Getting back in the game is what it’s all about

THE former owner of O’Brien’s Sandwich Bars, Brody Sweeney, is back in business.

The former millionaire went broke last year after the sandwich bar empire he set up back in 1988, at a time when a decent sandwich was hard to get anywhere, collapsed under his nose. He is quick to point out most of the stores have survived under new ownership.

Talking on the John Murray programme on RTÉ last week Sweeney said after the collapse of the business he was deserted by about 30% of the people he had been doing business with.

“I thought they were friends,” he told Murray.

He was also frank about the impact on his self-esteem, acknowledging it took him time to stop feeling sorry for himself.

His wife took more of a no-nonsense approach to their change in fortunes and that helped him to put the considerable change into perspective.

Given the near celebrity status he enjoyed that was not easy, but he decided the only answer was to find a new outlet to take his mind of his substantial losses.

For the record the O’Brien’s empire had a combined turnover of €140m in 2007 and by the time it vanished from under Sweeney’s feet it had developed into more than 300 stores, in over 13 countries across Europe, Australia and Africa. In an interview in June 2006 with Money Week, a top British business magazine, when the business was being buoyed by the Celtic tiger, he said: “I’ve never looked back.”

He shot to further prominence that year as he stood for Fine Gael in the general election, but did not get elected.

Sweeney has stayed in the food sector for his new endeavour. He is operating a Diep at Home Thai food takeaway in Dublin’s Cork Street, next to the Fatima Mansions flat complex.

Sweeney’s outlet is the third shop in the chain to be opened in Dublin, with the other two in Blackrock and Ranelagh.

In his glory days he always championed the food sector and one of his goals, if he got into government, was to promote the excellence of his food in the key cities across Europe.

His vision was to have trucks serving Brand Ireland stores in key geographic regions that would have a whole variety of the best in Irish food and cheeses delivered to them on a rolling delivery basis to ensure constant supplies of fresh produce in those key outlets.

It was a vision and indeed one the country still needs.

Given that construction will not do much over the next five years at the very least, this economy has to find new ways of generating revenues and taxes, not to mention employment.

It’s been said so many times that food is one of our undeniable strengths that can be exploited further without necessitating heavy research and development outlay for the most part.

The Minister for Agriculture has a plan to boost total output by 30% in the years ahead as a means of underpinning economic growth.

Some believe our over-reliance on foreign investment has stultified our entrepreneurial drive and made us over reliant on inward investment.

It can be argued too that in going down that road we lost sight of what the county and its climate was capable of delivering when it came to food and drink.

New statistics released at the National Ploughing Championships in Athy by An Bord Bia boss Aidan Cotter yesterday showed the capacity of the sector to deliver strong growth.

Cotter outlined the strong recovery in the value of food and drink exports, helped by an improving exchange rate, increased meat export volumes and a stronger export performance in the beverage, dairy and seafood sectors.

During the first five months of 2010, the value of exports was more than 8% higher than a year earlier at almost €3bn.

The rate of recovery has accelerated as the year has progressed with exports in May 23% ahead of the same month in 2009.

Generally, the export prospects for the major product categories for the remainder of 2010 are more positive as better market prices, an improved exchange rate and a more stable economic picture across key markets underpin trade.


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