Day in the Life of Deirdre McCafferty of Cornucopia Restaurant
Deirdre McCafferty set up Cornucopia in 1986 with her husband Neil. It began life as a wholefood shop and small cafe, where Neil was the cook until he passed away in 1993. Deirdre carried on running Cornucopia full time whilst bringing up their two young daughters. She’s now handed over the daily operations and running of the restaurant to daughter Dairine, now 28 years old. Deirdre looks after the financial side of the business and continues to liaise closely with chefs and staff to develop new ideas. Cornucopia celebrated its 30th birthday last year.
When and How Do You Begin Your Working Day?
I’m not fully responsible for the daily operations at Cornucopia any more, so I work a lot from home now and can be quite leisurely in the morning. I like to do a bit of housework, catch up on chores, walk the dog and have a healthy breakfast of porridge and juice. I really like to walk in the mornings. I was recently given a Fitbit which works with bluetooth from an app on your phone. It encourages you to do a healthy routine every day! It tells you how many steps you’ve done and so on! It’s my new thing - I love it! I leave for work before lunch and tend to walk and get buses rather than driving these days. It’s a lot easier. When I arrive I usually talk to the staff - from the service staff and chefs to my management team. I also love to interact with my customers and to say ‘Hi’. That’s very important for any business. I have my lunch at work, something vegetarian/ vegan which could be a new recipe my Head Chef Tony Keogh has created. I often have one of our cold pressed juices with my lunch.
How Did Your Passion For Food Begin?
When I lived in America with Neil we got into catering. He worked in restaurants and we really loved that side of life. I got into the vegetarian and vegan thing when I went to do a Hippocrates programme. I became vegetarian after that, then started to work there, first as a volunteer, then full time as Director of Education. I did a lot of yoga and ate raw vegetarian food. When we eventually came back to Dublin in 1984, Neil and I decided to combine our food ideas, which led to us opening Cornucopia. I don’t like to think of dishes as vegan or vegetarian, but rather as good healthy tasty food made with top quality ingredients. At Cornucopia we have always worked hard to be better than ‘ordinary food’, if that makes sense.
What Gives You The Most Satisfaction From Your Job?
Feeding our customers really delicious food that is also healthy - I get a great charge out of that. I am happy to give people really tasty food which is also good for them and see them enjoying it. Cornucopia is and was always about taste, flavour and health and we have some really great chefs working here. We have unique dishes, our own non-dairy cheese and ‘faux’ meats like our jackfruit sausages and our own vegetarian seitan 'steaks'. Mostly we use lots of beans, nuts and seeds and most of our dishes are 90% vegan. That doesn’t mean we don’t serve Cappuccinos or desserts - of course we do. In fact we are big into our desserts! We concentrate on making good desserts because people love to have something they wouldn’t make themselves at home. Gluten free is huge at Cornucopia. Our gluten free desserts go down well with everyone, because gluten free food is often less taxing on the body to digest.
I love spending time developing the business, so they have now taken the cheque books away from me!! I can often be working on business development ideas till 7pm or 8pm at night, now I don't have the children to consider. They were only 4 and 5 when Neil died, so I employed managers and worked part time at Cornucopia. I had to wait till they grew up to expand the business - which we did 8 years ago by buying the lease of the building beside us. That took us from 48 seats to 140 seats! We grew the business gradually, moving into the ground floor first, then the basement, the first floor and second floor. We did a lot in the last year, with a new service area and new customer facilities and an office on the second floor.
Which Part Of Your Job Do You Like The Least?
In the past, the financial responsibility! Restaurants can be a low margin business so when expanding it can be hard to control the financial side. Business finance wasn’t ever my thing but that’s the area that keeps you going! Since I have stepped back from the operations side of the restaurant I can now concentrate on this and I have new systems in place and a wonderful financial manager who helps me and has taught me so much. Definitely at a certain level it’s a numbers game, but I have learned to enjoy it now I have my systems in place and have conquered spreadsheets!
What Advice Would You Give Someone Looking to get involved in the food industry ?
Run a million miles away! No I am only joking! But I would say, only do this if you have resources you are willing to put into it and I don’t just mean financial. You need a unique combination of circumstances to make a food business work. You need to be dedicated, offer a unique product and know what you can offer your customers. I was never going to be the chef after Neil died so I employed chefs. I think you have to recognise what your limits are if you want the business to succeed. You also need to think about location and be free to work ON the business rather than IN the business. Last year, we won a Highly Commended award from the Small Firms Association for Achievement, Innovation and Excellence in Small Business in the Food and Drink category. It was great to get it in our 30th year in business!
If you weren't a food producer, what else would you like to be?
I am an accidental restauranteur! I think if I wasn’t doing this I would have enjoyed being maybe a Human Rights lawyer, or perhaps a writer, as I love literature. I’ve also done a Degree in Sociology, and a masters in History and I could have seen myself as a Therapist as well.
Are You A Technophile or Technophobe?
I love technology - it has changed my world, from my iPhone 6 to my Fitbit! When it comes to social media, I have lots of lovely young staff to teach me, they are great at that side of things!
What are the daily challenges of your job?
I don’t have as many of the operational challenges now Dairine has become Operations Manager. My main concern is about the business expansion and keeping that going. If ever there is interpersonal conflict that can be difficult one. I don’t like my staff or customers to be unhappy, that would bother me. I like my team to be happy at work. We are a community here in Cornucopia and we work together.
How Do You Manage the Work/Life Balance?
I am getting to grips with it more and more. I take weekends off and I am able to have longer holidays now. I took 2/3 weeks off to do yoga in Tenerife earlier this year – the first time I had ever taken that long off work! I also went to India last September. I have been on a fairly short leash in past years, so I am starting to lift my head above the parapet a bit more now.
How Do You Relax When You Get Time Off?
I relax by reading, doing yoga and walking. I have done half the Camino de Santiago Way and every year I do a 100k with a different friend. We train together beforehand and we get much fitter! The Camino is such a wonderful walk to do, not just from the Fitness side, but the spiritual side and the scenery. It's stunning. I have a great yoga teacher Michael Ryan, so I try to do yoga as often as possible. I‘ve also just made the decision to join a gym. I used to be a fitness instructor years ago, soI have an interest in keeping fit anyway.
What Is Your Guilty Pleasure?
Dark chocolate and coffee! But I’ve now restricted myself to one coffee a day! I also love chips and crisps as well. A bag of crisps with a nice craft beer in a lovely pub. You can’t be a purist all the time! I also love playing with my iPhone, which I probably do too often. I find myself up late at night looking at silly videos when I should be going to sleep! I also love shopping for clothes, especially in Brown Thomas!
What’s Your Favourite Good Food Ireland Place To Visit?
In the Good Food Ireland network I love Pickle, after my recent trip to India! I love Indian food and hope to have more of that on the menu in Cornucopia. I also like Chapter One. My other favourite isn’t a Good Food Ireland member but it’s a new vegan restaurant in Dublin called Sova Vegan Butcher. It’s all faux meats. I really like it.