Gourmet Food Parlour

Gourmet Food Parlour’s Remarkable Journey

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Updated on March 20, 2024

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Imagine a small, bustling cafe in Dunleery, where the aroma of freshly baked bread intertwines with the rich scent of artisan coffee. This was the humble beginning of the Gourmet Food Parlour Empire.

Since 2006, the company’s journey has been nothing short of extraordinary, blossoming from a modest 25-seater café to a culinary powerhouse. It’s weathered economic storms, expanded its services, and carved a unique niche in a competitive industry. Through it all, the brand’s commitment to quality and consistency has remained unwavering.

Curious about how they’ve achieved such success? There’s much more to this tantalizing tale.

Gourmet Food Parlour Founding and Early Days


In the height of the Celtic Tiger era in 2006, Lorraine Heskin founded what would become the Gourmet Food Empire, starting with a modest 25-seater cafe in Dunleery, County Dublin, that specialized in importing foods from America.

The early days were marked by meticulous menu development, with Heskin sourcing unique American ingredients to create a diverse and appealing assortment of dishes. She understood the critical role of customer feedback in refining the offerings. Customers’ opinions were actively sought and used to fine-tune the cafe’s menu and service delivery.

Heskin’s approach wasn’t just about serving food; it was about creating an experience that left a lasting impression on the patrons. This strategy of constant improvement based on customer feedback laid the foundation for the growth and expansion of the Gourmet Food Empire.

Surviving the Recession

Despite the booming start, the Gourmet Food Empire wasn’t immune to the worldwide economic downturn during the recession. Adapting strategies included a shift from sports packs to diverse offerings such as catering, takeaway, and online orders. This move demonstrated their resilience and strategic foresight.

Overcoming setbacks, especially financial ones, were no small feats, but they managed to persist. Their emphasis on perseverance, coupled with a willingness to learn from their mistakes, kept them afloat in the unstable market.

The recession served as a crucible for the empire, refining their business model and strengthening their resolve. This period of economic difficulty, rather than sinking the empire, only served to reveal its mettle and ability to weather the storm.

Expansion and Business Structure

Gourmet Food Parlour

Emerging from the crucible of the recession, the Gourmet Food Empire charted a course for expansion, carefully crafting a robust business structure that propelled their growth. Central to this strategy was operational efficiency, which the Empire pursued through dedicated teams overseeing operations, finance, marketing, and HR. This structure not only streamlined their processes but also allowed for effective decision-making and resource allocation.

Moreover, the Empire’s growth strategies revolved around opening company-owned outlets instead of franchising. This allowed for greater control over quality and brand consistency, vital elements in the gourmet food industry. The Empire’s strategic expansion and its meticulous approach to business structure have hence been pivotal to its success, demonstrating the power of a well-executed business strategy.

Decision Against Franchising

Opting for a path less traveled in the food industry, Gourmet Food Empire made a strategic decision against franchising, choosing instead to open company-owned outlets. This move, they believed, would ensure quality control and maintain brand consistency across all locations.

Franchising, while often a quicker route to expansion, can risk diluting a brand’s essence and compromise the standard of offerings. By owning their outlets, Gourmet Food Empire could meticulously monitor every aspect of their operation. From the sourcing of ingredients to the preparation of meals and customer service, they held tight rein.

This decision, albeit unusual in the food industry, underpinned their commitment to excellence. It’s clear that Gourmet Food Empire’s strategy prioritized quality over rapid expansion.

Partnerships and Collaborations

Gourmet Food Parlour

Regularly forging strategic partnerships, Gourmet Food Empire has successfully collaborated with high-profile teams such as Dublin GAA, IRFU, and Leinster Rugby, becoming their official food partner. These alliances present unique sponsorship opportunities that amplify the brand’s visibility while concurrently supporting local sports.

Additionally, Gourmet Food Empire is keen to cultivate robust supplier relationships. They’re committed to sourcing locally, collaborating closely with Irish food producers. In doing so, they not only ensure the quality of their offerings but also foster a supportive network within the food industry.

These partnerships and collaborations, therefore, not only benefit Gourmet Food Empire but also contribute to strengthening the local economy and sports community. It’s a strategic approach that underlines their commitment to quality, locality, and community engagement.

Marketing Strategies and Challenges

Navigating the complexities of the food industry, Gourmet Food Empire’s marketing strategies center on enhancing brand visibility, reaching the right audience, and effectively communicating their diverse services. To achieve this, they leverage social media engagement and influencer marketing.

The company harnesses the power of social platforms, creating detailed plans and maintaining a robust online presence. Their approach isn’t just about promotion, it’s about dialogue. This interaction fosters a community around their brand and keeps them relevant in a competitive landscape.

Moreover, they’ve tapped into influencer marketing, understanding the sway these individuals hold over consumer choices. However, these strategies pose challenges. The dynamic nature of social media trends and audience preferences requires constant adaptation.

Nevertheless, Gourmet Food Empire’s digital savviness continues to bolster their success.

Diversifying Into Catering

Gourmet Food Parlour

While their digital marketing prowess has played a significant role in reaching a wider audience, Gourmet Food Empire’s strategic move into the catering sector has further diversified their offerings and opened new avenues for growth.

This progression was marked by a robust focus on menu innovation, which allowed them to cater to a versatile clientele with diverse culinary expectations.

Their commitment to maintaining and strengthening client relationships has played a significant role in securing recurrent business and establishing a strong reputation within the industry.

By diversifying into catering, they’ve not only broadened their service range, but also created a holistic food experience that aligns with their brand’s identity.

This strategic move has cemented their presence in the market and showcased their adaptability, amplifying their success story.

Managing Events and Catering

Gourmet Food Parlour

Managing events and catering demands a meticulous approach, and it’s here that Gourmet Food Empire truly excels, showcasing their ability to deliver diverse and high-quality services tailored to individual client needs. With event planning at the core of their operations, they craft a range of culinary creations to suit every occasion, from sports events to weddings.

Their organizational structure is designed to handle queries effectively, while maintaining focus on the personalized requirement of each client. Their systematic approach to project management in catering ensures a seamless execution of services.

The Empire, however, doesn’t rest on its laurels. It continues to innovate, ensuring their offerings remain fresh, exciting, and in line with the changing preferences of their discerning clientele.

COVID-19 Impact and Recovery

Just as Gourmet Food Empire demonstrated resilience in their catering and events management, the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges that required equally innovative strategies for recovery.

The pandemic challenges were drastic, transforming operations through closures, struggles with rent payments, and necessitating the implementation of new health procedures.

Gourmet Food Empire’s recovery strategies included pivoting to takeaway and delivery services, rigorous training of staff on COVID-19 protocols, and a swift transition to online ordering systems.

The hospitality sector faced significant revenue decreases, the pressure to retain essential employees, and the stress of navigating these unprecedented times.

Yet, through innovative and strategic responses, Gourmet Food Empire demonstrated its resilience and adaptability once again.

Outlook and Future Prospects

Navigating through the turbulence of the pandemic, Gourmet Food Empire sets its sights on future prospects, which include continued growth, innovation, potential new restaurant openings, exploring different food sectors, and strengthening ties with local suppliers and Irish producers.

Key to this is their adoption of innovation strategies, focusing on technological integration and creative culinary concepts. The company also aims to expand its local support initiatives, boosting Irish food industry through strategic partnerships and collaborations.

These forward-looking strategies signify Gourmet Food Empire’s resilience and adaptability, underpinned by a commitment to quality and community. As they carve out their future path, the company stands as a testament to the potential of a business to evolve, adapt, and thrive amid challenges, while making significant contributions to its local food industry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Describe Some of the Unique Dishes or Signature Meals That Gourmet Food Empire Is Famous For?

Gourmet Food Empire’s known for its exotic ingredient usage and innovative recipe creation. They’ve got a knack for turning the ordinary into extraordinary, like their truffle-infused mac ‘n’ cheese or the smoked salmon salad with a unique zesty twist.

Their approach to gourmet sandwiches, incorporating unusual flavours, is a hit. Not to mention their artisan coffee and fine wines, each selected with care. It’s clear their culinary creativity sets them apart.

What Was the Process of Sourcing and Importing Food From America Like During the Early Days of the Business?

In the early days, Gourmet Food Empire faced several import challenges. They’d to establish reliable supplier relations in America, navigate complex customs regulations, and ensure the food’s quality upon arrival.

Despite the hurdles, they were determined to provide unique, high-quality products to their customers. This process laid the groundwork for their future success, teaching them valuable lessons in perseverance, adaptability, and the importance of strong supplier relationships.

How Does Gourmet Food Empire Ensure the Welfare of Its Employees During Tough Economic Periods?

Gourmet Food Empire’s employee retention strategies during tough economic periods involve crisis management techniques. They’re proactive in identifying potential issues, putting measures in place to protect their staff. They prioritize retaining key employees, even when revenues decrease.

They offer support, training on new protocols, and ensure a safe working environment. This approach not only safeguards their employees’ welfare but also maintains the brand’s quality and reputation.

Can You Elaborate on the Training and Development Programs in Place for Your Staff to Maintain the High-Quality Service Gourmet Food Empire Is Known For?

Gourmet Food Empire prioritizes employee motivation and continuous learning. They’ve implemented comprehensive training programs that enhance staff skills, ensuring high-quality service. These programs focus on refining culinary techniques, customer relations, and operational efficiency.

They also promote an environment of continual learning, fostering creativity and innovation. Through these initiatives, the company motivates its employees, keeping them engaged and committed to maintaining the brand’s reputation for excellence.

What Are Some of the Lessons Learned From the Closure or Sale of Certain Locations, and How Have These Been Applied to Current and Future Expansions?

Gourmet Food Empire’s learned valuable lessons from closures or sales of various locations. They’ve gained insights into business resilience strategies and identified shifts in consumer preferences. They’ve learned to adapt quickly to changing market conditions, refine their business model, and prioritize locations that align with their target audience.

These lessons have been vital to their current and future expansions, ensuring they’re better prepared to navigate the unpredictable landscape of the gourmet food industry.


Gourmet Food Empire’s journey is a testament to the power of vision, resilience, and quality. Despite economic downturns and industry challenges, their adaptability and strategic decisions have propelled them to success.

Their diversification into catering and online services attests to their innovative spirit. Amid the pandemic, they’ve shown remarkable resilience, offering hope for their future prospects.

Gourmet Food Empire stands as an inspiring example in the competitive food industry.

Video Transcript

Speaker 2 (00:06)
So welcome to Amazing Food and Drink. I am absolutely delighted to have Lorraine Hesken, who is CEO of the gourmet food parlour, whose offices and restaurants are in Dublin and in Salt Hill in Galway. Welcome to the show, Lorraine.

Speaker 1 (00:23)
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here, and thanks for having me.

Speaker 2 (00:27)
Oh, we’re so delighted. And we can’t wait to hear about your story. Great. So Lorraine, just start us off and tell us a bit about yourself and your background, please.

Speaker 1 (00:34)
Okay, so my name is Lorraine Heson. I hail from a small fishing village called Barna County, Galway. Went to college in University of Limerick and then finish with the postgrad in business, where IBM offered me a job afterwards and up to the big smoke I went. So it was a great grounding for me because IBM, you were like a small fish in a big pond, which It was really good for your very first job because I think you just learn so much. You’re like a sponge. You can learn so much from all the other departments. And I spent a while working there in various different departments. And then I had never taken the TravelPerk when I was in college. I always worked my summers to pay for my following semester. So I decided to make a move to New York and off I went to the States for four years. So I moved over in 2001. And that’s where I left the whole technology business. And and I found the whole food business over there. And I got a job with one of the biggest Irish and English food imports on the East Coast of the States called Irish Food Distributors.

Speaker 1 (01:39)
And I worked with them for two or three years. And it was an amazing experience. And I always talk about America a lot because I think it gave me so many ideas and philosophies around having a food business myself. So I was working as a consultant for the manufacturers over there. And we used to wine and dine clients quite a lot. So the whole The concept of eating out in America was always so exciting, and it was just such a lovely atmosphere there. And I don’t know, there was something very wow factor about it, and I was always intrigued by that. So anyway, after a few years of moving back and forth and being homesick enough, even though I loved America as well, I decided that at that crossroads, it was time for me to move home. And I spent a couple of years working with Jacob’s Biscuits, which is an absolutely fantastic experience. They had just been bought over by Fruitfield Foods. And Michael Cahier owned Fruitfield Foods at the time. And it was just an incredible collaboration of two amazing brands. And within that, the whole chef brand and Bolen’s Biscuits. And I was their export manager for two and a half years and got to travel and just had such a wealth of experience there.

Speaker 1 (02:45)
But I suppose it was always something in me that I wanted to open up my own business and I wanted to try something in food. And I had taken so many different ideas from when I was in America and obviously been back home and travelling as well. And that’s where the whole concept of gourmet food parlour came about.

Speaker 2 (03:02)
Absolutely amazing. My God, you’ve been around the world.

Speaker 1 (03:07)
Almost, but not quite, but almost.

Speaker 2 (03:09)
And I knew that lovely accent. Although I love the Dublin accent, I knew it wasn’t from Dublin. So you’re a Galway native. I love Galway. It’s one of my favourite counties in Ireland.

Speaker 1 (03:17)
I know. I love it, too. I love it, too. And I love to be able to get home as much as I can. And opening a restaurant in Saltaire, which is beside where I’m from originally in Barna, was probably one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had. So it’s fantastic that I can get to go to Galway. And then there’s a gourmet food party there as well, which is an extra bonus.

Speaker 2 (03:35)
Even better. And so tell us on that then, tell us all about the gourmet food part. I know you’ve got restaurants and catering in advance. Tell us all about it and how and when it started. And where actually, where was your first restaurant?

Speaker 1 (03:49)
So that’s the app. And I love talking about this because I’m so proud of the brand and so proud of the business that it’s become. So back in 2006, when the Keltic Tiger was in Ireland everybody was doing very well for themselves, I decided to open up gourmet food parlour. And because the country was so affluent and experiencing a really good economy at the time, it was very difficult for a very young lassie to rent a premises. And the concept was there. I knew what I wanted to do. But the difficulty for me was trying to find a landlord who would actually give me a chance. But anyway, I found a man called Bob Reid, and I’ll never, ever, ever forget him. And look at, I found a tiny premises on a side street, off a side street in Dunleary, County Dublin. And he decided to give me a chance. And really, that was where the whole concept of Gormie Philperla came from. And it took a while to get it up to scratch and open up. But on the 28th of July, 2006, we opened at 1:00 PM. And we opened as like a…

Speaker 1 (04:54)
It was a 25 seatre café. I imported foods in from America with brands that I had worked with before in the hope that I would sell those and make a go of that. And it was funny. One of the customers said to me, he said, those shelves will be gone and you’ll have tables and chairs there in about six months. And he was right. So started off very simple. Call him really gourmet, sandwiches and salads and really good artisan coffee and hand selected wines and desserts, anti-pasty boards, stuff like that. But then, I suppose after about six months, I could see there was a really, really strong demand for the brand. So what we were doing was very unique in its own right. But customers really reacted very well to it. And I could see quite quickly that there was more of a scope and there was definitely a massive potential. So I think after about a year or a year and a half, I decided to look for another location to see if I could get see if we could expand it. And would it be as welcoming the second time around? So I went over to the north side.

Speaker 1 (05:55)
I kept one on the south side, went over to the north side. I just went to Soare. It’s just from literally just researching different towns around Dublin. And over I went to Saurids and into the estate agent as naive as hell and knocked to the door and found. And again, it was very busy. It was 2007 then. That was before the first recession. After the Keltic Tiger. And I found a unit, again, off a side street, off a side street. So I always say that we’ve grown the business #notonthehighstreet because we’re on any main street anywhere. So I found a unit in Swords and opened up a second to go on my few parlour. And it was a slow burner to start. It’s like, let’s not take no for an answer. And let’s keep fighting and fighting and pushing it and pushing it. And we did. We did. And it got there eventually. And it just starts to grow from there.

Speaker 2 (06:46)
Absolutely brilliant. And then from there, did you open more restaurants before you’d gone into the catering and events, or how did that evolve?

Speaker 1 (06:54)
Yeah, the catering and events coincided with opening another restaurant. And I’ve opened restaurants and cafés and closed them and sold them on because it just didn’t work out. Some work out, some don’t. And it’s all about taking a risk and believing in yourself. And if it doesn’t work out, then you have to pick yourself up and just learn from the reasons why it didn’t work out and be grateful that you still have your business and keep going. Because I think you learn more about making mistakes than you do about doing things right all the time. So with the catering and event side of the business, we very much just came out of nowhere. So we were asked, I think, to make some sports packs for a couple of some teams, development squads. And then eventually we started doing… When we opened first, we started doing little bits of office catering and a few platters here and there. And then eventually the quality, I suppose, of what we were doing got out there. And I love working with local producers and Irish suppliers. And that’s very, very important to me. And that whole philosophy is within the whole restaurant style of what we serve.

Speaker 1 (08:01)
But I mean, the business evolved so much over the years. It went from being a cafe to serving food during the day to now, 14 years later, where we’re open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. And we serve wines and cocktails and beers. And You can get takeaway and you can buy online. So there’s a huge, huge change in the business since we opened to now. And that’s for any business owner, you have to evolve and you have to be 10 steps ahead of yourself, nearly when you have your own business. But the whole The catering site then started off small. And then we were asked to tender for a sports contract, which we got. And that was about maybe, that was about nine or 10 years ago. And that was with Dublin GAA. And we’ve been the official food partners of the Dublin team since then. So we provide the refuel for them post-training. And that’s been an incredible contract for us to get. And we also on the back of that, we work with the IRFU and we work with Leinster Rugby. And we work with a lot of the to lead sports teams, which is a great honour for us as well.

Speaker 1 (09:02)
But in saying that, again, that didn’t happen overnight. And there was a lot of hard work and a lot of learning and a lot of learning about how to be brilliant at what you do and be the best at what you do without overcomplicating it was a huge part of the lessons that we learned over the years.

Speaker 2 (09:21)
That’s absolutely phenomenal. So you’re with Dublin GA, which I’m sure is a massive contract, and with the rugby football Union. What about the FAI? Nothing there yet enough?

Speaker 1 (09:30)
They were with them, too.

Speaker 2 (09:32)
Absolutely superb.

Speaker 1 (09:34)
Yeah, I know. It’s great.

Speaker 2 (09:36)
That’s amazing.

Speaker 1 (09:38)
I know. There’s a lot of strings to our bow, and sometimes it’s difficult to communicate them all, but that’s our marketing challenge on a regular basis is trying to get all the messages across of what gourmet food parlour actually entails and getting that across to the consumer, to the right consumers at the right time. So that’s always a challenge. But it’s so wonderful to be able to shout about so many things, and we’re very proud of everything that we do. So we take a lot of pride in all the different departments within the business.

Speaker 2 (10:10)
Well, it’s absolutely amazing. And it’s a brilliant endorsement of how well you’ve done that all these large sporting organisations are actually going with you and staying with you. Amazing. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (10:21)
Thank you. Thanks very much.

Speaker 2 (10:23)
God, that’s honestly superb. So tell me now, you’ve spoken a wee bit about some of the challenges. What are the main challenges did you face, especially at the outset, Lorraine?

Speaker 1 (10:33)
At the outset, back in 2006, there were so many challenges. And I think when you have a dream, your dream, nothing’s going to stand in your way if you really want to fulfil that dream. However, life gets in the way and there are so many barriers, particularly when you open your own business and all for the right reasons. So first of all, I was trying to find a premises to start the dream. Second of all, I was just trying to get finance. I mean, I prepared all the figures and everything. And there was a business plan with all within an inch of its life and going into the banks. And they were just literally going, no, no, thanks. No, no. And you know what? And they were right in a way because I mean, I was innocent and I didn’t have any experience of running my own business. So from that perspective, it was very, very challenging. And look, eventually, I don’t take no for an answer. So I was very, eventually I got my own way. But it takes perseverance. And sometimes if you get a couple of knocks before you even open your business, it can be difficult to get the confidence or the wherewithal to go through.

Speaker 1 (11:37)
But I think youth was definitely on my side at the time. So I wasn’t taking no for an answer. And I really wanted and believed in this dream on what you know. And then I think as well, when you open your business first, it’s very overwhelming because you could have brought lots of strengths into that business. However, you’re required. Say I could have brought two strengths, but you’re required to have about 10. So the eight weaknesses that I had, you have to adapt and you have to learn them fairly quickly. So it’s a roller coaster and you have to juggle a lot of hats and you have to be a psychologist and a psychiatrist and a business owner and a chef and a customer service representative. And you have to be the marketing person. So there’s so many things that you have to do. But look, if you really believe in what you’re doing and you want it so badly, it’s not a challenge. It’s more this is exciting, and I want to get over this, and I want to work through this, and I want to make this all happen. But there were certainly a lot of challenges at the beginning.

Speaker 1 (12:36)
A lot of them.

Speaker 2 (12:37)
I must say your personality is in fact, I have no doubt that that follows you through your business as well. And just you said a couple of things. One of the questions I was going to ask you was, did you get any financial help or even some mentoring from any agencies, government agencies or anyone at all? At the time, no.

Speaker 1 (12:54)
No, at the time, no. It’s amazing what’s available now versus what was available back in 2006 because it’s like polar opposites, worlds apart. Now there’s so much available and even from a training perspective, which is so important for staff. Back then there was nothing, though. No. We applied for grants. I applied for There’s all these various different things, but there was nothing there at the time. So really, in a way, I look at that as a positive now because, by God, did it harden me up? You know what I mean? You have a tough skin. You had to make it work yourself. There was nobody there saying, well, here’s a free… If this doesn’t go well for you, here’s a free pass onto the next level. There wasn’t. So failure wasn’t an option, even though I can tell you as a useful business, it came fairly close to it, I can tell you a few times. But look, got through it, got through it and still standing to tell the tale.

Speaker 2 (13:49)
Thank God, because I’ll tell you, honestly, I can’t believe how well you’ve done, considering you come back fairly green about the gills if you don’t mind me saying from America, I’m getting into corporate work and then going Then the corporate board and then go out on your own, it’s all credit to you. Honestly, it’s amazing. Tell me, in terms of the expansion of the business, did you franchise or have you thought about franchising or are they all yours?

Speaker 1 (14:13)
They’re all mine. They’re all under the gourmet food parlour umbrella. And yes, I have thought of franchising, but I’ll tell you, I’ve said no to it so many times for so many different reasons. And just because I feel like the biggest thing that a customer will say when they stand outside a gourmet food parlour or they see the brand outside a restaurant or they see a van driving by is I know that the quality or the pride that I take in that I have control over it. And I know that the team that are working in gourmet food parlour now have the passion and the love and the interest to make it an amazing brand. I don’t ever want that diluted. And not to say that franchisees wouldn’t put the same passion into it. But I don’t know. I might get that sense in time, but at the moment, I just don’t have that sense. I love. I’m so proud to build it myself. And it’s an Irish company that’s just grown its own legs over the last 14 years. And It’s a business that has evolved itself, nearly. And I want to see where that takes it.

Speaker 1 (15:21)
I don’t want anything else to get in the way of it. And I’m so proud of it. I want to keep going myself and see what we can do.

Speaker 2 (15:28)
Absolutely. It’s a bit cliché, but it’s like you’re a baby and you don’t want to let go of it, do you?

Speaker 1 (15:32)
Oh, yeah. No, absolutely.

Speaker 2 (15:34)
Fair play. So in terms of the catering, you said that maybe it raved on your door more by excellence in design. I take it now that that’s completely spread of legs of its own and you’re actively following that route.

Speaker 1 (15:49)
Absolutely. And what’s interesting about catering and events, because catering and events is quite a small phrase for what can be a huge business. And when I opened first, I remember designing catering brochures within a couple of weeks for takeaway and for catering to offices and stuff. So we were doing that from the get go. But it was more the different types of catering that landed on our laps then after that. And it was more like, so say, for example, we would specialise in sports catering as discussed. And then we have a lot of contracts with corporate catering as well. So that could be from just coming in to feed employees on a weekly basis, or it could be just feeding in a staff canteen or something like that, or else we’re doing high end events where you’ve got canopies and it’s all, it’s black tie and we can do a sit down meal. And then we also do weddings as well. So we’re fairly broad when it comes to catering and events. And we also have a really cool food truck that we send around to different events around the country. And we can rock up at weddings and you can get fish and chips, or you can get nice Thai red curries, or you can get ice cream, or you can get your ice cream or whatever you want out of it.

Speaker 1 (17:01)
So it’s one of those versatile units, but it’s mobile on the road. And that’s really cool as well. So there’s a lot going on in that department. And it has really, again, it’s like a business in its own right. It has sprout a lot over the years. And in 2018, I opened up a 5,000 square foot facility in Santry, which was bespokely built for catering. Unfortunately, it’s been closed since March, but I’m fingers crossed that we get to reopen it as soon as possible. I’m just working our catering business out of a smaller unit now just for economies of scale. But there’s a huge market there for catering and events, and it’s a very competitive market and very well carried out in Ireland as well. But I love it. I love that side of things as well. I love having the restaurant and I love people coming in and dining and putting their photographs up on Instagram. But equally, I love as well getting out in a different realm and serving really good food. And And the biggest thing for me is also is customer service and having a team that love what they do.

Speaker 1 (18:05)
And that’s reflected to the customer and reflected at a wedding or serving a sports team. Or it’s been greeted at the door of a restaurant that people see, oh, my God, I see that passion in the team. And a customer can really enjoy the experience an awful lot more when they’ve enjoyed themselves for their welcome.

Speaker 2 (18:27)
Do you have anything to do with it? I’m sure that and her team are sparkling.

Speaker 1 (18:32)
They’re great. I have to say I’m very lucky. I’m very lucky. I’ve got a very, very magical team.

Speaker 2 (18:40)
Brilliant. Well, I’m actually salivating here. Any plans of coming north at all?

Speaker 1 (18:46)
Well, you never know. You never know. I love Belfast. My goodness. You never know. Maybe someday. Maybe someday.

Speaker 2 (18:54)
God. So is there a project management element to your catering business or how How does it work in essence? If I wanted my business to bring your company in to supply our catering, how does it work?

Speaker 1 (19:11)
Yeah. So well, basically, I’ve set up the business in such a way that There’s an organisational structure there to be able to deal with inquiries no matter what they are. So if that comes from anything from a customer looking to reserve a table, I’ve got two options for them. They can ring and talk to our receptionist seven a week, or you can go online and you can book your table whenever you want. So that’s readily available for those who like to make the phone call and have the personal touch, or for those millennials who prefer to just go online and not talk to anyone. So that’s totally fine as well.

Speaker 2 (19:43)
I’m down to the former.

Speaker 1 (19:45)
Yeah, I know. Me too. But equally as well, so when we were expanding over the last maybe four or five years quite heavily, I wanted to have a structure in place that was going to be able to work with the business. Business. So I have an operations team who manages the day to day running of the units, the managers and the head chefs. I have a finance team who looks after everything from the wages to the processing of all the financial information. I have a marketing team with a full-time graphic designer and digital and social media manager. I also have a new business development team. Then we have H. O. And we have a catering and event team as well. So there’s a manager there. And then there’s a manager of the drivers and the organisation of the servers and all the operational background of that. So any inquiries that come in, come in through the head of the catering team. And then each inquiry will be dealt with individually. And sometimes the inquiry could come in through LinkedIn, it could come in through Facebook, it could come in through email, it could be a referral, it could be a phone call, a text, whatever.

Speaker 1 (20:50)
We follow up on everything and everybody is dealt with individually. So if you’re somebody to answer your question column, talking to me about, I’m looking for you to come in and feed the team. Well, then go and we meet you or we have a chat with you and then we assess what your requirements are. And then we would prepare a proposal for you based on that. And then we work together to see how it would work. So we take it very seriously and it’s all dealt with in a very strategic and procedural way.

Speaker 2 (21:17)
Brilliant. And do you have outbound marketing as well where you’re trying to attract that type of business?

Speaker 1 (21:23)
Oh, absolutely. I think digital social media is where it’s at. And it’s an an incredible platform for promoting your business. So we would manage everything within an inch of its life in terms of social media plans, from stories on Instagram and Facebook to posts from LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, whatever. And we’re very, very, very detailed in that. And then we also work on different ads throughout all the platforms and advertising. So we’re constantly, constantly. The wheels are constantly moving on how we can promote ourselves. And then we also engage with influencers. We up to pre-co Would we have specific ambassadors working on behalf of the company as well. So we would engage with them and then they would engage with their contacts. Networking is huge, being involved with all the chambers in the areas where our restaurants are. I mean, you name it, we do it all.

Speaker 2 (22:15)
And I hope very much this All Night Food and Drink Summit will add to that in terms of the amount of people- Hope so.

Speaker 1 (22:21)
Yeah, that would be great. That would be wonderful. It’s always great to meet new people and it’s always great to have new contacts.

Speaker 2 (22:28)
Superb. Look, We had spoken earlier about COVID and basically how you’ve dealt with the pandemic. So tell us a wee bit about that and how much it’s impacted upon you in the business.

Speaker 1 (22:40)
I think pre-COVID was a very different world. I said to you earlier on, I don’t think our world will ever be the same again. It’s definitely changed for good. I think there’s lots of positives to take from COVID, lots of really strong learnings. I suppose realising how adaptable we are as people, not let alone as business owners, but as people, because everybody’s lives have completely changed. And I’ll never forget March the 15th, as long as I live. And closing down the business is one of the hardest decisions that I’ve ever had to make. But I closed down pretty early, Colm, because I had this feeling. I had two feelings of sensing that customers were very, very nervous. Staff were nervous. We didn’t know what this virus was about. We didn’t know how dangerous it was. And ultimately, we all had a responsibility to make that decision. And that decision was made without knowing or ever thinking that was going to be any support there, support for the business, support for jobs. And it was a worrying time because there’s a lot of people who work for me with families and mortgages and responsibilities. And ultimately, at the end of the day, I am a business owner, but I’m a protector of the people who work for me.

Speaker 1 (23:54)
And as long as anyone works for me, I will mind them. But it was taken out of my hands. And that’s It’s a difficult thing to have to face when you’re a business owner. So that was one aspect of it. Number two, dealing with the fact that you couldn’t pay rent and you have no income coming in. You didn’t know. I closed down completely and I didn’t open for takeaway for a few weeks because, do you know what? I just didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. But then when Leah Varadkar kept saying, takeaways can open, you can do takeaways and deliveries. I mean, I had twelve vans sitting in my catering and event business that were absolutely gathering dust And I had customers contacting us saying, how can I get my quesadillas? And how can I get my wings? And how can I get my salad? And so we were going, okay, well, this is pretty much of a no brainer. So I just set up a drive through in my Santry restaurant, which is an easily accessible and has a huge car park just dedicated to the restaurant alone. So we were able to do that very safely.

Speaker 1 (24:52)
And while I was doing all of that, I started to train all my staff in on new health procedures and dealing with COVID and working in a COVID environment and respecting your colleagues and respecting the customer and protecting yourselves. So we did all that. And then we opened one unit and that did well. And it was like starting the business all over again, to be honest with you. So we started from scratch and started to rebuild. And then we opened up a second one. And then we decided to work with a business that would allow us to our customers to go onto our website and order all the Because what we were doing is we were getting customers to ring in and say, can I order this? Can I order that? And sure, jeezy, max, we were up to high with all of that. So we said, hold on a minute now. This is 2020, not ’20, not ’19, ’20. So we got all the online ordering on our website, which was an absolutely fundamental key change for the business because things changed dramatically overnight. And it allowed us to open our unit slowly but surely, start advertising the business in a very different way and get some vans on the road, get some people people back to work.

Speaker 1 (26:01)
And it was pretty exciting. It was sensational to be able to do that. And we were able to survive through it. And then we worked very hard on preparing the restaurants again to reopen on the 29th of June, which we did. And unfortunately, then again, in September, we were hit again. So it’s very hard. It’s very hard to deal with it a second time around. And revenue is dramatically decreased. And I need to keep my key people around me because Colm, when I reopen, I want the business to work hard, to get back to a normal sense of revenue and turnover and just that spark of the brand again. And I need to keep the people around me. So there’s massive pressure on businesses, and particularly in the hospitality industry right now, it’s very, very difficult. And I feel for everyone who is struggling because it is a worrying time and it’s a very stressful time. And I suppose what I would say to anybody who is going through a tough time is speak to people who know what you’re going through and talk to people, talk to support networks around you. And even if it’s me, if someone wants to message me and say, God, Lorraine, how did you go through that?

Speaker 1 (27:06)
And hopefully I might be able to help them because it’s very difficult. It is very difficult. And it’s a massive fingers crossed that we can get over the other side and reopen our doors again. I miss the buzz of the restaurant. I miss the, Hi, how are you? And how’s everything for you? And the bell on the pass and all those little things that you take for granted, you miss them.

Speaker 2 (27:27)
There’s no doubt. So many things we’ve taken for granted now. You think, oh, even just walk into the shop at one stage, it was a big thing. Oh, you get to go to the shop. It’s unbelievable.

Speaker 1 (27:38)
I was putting on my makeup going to SuperValue because that was my night out. Seriously.

Speaker 2 (27:45)
Look, it actually does never be nice to end up. You said that someone wants to message you. How can we get in touch with anyone who wants to make contact with you, Lorraine?

Speaker 1 (27:56)
Oh, you can get in touch with me through LinkedIn. It’s probably the best way. I check LinkedIn several times a day, so I’m always there. And my email is a bit of a tongue twister, but it’s elhesken@gourmetfoodparlor. Com. So you’re more than welcome to email me or get in touch through LinkedIn. And I’d be delighted to hear from anybody.

Speaker 2 (28:13)
And we’ll put those links on this as well. Could you give our viewers a piece of advice just for starting a business? Forget about COVID, just starting a business. What are your key takeaways? Pardon that pun, if you will. That might help someone, because I reckon you’ve been fairly inspirational here. The someone who wants to start a business. You had a dream and you’ve actually followed it through and have done exceedingly well.

Speaker 1 (28:38)
Tell us what you’re doing. Thanks, Colin. You know what? I’m a very grounded person. I don’t get carried away with myself at all. And I think if I could say that to anybody, that would be one of the things. I was actually on a webinar yesterday, and a gentleman from the military service was giving a talk, and he was talking about how he approaches his team. And he was saying that there’s no room for ego egos when you’re in a business and no room for egos when you’re on a team. And I love that whole concept of just being very, very grounded and very grateful for the opportunities that you’re given every day. But if you’re starting a new business, I suppose one of the things I always say to everybody, I’m like a robot, is to walk in the shoes of the person that you aspire to be. So if you want to own your own restaurant, you want to own your own cafe, I’ve had several people come to me and say, I’ve mentored people who want to do it. And I’ve also given people the opportunity to come and work in my restaurant to see what it actually entails.

Speaker 1 (29:37)
Because sometimes when you have a dream and you’re determined and you believe in that dream, that’s a fundamental given. I mean, that is something that you need to have. But there’s a lot of realities to it that before you start is great to find out, because if you find out those realities and also, I suppose I always say to somebody if they want to come in and have a chat with me or talk to me or be in the restaurant, if I could have somebody not make the initial mistakes that I made, I’d be a very happy gal because I made so many small mistakes and so many big mistakes as well. Now, granted, I learned from them and that was a very, very good thing. But in a way, if I could prevent someone from doing that, it would be great because I think they’ll go and make their own mistakes in other areas as well. So it’s just trying to help people. But I think the walk in the shoes of the person that you aspire to be is a big one. And getting that experience, as much experience, as much mentoring, as much advice, as much research as you possibly, possibly can is essential.

Speaker 1 (30:38)
It’s really essential. And always believe in yourself. And even on the days that you feel, oh my, why did I do this now? What? It’s wrong with me. Just go and go for a walk, go for a run, go to the cinema, surround yourself with good people, talk to your friends, talk to your family, because the next day you’ll feel fine again. You’ll get through it. And there will be tough There’s always tough days no matter what you’re doing, but you’ll always get through it. And that belief in yourself, I always think that belief in what you’re doing, if you’re a genuine and a good person, that will always see you through.

Speaker 2 (31:10)
Brilliant. I have to say, having made millions of mistakes myself, I agree with you wholeheartedly. The thing is that you have to learn from. That’s the important thing. Don’t do it again. You make a mistake once, you don’t make it the second time. Brilliant, Lorraine. Absolutely brilliant. So finally, before we finish, tell me, what is the future for the gourmet food parlour? Lorraine Hesken, tell me all about it.

Speaker 1 (31:34)
I’m just going to get my crystal ball there now.

Speaker 2 (31:36)
I think this is the easier part of this pandemic. I’ll tell you after another.

Speaker 1 (31:42)
Well, that’s for sure. My goal at the moment, if you’d ask me this in January, I’d have given you a totally different answer. But another thing that I worked on throughout the pandemic was I created a sub brand within my brand of a gifting website. So it’s called gourmetgifts. Ie, just to give a little plug there. And I’m really proud of it. So it’s like a bring gourmet home. And we’re working with lots of Irish, amazing Irish producers, and from small to medium size, larger businesses is whatever it is, all Irish products apart from the wines. And we’re going to develop that.

Speaker 2 (32:20)
We haven’t got the climate.

Speaker 1 (32:21)
We haven’t got the climate. I know. If we did, I’d be buying it. Don’t worry. But yeah, so we’re going to expand on that. We’re very excited about the reactions to that since we launched it. So We’ve merged into another area, which is like a food gifting area, which is really exciting. And we have some homewares as well. So that’s another area that I want to work on. And look at with regard to the brand, Gourmet Food Parlour, I’ve spoken about how proud I am of it. And I’m proud of it because of all the people who’ve worked for it during the last 14 years. People who’ve come and gone and people who’ve put their heart and soul into it and people who are still with me 14 years later and people who are on the team. It’s a brand that’s about the people. It’s not It’s not about me. It’s about the team. And I’m very excited to see where that takes us next year. And certainly it might be new restaurants or it might not be, or it could be a focus on a totally different area within the food. But we’re always working on something.

Speaker 1 (33:14)
We’re always working on something exciting. And that’s what makes us such a great team is that there’s no resting on laurels in gourmet food parlour, and everybody is excited to keep going to the next project. So I’m excited to see where 2021 can take us and beyond.

Speaker 2 (33:31)
Absolutely brilliant. And I just like to say to you that I love the fact that you buy Irish and you buy local, and provenance is important. I think that’s really important for any business in Ireland that we look after ourselves and buy from local suppliers. Fair play. Very important.

Speaker 1 (33:49)
And especially now. Especially now. Especially now. It’s very important.

Speaker 2 (33:54)
Super. Well, that was absolutely fascinating. And I thoroughly enjoyed that. And I really wish you all the best. Thanks very much. And we’ll definitely keep in touch, really. Thank you so much.

Speaker 1 (34:04)
Not at all. My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

Speaker 2 (34:07)
You’re welcome. See you soon.

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