Friday, January 4, 2013

So that was 2012. Bring on 2013.

The past few weeks have been a reflective time for me. After the whirligig year that was 2012, I have closed Béile le Chéile until mid March and finally have time to look back on all that has happened since I fell off the edge of the world  opened the café.

My café is in Dick Mack's Yard, behind the pub, upstairs from the pottery shop and beside Dingle's oldest art gallery!

My first nine months as a café owner have been a huge learning curve. I've learned that:

1: Running a café is one of the most exhausting things you can do, especially at the beginning. For the first six weeks or so, I would get up at five or six in the morning and go to the café to bake. I'd rush around from then until five in the evening when the café closed. AND THEN there would be clean up, accounts to do and food to order for the following day. I'd get home at 7pm or so - dead on my feet and unable to speak - and go to bed shortly after dinner, only to wake up in the middle of the night worrying about all there was to do the next day.

(Looking back on it now, I think I was in a state of shock at just what I'd got myself into. I'd spend all day rushing about on auto-pilot and once I got to my car in the evening, I'd burst into tears at the relief of having survived another day without disaster. It felt as though I was lurching from day to day, desperately hoping to avoid catastrophe.
The tears would also threaten to come if ever anyone asked how I was or how the business was going in those early days. "Fine," I'd respond in a tight voice as my inner self would scream "don't cry. For god's sake, don't cry!". 
Thankfully, the crying phase ended after a few weeks, hopefully never to return!)

Thankfully too, there were no disasters, though there were close calls. Burst water pipes, falling chimneys, disappearing waitresses - all of these and more were setbacks that were overcome.

Lesson number two: people are kind. I got so much help when I first opened the café. People left comments here. Others contacted me on Twitter. Fellow café owners and restaurateurs in Dingle gave me advice. 
My family and friends were phenomenal. My brothers both loaned me money to set up the café and my plumber brother rushed to the rescue more than once. My artistic sister designed my sign, helped me find tablecloths, picked up my cash register, made an emergency delivery of coffee and stepped in on the morning the café opened just as I was about to have a meltdown.
My other three sisters helped out too. One was a full-time waitress over the summer months and the other two helped when I needed them. There was one particularly busy day when two of them came in for lunch and ended up being drafted in to do the washing up for hours.

Thanks to Gearóid, my sister Úna's boyfriend who came up with the café's name. It may have been controversial but I love it.
My lovely boyfriend was always there to help too. He was right by my side getting the place ready to open and always on call if every anything went wrong. I literally could not have done it without him.

The calm after the storm

Lesson number three: most customers are lovely. It's great to see people becoming regulars and appreciating the food you have cooked.

Lesson number four: I can work in a café kitchen. When I first planned to open a café, it wasn't my intention to be in the kitchen. I would bake but others would do the cooking. Because I could only find one cook for my kitchen, I took up the rest of the slack. And do you know what? I'm pretty good at it!

The patio outside the café
Lesson number five: I'm not good at bookkeeping. There is so much of it to do and so little time in which to do it. At one stage during the summer, I had to wade through paper in order to reach the computer in my home office - I'm not (AND I REPEAT, NOT) letting it get to that stage this year.

Lesson number six: I still love everything to do with food and cooking. I always enjoyed preparing the food and seeing and hearing people's reactions to it. Hearing the sigh of satisfaction when they had their first sip of coffee (we use Pónaire Coffee which is roasted in Limerick ). Watching them as they tasted our chocolate chip cookies or our blueberry scones.  Encouraging regulars to try things like this spicy shakshouka or a summery pea and mint soup.

I'm grateful for all the help I got in 2012, from my honest and hardworking staff, from my ever-understanding environmental health officer, from my family and friends and from all my customers.

2012 wasn't an easy year but it was a worthwhile one and I'm really looking forward to 2013. I want to make Béile le Chéile even better by showcasing more great Irish food products; creating an even more welcoming and relaxing atmosphere and maybe branching out into holding some events. (I'm thinking bookclubs, supper clubs, talks... What say you?) 

Also, I've made a decision that even if I do get ridiculously busy with the café again (which I inevitably will do), I'm going to keep this blog going in 2013. Come what may, no matter what cakes need to be baked or customers need to be served, there will be a weekly post here on Foodie Fancies - that's one of my not-to-be-broken New Year's Resolutions.

The next two months will be taken up with sourcing new suppliers, coming up with new ideas for the menu and maybe planning some events. I can't wait! If you've got any ideas, I'd love to hear them. And if ever you are in Dingle, I'd love to welcome you to Béile le Chéile. We'll be open from mid March...

Oh! And before I forget, did I tell you we won a Bridgestone Award? It may have been a whirligig year but we must have been doing something right! 


  1. Sharon,
    I'm delighted to hear that everything is going so well with the café. So looking forward to visiting when I make it to Dingle this year (my New Year's Resolution - it has been too long!). Kudos to you on turning your dream into an awesome reality.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Arlene. It's certainly been a roller coaster year! And when you do come to Dingle, be sure to pay us a visit. It would be lovely to meet in person :)

  3. Love reading your writings as usual Sharon- it just flows along the page/screen. Congrats on bridgestone. See you on my next trip go dti An Daingean

  4. Aw! Thanks, Karen.
    Looking forward to seeing you then :)

  5. I'm so glad we got to visit, even though I'm pretty sure we were there during the tears phase. :) It was lovely to see your vision coming together, and I can't wait to come back. Also excited to hear more of your thoughts as you go along! Happy New Year!

  6. I KNOW you were there during the tears phase, Sharon! And I'm looking forward to welcoming you back in more relaxing times :)
    Happy New Year to you both

  7. Beautiful story Sharon. I believe that passion + hard work + persistence = success. And you are a good example of this. Best of luck:)Angela

  8. Aw, Angela! Thanks. And I hope you're right!