Dominic and Alison Leonard have this year opened a farm shop and tearooms in Laois.
This is a natural extension from their 250 acre mixed organic farm, which gives them their own meats to turn into value added products.
“It was never just the shop.” Dominic tells me.
“It was also incorporating the whole farm: we were a demonstration farm for a long time, we’ve held lots of other walks, so it was using the farm to the best of its ability really.
“To make the place a day out for people. So it’s also about diversification. We’re lucky, as the location is scenic, beside the river Nore, with lots of old trees and woodlands.”
While both work in the shop, which opens Friday to Sunday, Alison does the Lion’s share of this part of their overall enterprise. Here she answers questions about the new venture.
When does your farm cafe working day begin?
It depends, but usually I’d be up at the shop at 7.30. That’s when I start baking the day’s fresh cakes, scones and bread, as well as making the soup.
We open at 10 AM, except on Sundays, when we open at 11. Dominic may help at 10 if he’s available, but it really depends on what he’s doing on the farm.
Last Friday he was up at 6 making burgers and sausages from our own meat, before he started on the farm work. So partly it depends on what’s on the menu, as to who starts and what they do.
There is the shop and tearooms’ requirements, but there is also the farm’s requirements. That said, I’m here all the time when we’re open, he comes and goes.
So what happens every day from 10am?
We do a mid-morning tea, lunch and an afternoon tea at the moment. From 10, we have regulars who go for walks in the woods, and drop in for a cuppa afterwards.
We bake our own cookies, cakes and scones here. It’s similar for afternoon tea. Then at lunch it depends, it might be carrot and courgette soup with bread we bake. Friday tends to be our busiest day for lunch.
People are also always dropping in for our fresh meat from the shop, and the other local and organic products we sell. The shop also sells a local ice cream and honey, Kate Urwin’s local organic flaxseed, Kitty Colchester’s organic second nature oils.
Is it all your own produce from the farm?
The meats are all our own and are organic. We have the whole meat preparation area certified organic.
The kitchen isn’t in the organic system, and we use a mixture of our own produce, local produce and organic produce. By not certifying the kitchen, I can buy local or Irish rather than imported organic.
Did yourself or Dominic get any training to prepare for this?
I did a short course with Bláthnaid Bergin - Darina Allen’s sister - in the School of Restaurant and Kitchen Management, nearby in Abbeyleix. Dominic did a butchery course, while LEADER also helped with funding.
Has anything unexpected come up in running a shop?
I suppose I’ve found that regular customers came quite quickly. You get to know them and what they like – that was a suprise. You get so caught up in building, the regulations and so on, it’s actually been nice to develop a relationship with people who come in.
People can also ask about the farm, about organics, as it’s a family business. They know I’m here and I’ve made the cakes! People also ask for recipes, so that’s been good.
Here, we may add a Sunday Brunch soon, using our own sausages and bacon.
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