Taking a bite out of the recession

LOSING a job is a setback for most people, but for some it is an opportunity for adventure.

Taking a bite out of the recession

Losing her job as a senior architect spurred Cliodna Moynihan to open the Buttercup Café in Shandon in Cork City.

She and her husband, Tom Downes, also an architect, had moved from Dublin and had built their dream home. Then, the recession hit. “I’m not sure I would have changed career if I hadn’t been pushed,” she says. “I always liked baking and I love meeting customers, but we’ll never be rich.”

Tom helps Caitriona when it’s busy, such as during the Shandon street festival last month. “There’s a great sense of community here,” says Cliodna. “I use whatever fresh produce I can get locally for lunches, and I make gluten-free scones, which regulars come for. We buy the best Italian coffee, cos we’ve become coffee snobs! That’s what the recession has done for us.”

Gillen Joyce had an engineering consultancy before the recession. “It was as if a tap was turned off,” he says. “In the middle of 2008, it was quite a shock to realise what was happening, though I had been looking for opportunities for businesses that interested me outside of fire consultancy.” Involved in the refurbishment of buildings, he had often passed the White Star building in Cobh, from which passengers had left for the US. After two fires, it was unoccupied for ten years, but was structurally sound. “The Titanic story was the obvious choice for it,” Gillen says. Funding to refurbish it and install audio-visual technology came from South East Cork Area Development (SECAD) and from BES investors, who recognised Gillen’s talents. The Irish Examiner contributed from its photographic archive, and local historian, Vincent McMahon, volunteered. “In the Celtic Tiger days, no-one did anything for nothing, they were too busy. But we all rolled up our sleeves and kept costs down to make this possible.” The Titanic Experience Cobh has 14 employees, and visitor numbers are increasing.

Erik and Caitriona Johansson moved from Dublin when Erik lost his job in graphic design. Caitriona was working in marketing, but joined Erik in The Green Man Studio, a graphic design company they run from home. “The recession challenges you to be creative,” says Erik. “You have to get running costs to a minimum to deliver services at a competitive price. We advise people on how to promote their businesses effectively, so we are all working towards the same goal of keeping ourselves, and them, in business.” The Johanssons then developed Caitriona’s parents’ house, which had been a nursing home. Now, at Cuskinny Court, the Johannsons run an eco-adventure centre, with summer camps for scouts and guides, team-building days and outdoor activities. They work long hours, but, based at home, they are flexible. “Once you have high-speed internet and a smart phone, anything is possible,” they say.

Nutritional therapist Nuala Kenny opened her business in Ballydehob in September 2007. After two years, the good trade dried up. With two children, she had to be resourceful, and so she started Ballydehob Social Club, where other people who lost their jobs could meet mid-week for coffee and affordable food that she, and two volunteers, cook.

In premises made available from recession-hit businesses, they run language and art workshops, music gigs, poetry readings and film shows.

To earn a living, Nuala grows vegetables, which she sells from the back of her car. With San Ricken, her partner in Coolagh Veg, she supplies The Hub café — part of the social club — and sells the surplus outside the school. “I’d love to set up a shop, but rates are prohibitive. I hope we don’t get back to being greedy, and with no respect for the environment or neighbours. The recession brought at least some people back to important basics. But I still see parents not feeding their children properly, to pay off bank debt.”

For ten years, Grantham Iyer sold handicrafts and gemstones and silver, until the recession. Heightened road works on Drawbridge Street closed off access to his premises around the same time. A native of southern India, a vegetarian and interested in cooking, with his Cork-born wife, Caroline Walsh, he opened Iyer’s at no 38 Pope’s Quay last January. Since then, the 14-seater café is consistently full of customers, who appreciate his sourdough-based, gluten-free breads and additive-free dishes, all cooked from scratch.

He prides himself in grinding spices and making delicious sauces and pastry fresh every day, for his samosas.

“The recession made it clear that retailing was not such a good idea,” says Grantham. “The volume wasn’t there. In this business, it’s not at all about volume, but about small numbers catered for with great care.”

Open 12pm to 5.30pm every day, they open later for parties of more than eight. Grantham has found his passion, and the recession helped him to access it.

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