'The world’s going a bit mad, we might as well give it a go'

Nicole Glennon chats to four entrepreneurs about what it’s like starting a business during the Covid-19 pandemic 
'The world’s going a bit mad, we might as well give it a go'

Colin Braham at GoBike at the Mahon Point Shopping Centre. Picture: Dan Linehan

Despite living through a deadly pandemic that is only just hitting its peak in Ireland, a new survey shows there are high levels of optimism amongst those who have recently started enterprises in Ireland.

The survey, conducted by online accountancy firm Accountant Online last month, revealed more than four out of five new businesses owners feel optimistic about the year ahead despite the ongoing challenges of Covid-19.

Over 50% of respondents had already been planning or had set up their business before Covid-19 hit, while another 20% were inspired to change direction as a result of Covid.

One in ten said their new businesses came about as a result of losing their jobs due to Covid-19.

Indeed, this was the case for Colin Braham who opened Go Bike at Mahon Point Shopping Centre last month.

Mr Braham said he had thought about starting his own business for a number of years, but the visible increase in the numbers out cycling during the pandemic “reignited” his dream of opening a bike repair shop and it was an “opportune time” for him because, after 30 years as an aircraft engineer, he lost his job at the start of the pandemic.

“If I hadn't lost my job I would have never had this opportunity, so I look at the positive side of it.” 

Mr Braham described starting the business in December as “nerve-wracking.” 

There's times where I have a chat with myself and say, 'Are you for real?' 

“But I've always been the kind of person that needs to be doing something, even though there's a lot of negativity, I saw an opportunity.”

While Braham acknowledges there are "tough times ahead", he said he feels encouraged: "I've managed to get the place open, I've managed to spark some interest and I’ve got a few customers."

Jono Crute of Crew Brewing Company on Thomas Street is one entrepreneur whose plans were halted due to the pandemic.

This time last year, Crute and his partners Gareth Cash and Joel Anderson had just placed an order for brewing equipment from a manufacturer in China, due to arrive in March.

Frustratingly, the order was delayed as factories had started to shut in China as a result of a mysterious virus.

“That was the first sign of it,” Mr Crute said.

“Naively we thought, I hope that doesn't affect China too much, because we need this equipment. We probably should have realised it was going to affect everybody.” 

 Gareth Cash, Jono Crute and Joel Anderson pictured at Crew Brewing Gareth CashLimerick Company on Thomas Street, Limerick. Picture: Brian Arthur
Gareth Cash, Jono Crute and Joel Anderson pictured at Crew Brewing Gareth CashLimerick Company on Thomas Street, Limerick. Picture: Brian Arthur

Originally set to open in April, the bar and microbrewery instead opened its doors for the first time in Limerick’s Old Fire Station in September. For 11 days.

"As a brewer, the worst thing in the world is watching beer be poured down the drain," Crute said, adding that the trio opted to do takeout for a short time to use up their beer.

But takeaway isn't viable on its own he said and all they can hope for now is to be able to open their doors once more.

“We want to be brewing and get everybody back to work.”

Down the road at Melody on Foxes Bow, Cian Frawley and his business partner Andrew O'Donoghue have been paying rents and rates since January but their opening was also delayed to September.

“Initially, it was a case of us coming so far and not being able to turn back," Mr Frawley said.

"But as soon as we opened and saw the support for the place... so many people wanted to see it work."

The central idea of Melody, a nice venue selling tapas, wine and second-hand records, is carefree socialising, something Frawley acknowledges has been difficult to achieve in the current climate.

“We wanted to offer a place to go with your grandmother or your mam,” he said, adding that they are keen for the venue to be the scene of many a party in a, hopefully, Covid-free future.

Daniel Garrett and his wife Sunmi Kim also have post-pandemic plans for their new venture on Douglas Street in Cork.

Cafe Moly opened in December, after the second lockdown was lifted, and has already become a popular spot with remote workers who drop in for their takeaway coffee and even coffee beans.

“A lot of people are buying beans and equipment, they got coffee equipment for Christmas and are popping in to ask how it works.” 

Mr Garrett is more than happy to help Corkonians with their coffee as his ultimate wish is for the place to become a “coffee learning hub.” 

"I was a teacher in South Korea and teaching has always been my passion. I'd like to teach aspiring baristas, even people who just want to learn how to brew a bit better at home and run classes in the cafe."

"We've already got people saying I got this as a present but don't quite know how to use it, will you give me a hand? Hopefully, once everybody is vaccinated, we're able to get the masks off and get a few more people in the cafe together.” 

The Douglas man said he has experienced “the drive to support local.” 

“You know what Cork people are like. They're always happy to support Cork and surprisingly, although not surprising if you live in Cork, a lot of our biggest supporters have been the other bigger cafes in Cork.” 

Garrett acknowledges that some people might think he’s a “lunatic” for opening a business in the current climate: “We did think a lot about it, but there was a feeling that the world’s going a bit mad, we might as well give it a go.”

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