A Day in the Life of Isabelle Sheridan of On The Pig's Back, Cork
Isabelle Sheridan launched On the Pig’s Back in the English Market in 1992. She missed the foods of her native homeland of France so much that she decided to make them herself and sell them from this iconic stall. Pates, terrines and tarts created with Irish produce becamse Isabelle’s flagship products. Alongside these, she sold a mix of French cheeses, soon joined and overtaken by Irish farmhouse cheeses. Today the stall has grown to become one of the most visited in the market. Queen Elizabeth II made it a port of call on her state visit to Ireland in recent years. Earlier this year, Isabelle was awarded the medal of the Chevalier de l’ordre National du Merite, one of the highest awards a French person can receive. This was presented in recognition of Isabelle’s ceaseless championing of Irish and French foods. On the Pig’s Back in the market has now been joined by On the Pig’s Back Deli and Café in Douglas, just outside Cork city.
When and how do you begin your working day?
I start a bit later than most, arriving to work about 9.30am. I say hi to my staff then go to my desk in Douglas to have some breakfast of oats, fruit, coffee and yogurt and a brioche from Declan Ryan at Ryan’s Arbutus Breads. After that I am good for anything! My day is always full. The business is now a wholesaler, a retailer, shop, café and producer, so it’s pretty busy!
How did your passion for the hospitality industry begin?
My passion began in France with my family. Then with sharing the food I like with people who you can see are enjoying it. It’s great to see people enjoying the food you’ve made or introduced to them. Like getting customers to discover Irish farmhouse cheeses, for example. That’s the challenge and satisfaction of this job. I like to put a story behind the product and put people in contact with each other in a real way, through food.
What gives you the most satisfaction from your job?
You get little satisfactions every day. Like last week, when we tried a new pate and it was absolutely gorgeous. This year we won 2 stars for our Pork Rillettes in the Great Taste Awards, which was fantastic. We are so proud. For me, this job is all about creating lovely things and making people happy.
Which part of your job do you like the least?
The worst part of any employer’s life is always trying to make ends meet every month financially. It just seems like it is never sorted! But it’s also a positive thing, to have to find new solutions for new problems! This is a very challenging job and sometimes I just wish I didn’t have to worry about it all the time. It does feel like it’s getting a little easier, but the worry is never-ending. When you have staff you don’t want to let them down.
What advice would you give someone looking to get involved in the industry?
You have to be resilient and passionate, keep your enthusiasm and passion and stick at it. That’s very important. It’s easy to get worried about little issues but keep going because in my experience, every problem is going to find a solution eventually.
If you weren't a doing your current job, what else would you like to be?
My first love was music. I’m a classically trained pianist. So I think I would have been involved with music if I hadn’t left France. I would have probably moved to somewhere like Aix-en-Provence or Avignon where they have a lot of music festivals. I am part of the Fleischmann Choir at CIT Cork School of Music and we are going to Italy soon to perform in Milan at a concert. I love traditional music as well, so we include it here on our events programme. We have Karen Underwood performing in Douglas on Friday 13th October. The evening includes dinner at 6pm then the performance at 8pm.
Are you a technophile or technophobe?
I use it. I am a qualified electronic engineer so I try to be analytical about technology. I came here originally to work as an electronic engineer in a pharmaceutical company. So I suppose I have a technical approach to technology, but really I am a behind old person when it comes to Facebook and Twitter! I am trying to be efficient with it. I have a marketing student working with me and that helps. We use social media for promoting our news and events and we’ve recently improved our website. I embrace technology professionally but try not to use it at home.
What are the daily challenges of your job?
Well we have so much going on here and there’s always a lot of detail so that’s challenging in itself. My biggest challenge as the business owner is to put a team together to do the work. Personally, I find it very hard to be organised so I make a list every day. I could be working till 10 or 11pm at at night and I still haven’t got through the list! My problem is I am a spontaneous person easily distracted by doing something other than what I should be doing, and that doesn’t go with managing a company!
How do you manage the work/life balance?
I have a wonderful husband who cooks for me every night. I am so lucky. Joe is my pillar in life, I couldn’t do it without him. I am the one who organises our holidays. We went to Italy recently with my parents who turned 80 so that was lovely. We have lovely times together as a family.
How do you relax when you get time off?
I listen to music and sometimes play the piano. I like to go to concerts or go to a pub to listen to a trad session. There’s lots of places in Cork city that have trad sessions. I just find listening to trad music so energising. I also like to go walking.
What Is Your Guilty Pleasure?
Cheese. Nice restaurants. Great food. We don’t eat out that often so it’s always a treat.
What’s Your Favourite Good Food Ireland Place To Visit?
Well I must say my favourite place to go is still Farmgate Café in the English Market. I love it. I am never disappointed when I go there. There’s lots of nice places in Dublin too, but we don’t get there that often.