in Belfast, Dublin, Limerick. And again, more government support. I’ll have to tip my hat there and remind people, Galway County Council and the year of Galway Gastronomy. That was a huge factor for us and helped us hugely in developing our product and in introducing it to possible retail base. What it allowed us to do was we went along and we went to the holiday world show and we did tastings for people.

Speaker 1 (33:23)
People got to hear about us. And that’s a help. Doing tastings in store, massive help. We will increase. If we’re doing a tasting, the sales on the day or on the weekend will certainly increase hugely for that particular store. That helps, again, build business to business confidence. So trade shows, there is a place for them, definitely. It’s very, very hard to beat one for one contact. And that’s the one great thing about a trade show is a lot of people, like minded people go there. So you get to meet a lot of your customers in a very short window and you don’t actually have to go and travel the country.

Speaker 2 (34:14)
Which is probably good for the likes of yourself because of where you are, over in the West.

Speaker 1 (34:21)
Yes. Sorry, what?

Speaker 2 (34:23)
You’re quite isolated out there.

Speaker 1 (34:27)
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. But I’m I’m probably lucky because I also live on the East Coast. So it’s a four-hour drive from my door, door to farm. But I’m a 40-minute drive from Dublin. And I’m probably what? I’m less than an hour to Belfast. And that helps. And again, that idea of people often wonder, is it, God, you’re mad. How can you manage a place that is so far away from you? But again, I suppose I suppose my past history came into play here because when I was involved in freight forwarding, we had an office in Hong Kong, we had an office in Shanghai. And look, you either trust your team or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. And I’m very, very lucky. I have a great team of guys, and we’ve all grown together. For example, my past, I would never have done as much front of house, if I can put it that way, as I’m doing now, selling would not have necessarily ever be considered to be my forte. I’m not so sure it is now, but needs must.

Speaker 2 (35:41)
I think you enjoy the theatre at all. I could picture you stand there shucking oysters in a shop. You’d be some boy to do it.

Speaker 1 (35:49)
I enjoy meeting people, and that makes it a lot easier. And as much as you enjoy listening to the story, so do I.

Speaker 2 (35:58)
So tell I’m sure you’ve come up against a few challenges, David, but what mistakes did you make at the start of your journey with the oyster farm? And any tips and hints maybe for someone getting in the industry or just in business in general?

Speaker 1 (36:14)
Well, I think business in general is completely different to the oyster farm because the oyster farm is a very unique type of business. Now, if I was to take in terms of the oyster farm, well, started a lot younger than I am. That’ll be the first thing I’ll say to you, because it does take three years to get to the starting blocks. And that certainly needed a lot of working capital. Leaving that aside, I must say, looking back on it, and we would do this a lot. I would be very analytical and going back, and I would try to be Look back on what we have done and try to learn from our mistakes. But fortunately, no, we’ve been very, very lucky. But another way, I’ll say the same thing, we made our own look. So how do we do that? When I surrounded myself with good people, that was the first thing. I mentioned them again. The team of guys we have down below, Michael Leiden, Patty Lacy, Chris Lacy, they’re all local men. They all live locally. I My mantra has always been, I went down to let a frack to build a business, not to start a war.

Speaker 1 (37:35)
So I’m an outsider. There’s no point in saying it any differently. But our business is not outside. Our business is very much tied in with the local community. And that’s very, very important to us. And we had to work with that. So I think that’s important no matter what business you’re doing. Secondly, we’re lucky because The people I met along the way, and I’ve mentioned them during this interview, Board BIA, BIM, Galway County Council. There are lots of things out there, but you have to go and find them. And I would say, be open to the supports which are available to you, plan for them, look at them, and you’ll find that there is plenty of help. I genuinely believe that there is plenty of help. And And certainly, try and work with the system. I’m not making any more complicated than that. Try and work with the system. Find out the system and work with it.

Speaker 2 (38:45)
You actually pre-empted one of my questions there about government agency help, and you seem to have got quite a bit.

Speaker 1 (38:50)
I would have to say that I was surprised because up until now, my main exposure to government help would have been enterprise Ireland and probably precursor to enterprise Ireland was the old industrial development authority. And that was back in my time as an accountant in private practise. But certainly the start for me was with Galway Gastronomy. That was definitely the start for me. And Galway County Council, there was two people down there. Deirdre Tully works still with Galway County Council, but there was a girl brought in, a lady brought in. I was seconded in. Elaine. And for the life of me, sorry, I didn’t do the research for this, but I can’t remember Elaine’s name, but she knows who she is. So there’s everybody down there. And Elaine and Dirdja did tremendous work And they were the start for us. Bim, obviously, Trish Daley in BIM was huge support in helping us get started. The grant aid people as well. And then Bord Beia. Once you get to a certain size, we got in with Bord Beia and we also got in with Bord Fáilte Ireland, I should say, and Discover Ireland. And look, they The opportunities are there, but it’s up to you to find them and use them.

Speaker 2 (40:19)
Okay, that’s great advice. And you touched on this briefly there. Is supporting local producers important to you? You’re in provenance and sustainability?

Speaker 1 (40:28)
I think There’s no doubt about that. No doubt about that. Food has moved on. And let’s be honest about it, I suppose we could say that oysters might be considered to be a niche market. Not all food is niche. Obviously, we eat everyday bread and everyday milk and everyday eggs. But people want to know where it’s coming from. And especially the younger generation. I was surprised at the number of people in their late 20s who would come and do a farm tour. I never thought that would happen. Never thought that as such. Well, I hadn’t said… Certainly in the early 30s, they’re quite happy to come in. They get dug in. Providence, absolutely. And biodiversity, very important. People want to know all these things. Traceability. Traceability is huge. And in our case, we mentioned this earlier on, the seed, when the seed comes to the farm, we know what hatchery came from. So it goes into a four mil bag. And I don’t have an example with me because I’m not on the farm, but it’s a mesh bag. And you’ll see this. If anyone wants to go on the website, you’ll see it. And the idea of the four mil bag is it doesn’t allow the seed to fall out of the bag.

Speaker 1 (42:03)
So what actually happens is when it comes on, we colour code the bag. We put a tag on it. And that seed carries that same colour tag throughout its whole life on the farm. So as an example, we would have a yellow tag. And the yellow tag is say, France-Néesan 2015. So France-Nésan is the hatchery, 2015 is the year it is seed. The amount of the farm and it holds that colour tag until it leaves. Now, leaving the farm, what happens is it gets a batch number going into the purification system. And that batch number is actually issued on the SFPA document. And so it’s totally traceable from seed to place. And when it goes out off the farm, it has a label which carries that same batch number, giving you the date it was packed and the quantity, et cetera. So we have a full traceability.

Speaker 2 (43:05)
It doesn’t get any better in terms of traceability, literally from seedling the fully and everything in between. Brilliant. So do you think the food industry in Ireland is actually growing, David?

Speaker 1 (43:18)
Well, to answer your question, I probably don’t actually know statistically whether that is true or not. But I’ll tell you what I do, Billy. I think two things. Number one, the percentage of our annual budget is far less going on food today than it was, we say, when you and I were a lot younger or were kids. And the reason for that is because we’re in far, far more affluent society. More importantly is that people are not only affluent, but they’re far more educated and far more well-travelled. And with that, they’re more willing to try new things. And so now people are The choice available and the choices sought after are far greater than what they used to be. I remember back, I can’t remember the year, but this was back in probably the early ’90s, visiting what was the Superquin at those stores. And I visited a Superquin store in Dundalk, and I couldn’t believe it. There was a bottle of Dan Perignon champagne sitting up the shelf for over a hundred. I can’t remember what was it, Euro or a pence at the time. But I was amazed because the only other place I’d ever seen Dan Perignon was on 007 movies, the Bond movies.

Speaker 1 (44:45)
There was a weekend, we were shopping for the weekend and I came home. I was so fascinated by this story, it became dinner conversation because Superqueen would not have been stocking that bottle of campaign unless there were people willing to buy it.

Speaker 2 (45:03)
Absolutely. We’re gathering dust, that’s for sure.

Speaker 1 (45:07)
Yeah. And so nowadays, I think, and then equally, you go around, look at the choices available in the supermarket. Look at the number of the bakeries in the supermarket, the fish shops, the counters in the supermarket, and how more developed they are, and the butcher counters, and all these things. Choice is amazing.

Speaker 2 (45:32)
Even programmes on television now, talking about all the different foods and showing you how to prepare them. I mean, that’s gone through the roof.

Speaker 1 (45:41)
Well, that’s probably why I have Netflix.

Speaker 2 (45:45)
Very good. So David, tell me, in terms of your brand, where can we pick it up? Tell me how I can get your oysters.

Speaker 1 (45:57)
Okay, we better talk now as we’re talking during During COVID-19. You can order online. They are available in… Sorry, if you order online, they’re available throughout Ireland, including Northern Ireland and the UK. You can order on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for next day delivery. Sorry, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for the UK. As well as that then, I know that there are two distributors who are sending them out. One is sending them to, I think, ethnic shops in Ireland, and then the other is sending them to both SuperValue stores and Dawn stores. Then more And recently then, anyone on the East Coast… Sorry, if you’re staying down West around Clifton, SuperValue and Clifton obviously have them. And then locally, we’ve started to be asked to supply in to the fishermen’s catch up in Clouher Head and Kerwyns locally here in Trada. Brilliant. Post-covid-19, or if I went back to pre-COVID-19, we, Cishfish, would be great people to distribute our oysters to restaurants around Dublin, huge fans of KishFish. And then one of my great friends would be Richie in Seoul, Seoul Seafood. They won, I think the Restaurant of the Year of 2019.

Speaker 1 (47:33)
Brilliant. And anyone who’s interested in food can see Richie and his family. They’re doing on Facebook. I’ve done a whole series of cookery demonstrations and various dishes. And another great supporter of ours, great guy, Matt, the Trashers there in Pembrooke Street. Well-known GastroPub in Dublin. So if you’re in Dublin, call in to Matta Trashers or Soul, some of the retail outlets that Cish will supply.

Speaker 2 (48:10)
They’re relatively available anyway.

Speaker 1 (48:13)
Well, all else fails. Just give me a ring and I’ll make sure.

Speaker 2 (48:17)
Okay. And lastly, and David, this has been excellent. Tell me, what’s the future? What’s in store for DK Connoemar oysters?

Speaker 1 (48:27)
That’s a very interesting question. I I said earlier on that at the moment, the difficulty with COVID-19 is so difficult to plan for the future because we don’t know what the future holds. Certainly with two things in my mind are going to happen. We’re either going to develop a vaccine, which is sounds, but everyone’s talking about it’s a year down the road, or we’re all going to have to start to learn how to live with this in the event that there is no vaccine. Because one thing’s for sure, we can’t continue to to lock down the human race. And I don’t mean lock down economies, I mean lock down people in the way we currently have been. I don’t see that as continuing. Second thing is, we We’ve got used to a global economy. We really have. I mean, I have no idea how COVID-19 is going to affect it. It will affect it in some fashion. Certainly all these major happenings do bring with them reactions. But until we have planes back in the sky, it’s very, very difficult to see what the future brings. Ireland is very much an open economy. We love the idea of a global economy.

Speaker 1 (49:44)
We love the idea of being part of Europe. And for that, we need free movement of people and free movement of goods. I never believe for one minute when we sat down, we developed a series of strategies, one one around tourism, the other around retail, the other around restaurants, pubs, if you like the food service side to it. And then we were looking at we look to exporting to to further away economies such as Southeast Asia. Who ever thought that all your strategies in one foul swoop, that someone just flick a switch and turn them off? You don’t see that happening. Certainly not in my lifetime. We’d already been hit by a fairly major catastrophe back in the beginning of late 2018, 2019, when we were hit by a red tide. If you remember that really, really fabulous summer we had in 2018. It brought in a lot of… It created a huge growth of phytoplankton and it bloomed and it came into the Bay and killed off a lot of our mature stuff. And that was a massive hit to take in in 2019 because that was our first major harvest. So we managed to come out of that quite successfully.

Speaker 1 (51:08)
And we were really looking forward to seeing all of these strategies coming into place So we had a lot of tours booked. Unfortunately, no one’s travelling, and then you can’t blame them. Restaurants will reopen. So what can I say? In a nutshell, yeah, we need people moving. We need cargo moving. But I’m positive insofar as this will not last forever. And even oil prices are going to come back up. Don’t cut yourselves.

Speaker 2 (51:41)
Well, David, that was absolutely outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. And I really wish D. K. Connemara oysters all the best for the future. Thanks very much, and the viewers will love this.

Speaker 1 (51:52)
But I hope you’re able to edit it.

Speaker 2 (51:56)
Okay, David, all the best in the future. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (51:59)
Okay, bye-bye. Bye-bye.

Share with our social media

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *