Friday, February 03, 2017

Joup Cafe owner Richael Connolly with her children Croiadh and Danu Mulvihill and sister Orna Connolly this week. Picture Ger McCarthy

As the sisters behind Joup celebrate a milestone this week, EMMA CONNOLLY chats to Richael Connolly about overcoming challenges, extending the business and juggling family life

LIFE is too short to be stressed — that’s the sound advice from mum-of-three and owner of Joup café Richael Connolly, who with her sister Orna has just extended the business and launched an online food shop.

And if anyone is in the right place to dish it out it’s Richael, who set up the much loved Ballinlough café 10 years ago with Orna.

Their ethos is to embrace Irish food and put a modern, nutritious twist on it — and it’s one that’s being going down a treat with their customers for a decade.

She lives the good life — as well as work her days feature time with her three daughters Alannah (almost seven), Danú (almost five) and Croíadh (19 months), there’s family yoga and even a breathing space in her home.

But she is adamant she doesn’t want this interview to sound ‘preachy’ — as she admits working for herself and balancing motherhood is a constant juggling act — but one that’s fun.

A typical day sounds like this: “I drop the girls to school and my youngest and I go up to the shop to help out. We then go home, she has a nap and I work on my laptop. We collect the girls from school and might go up to Joup for lunch while I do a bit more work up there.

“I love that the girls are growing up in a family business and that they’re experiencing a different way of working.”

Backtracking slightly, their story started in UCC.

“I was studying commerce. On a J1 visa in 2001 In Seattle I was taken by the juice bar concept. When we came back I found there was no equivalent at that time for fast, convenient but healthy food. So the idea was to adapt it to soup for the Irish weather. Joup started off as a juice and soup bar: ‘j’ from juice and oup from soup = Joup.”

What followed was several awards for the business concept, a six month travel stint in India, a spot in the Coal Quay Market; a stall in the English Market and then the shop in Ballinlough where they are today.

“We sold our spot in the English Market when I was pregnant with my first child in 2010. We were really busy but I knew I wanted to take the time to be a mum.

“I had this idea I could sling my baby onto my back and continue on working with her at my side. And for the most part that’s what I’ve done. Orna took over the shop in Ballinlough and I was able to do the accounts and background work from home. We have been really blessed with a hard-working and loyal team.”

But the 10 years in business haven’t been without challenges and there were times both she and her sister felt enough was enough — luckily never at the same time!

“Each day even brings about its high points and low points. The low points usually come in the middle of the night when worries would pop into my mind. It’s a great responsibility to our employees and to our customers. But always as soon as I enter the shop the buzz of chatting with our customers makes it all worthwhile.”

Richael, who grew up in Douglas where she still lives, says the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree when it comes to their entrepreneurial spirit.

“Mum, Peggy, started Irish Breeze soap, so there was always business activity going on in the house that we were all involved in. Before starting her soap business, she had a Montessori school in our house and there were a few other business ideas going on. It was exciting to grow up amongst that as a kid.”

As well as Joup, Orna runs a holistic therapy business, Solas Síoraí therapies (eternal light).

“This stemmed from being in the natural world as a child going to Cape Clear where my ancestry and my mum came from. She is just as passionate about health and good vibrations in food as her sister, going back to our roots with our natural seaweed from our shores in our unique traditional recipes.”

Moving online was an obvious step for two reasons, said Richael: “Listening to customers saying they love our food but can only get to us on the weekend, we thought why not deliver out to their offices? But the main reason is that I can work on my laptop from home and still be with my kids.”

She feels that food can easily become a battle ground with kids.

“When I first became a mum I thought not a grain of sugar would pass my daughter’s lips — I realise now my naivety. So I’ve now changed my tack. I want my kids to love food so I involve them in cooking with me as much as possible. We go to the markets together and talk to the producers.

“I want them to understand where food really comes from. I try and make healthy food available to them but I’m not going to force them to eat. One of my daughters doesn’t eat much, she may go without dinner some nights. But then I notice she might eat loads the next day. I think the most important thing is that they’re in tune with their own bodies that they eat until their full, not until I say they full!”

Richael is a big fan of journaling to help stay on top of things: “I reflect on my day — notice what’s stressing me out and what was good for me, what I achieved and what I’m grateful for. I do this every evening and set out my ‘to do’ list for the next day. This keeps me organised and in control of my time. If I don’t get stuff done I reschedule. I find through this system I’m really productive.”

Her advice to a mum thinking of going into business?

“Believe in what you’re doing and be passionate. Contact your local enterprise office to see what supports are available; keep overheads low because that keeps you flexible. You don’t want to give all to your business and sacrifice family life, it all needs to work together. A content and happy family life I find gives me the energy to put into my business.

“I love the idea of children growing up in a business and being part of that life. But it is a constant balancing act and one that I’m still trying to work out.”

Sounds to us like she has it pretty sussed.

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