Keeping it in the family: Meet four sets of sisters making waves in the food industry

Patricia Cronin

We were very, very close growing up. I’d have been the mouthier one, she was quieter. She was very good at sports, very competitive, the tomboy, and we played basketball. We played Gaelic football with the boys, when we were 12 or 13 they introduced girls football but we were too rough.

Running small businesses can be stressful, but our relationship is very strong and we are both committed to making it work. My three other sisters always said over the years that they envy the closeness we have.

We fight all the time, straight out, yes we do. It might be ten minutes of screaming but by the end of the night we are best friends again. It’s like having personality disorders, we’d make a great reality show. When we go out we like a few drinks and to chill out. Neither of our partners are that into food so we like eating out together as well, most of the time it would be both.

Feminism is a word I’d never have used growing up or even heard often until recently. I’d never have applied it to myself. I come from a family of five girls and the boy was last. Dad’s work on the trucks meant he was away so mum worked the farm and once we went to college, she went out working, and I remember her always saying, ‘all of ye are equal’. There was never ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

Martina is extremely funny and witty, great one- liners, I love her company, and, professionally, she is a very good chef, she has a great palate.

Martina Cronin

Food was always a thing in our family but money would have been tight at home so when we were 13 we started working in the Mills in Ballyvourney, making beds and then I started in the kitchen. From the age of 14, I knew I wanted to be a chef, people said I had a knack for it. From 16 on, I had a vision of my own restaurant and that Patricia would possibly be in business with me.

Trust and honesty is key in business and I believe she has my back and I can trust her. Sisters can fight and you’re trying to maintain your relationship in work and outside of work but twins have a very solid bond and that’s possibly how we are still in business.

Twins Patricia (front-of-house) and Martina Cronin (chef) own and operate The Square Table Restaurant, in Blarney, Co Cork
Twins Patricia (front-of-house) and Martina Cronin (chef) own and operate The Square Table Restaurant, in Blarney, Co Cork

In my industry, I was always treated the same as the men and Mam always treated us equally but there are obviously places where women are treated differently or not very well. I actually had to Google the word, ‘feminism’, because we were brought up to believe we are all equal, but I suppose after looking it up, I am a feminist but I wouldn’t be going on rallies around the country. My mam brought us up to be independent and have a voice but she possibly didn’t have that opportunity when she was growing up.

I trust Patricia and feel she’s there for me all the time. She’s super at her job, hard-working like myself, I think we sing off the same hymn sheet.

Siobhán

Siobhán ní Gharbhaith owns and operates St Tola Goat’s Cheese, in Inagh, Co Clare, while her sister, Sinéad ní Gharbhaith is the proprietor of The Cheese Press deli/cafe, in Ennistymon, Co Clare. Siobhán is five years older than Sinéad.
Siobhán ní Gharbhaith owns and operates St Tola Goat’s Cheese, in Inagh, Co Clare, while her sister, Sinéad ní Gharbhaith is the proprietor of The Cheese Press deli/cafe, in Ennistymon, Co Clare. Siobhán is five years older than Sinéad.

Three of us came together quickfire and then the twins [Sinead and Róisín] after a five-year gap. Mum and Dad were both working full time and also very involved in the community so I took on the mother role for myself and they were scallywags. I was close to them but I made sure they ate, did their homework, said their prayers, went to bed and even chased them with the wooden spoon.

I make cheese, she sells cheese so, I learn from her all the time. She’s dealing with the public seven days a week so she gives me valuable feedback about what’s working and what’s not.

Our parents brought us up to give our opinions and express our feelings and all of us feel that’s why we —and our parents thankfully! — are still so physically and mentally healthy because we keep nothing bottled up. We can be too critical but we are good at getting over arguments because life is too short.

It’s up to women to speak up and for other women to support that, it’s up to us to put ourselves forward in work, politics, relationships, life and we need more women where the power is in this country to make it a better place, not just for women, but for everyone.

What I love most is her energy, her zest for life, it’s exhausting! Oh my god, would she just calm down, draw breath take time to take it in but that’s a lovely way to be too. She’s like a child discovering everything for the first time, which is very attractive.

Sinead

She and Una [another sister] used to be parenting us, she used to be very conscientious, she half-reared us. We recently spent loads of time canvassing for [Sinead’s twin] Roisin [Garvey, Green Party] in the general election and our two sets of the kids adore each other. We like a bit of craic, we’d both happily sing a song at any stage of the day, morning, noon and night.

Men and women aren’t treated equally, not in a million years, we’ve a long way to go. My manager is male but if a salesman comes into the shop they always without exception go to him. They presume the man is the boss, without exception. It’s mad, because every almost every business on the Main St of Ennistymon is female-owned.

Calling yourself a feminist can have negative connotations — if it was to be ‘like’ men, then no, but ‘equal’, yes. We need women respecting women, we can be as much to blame as men, more of a threat to women than men in some ways. Men and women are equal but different.

Siobhán’s just great, she has no ego, does what’s she’s doing for the last 20 years, through the recession, and doesn’t look for the limelight. It’s always about the cheese and she’s very genuine, there’s none of the foodie stuff, no pics of her and her ‘perfect life’.

Rachel

Hannah and Rachel Dare own and operate the award-winning Organico Cafe and Health Food Store, in Bantry, Co Cork. Hannah is three years older than Rachel.
Hannah and Rachel Dare own and operate the award-winning Organico Cafe and Health Food Store, in Bantry, Co Cork. Hannah is three years older than Rachel.

I basically followed her around like the most annoying little sister in the world, maybe not getting on with each other but very close. Growing up I was really such a pain in her side. I was very determined and people found it hard to say no to me. I had a lot to learn about boundaries.

When Hannah and Rachel were still in their 20s, their parents died within three years of each other, both still in their 50s.

It pushed us together more as a family and [their deaths were] so close together, it made us all realise we’re in it now, it’s quite a challenge to figure out roles when parents aren’t around]

"I stepped into a real parental role for my brother and younger sister and with hindsight there are good and bad things about that."

Circumstances really made [the partnership] happen, ‘someone needs to look after [the business] until we can decide what to do with it’ and after a while we saw, yes, there is space here for both of us and we actually like working together.

We’ve got each other’s backs. Sure are times when we clash but we have a real understanding of each other’s lives because we are siblings as well as partners. Mum used to always insist an argument be resolved, not to leave it go over night.

I am absolutely a feminist — feminism fundamentally is about equality of women and men and it gets muddled into women and men are the ‘same’. Equality means I am entitled to the same rights as you but it doesn’t mean we are the same.

Hannah has such a passion for this business and it helps on the days when I find it a struggle, she is really inspiring. She is unbelievably generous and, within our family and our group of friends, that is something that would stand out. It teaches me a lot.

Hannah

We are the closest in age, we used to hang out. We were home schooled together and hung out until I ran away to boarding school. We did work together for a spell in the shop when our dad went off to India before the café was open, so we knew we could work together but I went off and got another job as a rep. But I liked retail, even in college during one particular boring lecture I can remember daydreaming, redesigning the shop. I think working with family can give you an advantage over people, it gives you a very strong sense of security, you’ve got each other’s back. It’s a bit like being in a marriage, I probably see more of her than my husband.

I am absolutely a feminist and hope my daughter is and will be. What really needs to change is the way we structure our working week. We don’t ever employ anyone for a full five days in Organico, as we think everyone, men and women, need time outside of weekends for life, rest and to tidy the house and that person is often a woman which affects their ability to progress in the workplace.

Rachel is great fun, very supportive, very caring, she’s got a huge heart, godmother to my children, my best friend I suppose.

Peaches and Domini Kemp are the owner-operators of Itsabagel food company, in Dublin, employing over 150 people. Domini is also a cookbook author and fronts the Prison Breaks programme on Virgin Media. Peaches is seven years older than Domini.

Peaches

Domini and Peaches Kemp, owners of Itsabagel food company, in Dublin, employ over 150 people.  Picture: Maura Hickey
Domini and Peaches Kemp, owners of Itsabagel food company, in Dublin, employ over 150 people. Picture: Maura Hickey

We fought like cats and dogs until Domini got out of her teenage years and I was trying to be cool and hang out with all my friends and she was in the background cramping my style, it’s the same with all siblings.

We get on very well inside of work and outside, we are both strong personalities, similar on a lot of things but there are some things we diverge and when we tease something out something very creative and good can come out it, The great thing is the giggles — we will get an absolute fit of giggles and that’s were the real relationship the silbing realtinship comes in the best tonic of all Things could have gone either way in 2013. We lost a big contract, then Mum died and then two weeks later Domini was diagnosed with cancer. At the same time we had a responsibility to over 100 employees, it was one of those ‘oh holy shit’ moments and that’s where the strength comes from being sisters with the same ethos, excuse the language, but it was fuck this, this is not going to defeat us.

Women make amazing leaders we are empathetic and understand the nuances of leading and creating business and are very skilled at that — it’s not about going into a room and shouting the loudest. It’s about leading by example and it’s up to women to push for change. I believe in equal opportunity and pay and if that makes me a feminist, fine, but I don’t categorise myself.

Domini’s incredible loyalty and generosity defines her, she is generous and kind and that’s why everyone loves her, that’s why she’s my go-to person. I trust her, she’s… just great!

Domini

We fought like cats and dogs until I hit my twenties. I used to be Peaches’ skivvy all throughout my teens. She had a small catering company and I was cheap labour. But we had a great bond as sisters that spilled into working together.

We are close both inside and outside of work but sometimes we have to be cognisant of our relationship and that it needs attention. Family comes first.

We wouldn’t be family if we didn’t have a good scrap every now and then but we’ve been doing this for 20 years and I couldn’t ask for a better business partner.

In 2013, Peaches had to really carry the can that year whilst also trying to be a huge support to me. That was a very tough year.

I think that women really come into their professional life from 45 on. That’s when we really start motoring. I am not a fan of [gender] quotas, but there is a solid rationale for it. Ideally, I would like to see a huge change in the political system and a better representation of women in power across the globe. Everyone should support feminism.

Peaches knows me so well — she knows me far too well — and is a brilliant “big sister”.

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