The business of love: Couples share what it's like to run a company together

The business of love: Couples share what it's like to run a company together
Maire O’Mahony and Victor Murphy at their bar in Watergrasshill, Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan

When couples own a business together, what’s life really like? Three couples who’ll be working together this Valentine’s Day talk to Ciara McDonnell.

The business of love: Couples share what it's like to run a company together

O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill

Máire O’Mahony and Victor Murphy re-opened O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill in 2016. 

Since then, it has blossomed into one of North Cork’s most popular food destinations and more recently, wedding venue. 

They live beside the pub with their three children (11, 8 and 3).

“We were only young pups when we met for the first time, back in 1997,” laughs Máire. “We were working in a bar together, and Victor was actually my boss. 

“It was years later when we hooked up; I had gone back to college and Victor was managing Scoozis in the city. Young love blossomed and here we are, 17 years later with three kids!”

Just over two years ago, spiralling rent and the death of Máire’s father pushed the couple out of the city and back to her home place of Watergrasshill. 

“I grew up here, in the pub,” she explains. “We were trying to figure out what to do, and the house behind the bar was vacant and we said we’d take some time out and come here.” 

It was her brother who suggested that Máire and Victor take on the family bar, and make it their own, and the decision to take it on was immediate. 

“I had a lifetime of hospitality experience and even though I had studied art in college, it wasn’t very compatible with being a mother of three, says O’Mahony. 

Victor and myself went in and asked ourselves how would we like to do a country bar. At the time it was an aul fella’s pub and we felt that was from another time.

Having worked together before, the couple dived straight in, as they put it, eyes wide shut. 

They knew that they wanted food to be their calling card, and in the early stages, it was Máire who was turning out the food while Victor looked after front of house. 

“Looking back now, I think it has turned out to be a bit of a success – we have a great chef in David Devereaux and Victor and I haven’t gotten divorced!”

The couple have more recently turned their hand to weddings, renovating a barn space behind the pub and the result is quirky, intimate and perfect for couples that are looking for something a little bit different for their special day. 

Though Máire and Victor have yet to tie the knot, they say that the venue reflects the kind of day out they would like to enjoy themselves. 

“One day we will have a party that will be called a wedding,” says Máire, “and we try to offer our couples the same level of warmth and hospitality that we would love to have ourselves.” 

Running a pub together while raising a family is not easy, but it has made this couple grow closer, thanks to Máire and Victor’s common goal.

“The biggest thing that has come out of doing this for us is how much we both really care about food and hospitality. 

"We are both good at being nice to people and welcoming them and sharing in their happy times, and their sad times too. 

"We care about being looked after when we go out and we hope that people feel like that when they come to us.”

www.omahonysofwatergrasshill.com/

Anthesis Floral

Juliana Bermingham and her husband James run Anthesis Floral in Galway. 

Specialising in floral designs for weddings, the couple grow most of the flowers they work with on James’ family farm.

When James and Juliana met while studying Sustainable Horticulture in Kinsale, they connected immediately. 

James and Juliana Bermingham from Antithesis Flowers, at their farm in Loughrea, Co. Galway. Picture: Hany Marzouk
James and Juliana Bermingham from Antithesis Flowers, at their farm in Loughrea, Co. Galway. Picture: Hany Marzouk

Hailing from completely different backgrounds – she from Buffalo, New York and he from Loughrea, County Galway, the couple found common ground in the love of growing plants. 

“We started learning more about florists who were utilising locally grown flowers and that really captured my imagination,” explains Juliana.

After a number of years spent travelling, the couple returned to James’ family farm to set up Anthesis Floral. 

“My Dad had an accident when I was a teenager, and broke his back, and that resulted in a lot of the land being rented out,” says James. 

“I think that taking back a bit of ground and putting our mark on the land has reconnected us to the farm.”

The couple set to work; planting a flower field and filling polytunnels with the best that Ireland’s hedgerows have to offer. 

Today, most of their work is in weddings, and according to Juliana, that’s just how they like it. 

A lot of the flowers that we grow don’t ship very well, so they are quite hard to find, so people really get a very different look than what they get from the wholesalers or flowers that have been brought in. We love working with couples and helping them with their big day.

“Not by design, our work life just works,” muses James. “I would be inclined to do the plumbing and carpentry and tilling and Juliana is doing office communications and then she’s the artist when it comes to the flowers. 

"We happen to be good and bad at different things.” Juliana agrees wholeheartedly with her husband.

“We just have really complementary personalities. When it comes to organising the planting beds, James wants to know that he can get the tractor down there, while I want to know that it looks very beautiful. 

"It’s a good combination. I source the flowers and James keeps them alive once we’ve planted them.” When it comes to creating a piece for a bride, Juliana says that a special kind of alchemy occurs in the field where they grow the flowers. 

“When I am going to make a bride’s bouquet, and I pick each flower that stands out to me and the arrangement kind of comes together in the field. I love that ritual; it’s a really lovely way to start the process. 

"Sometimes people ask me ‘what exactly is in my bouquet - I can’t really give them an exact list, because the perfect flower might open tomorrow that we may not have seen today.”

www.anthesisfloral.com/

The Proper Chocolate Company

Husband and wife team Patrick and Kelli Marjolet founded The Proper Chocolate Company producing bean-to-bar chocolate in micro-batches in Dublin.

“We met at the very beginning of the Internet being used as a tool to make friends,” says Patrick Marjolet. 

Matched by a mutual friend in Quebec, Kelli, originally from Chicago and Patrick, hailing from Brittany, struck up an unlikely romance via rudimentary internet chat programmes. 

Kelli and Patrick Marjolet, founders of the Proper Chocolate Company. Picture: Moya Nolan
Kelli and Patrick Marjolet, founders of the Proper Chocolate Company. Picture: Moya Nolan

“There were no pictures, no icons – it was just text at that time, so different from today,” explains Kelli.

After meeting in person the couple set off on an adventure that would take them to Paris, Los Angeles, Wisconsin and eventually Dublin. 

“We lived in Dublin for four years between 2006 and 2010 and then the economy crashed” says Kelli. “We decided to move to San Francisco, which was the only place we could mutually agree on.”

It was in San Francisco that a bag of cocoa beans gifted to Kelli on her birthday changed the couple’s trajectory in life. 

“Unbeknownst to me, every time Patrick walked by the bag in the kitchen, the beans were calling out his name, saying ‘do something with me!’” laughs Kelli.

I came back from a weekend to the results of his first experimentation with chocolate. It was an interesting first go and enough to peak Patrick’s interest and to realise that there was something there.

"It got to the point where he would come in from his day job and go straight into the kitchen and start making chocolate.” 

A visit to Dublin for New Year resulted in the couple moving back for good, and setting up The Proper Chocolate Company. 

The process has been a massive learning curve, says Patrick. 

“Initially, we had to learn a lot - everything from food safety to talking and negotiating with clients, the supply chain and packaging. 

"The learning experience I had from making chocolate was helpful but it was still just the tip of the iceberg when you launch your company.” 

The balance, according to Kelli, is found in each other’s skills.


“Working together is a funny balance and I think most importantly we need to remember each other’s strengths and opportunities. We have a natural division because Patrick comes from a science background and is very organised. 

"I have worked on the creative side of marketing for most of my career, and that really reflects in my skill set.”

Kelli says that she has come to know so much more about her husband during this process. 

“To watch his creative process expressed in chocolate has given me extreme pleasure. 

"We have been married for sixteen years this year and it’s so cool to still learn new things about each other.”

www.properchocolatecompany.com

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