A Day in the Life of Patricia Farrell of Wilde Irish Chocolates
Fri, 14th Oct 16
Patricia Farrell and her husband Con gave up city life to relocate to the wilds of Co. Clare and start their own food production business in 1997. Wilde Irish Chocolates was born of Patricia’s love for good chocolate, and as she says, the pair have been ‘up to their eyes in it’ since they started! Patricia and Con own the Wilde Irish Chocolate Factory and Shop in Tuamgraney, and The Chocolate Shop in Doolin, Co. Clare. In the latest in our Day in the Life series, Patricia tells us what life is really like on a daily basis for a chocolate maker!
When and How Do You Begin Your Working Day?
I get up at 7am, then get the kids up and we have breakfast and they get ready for school. After they’ve gone, I go for an hour long walk with my dog. While I’m walking I listen to my podcasts, which are instructional talks on using social media. I find it very helpful to listen to them during my walk because I am trying to learn more about using social media for the business, but it’s hard to find time to do that during the day. I usually go into our chocolate factory in Tuamgraney then. When I say chocolate factory it makes it sound like a big huge building, but it’s tiny and also incorporates a shop. You can see the chocolates being made up close. We are expanding into the unit next door in 2017 and we are so excited!
When I arrive in, I get together with the girls and we discuss any production issues or things we need to do for the day. It’s all about the planning really. I have coffee at 10.30am. I am a big fan of coffee and we have gone through loads of machines here. We’re still looking for the ultimate coffee machine! We always have some chocolate to taste with our coffee. It could be a new product we are testing or an old favourite we like.
How Did Your Passion For Chocolate Making Begin?
Well it started with a passion for eating chocolate! I suppose I probably thought originally that I would have a chocolate shop. I was working in tourism, so that started me thinking that perhaps as well as eating chocolate, I could make it and sell it. It’s weird, it’s like three or four things click together and you just suddenly think yes, I could do that. It was twenty years ago, well before the Celtic Tiger. We had to start from scratch in our kitchen, learning how to temper chocolate from a book. There was no internet to consult.
There we were in rural North Clare, having to get books on chocolate making, which was not easy! I remember standing in the kitchen one day saying ‘we need a cooler’. Our home fridge was useless because it won’t cool chocolate properly, so we had to work out ways of doing everything without any advice or guidance. I don’t know how we survived the first year, there were no farmer’s markets to sell your products in those days. We live in a tourism area so we knew a few distributors and we persuaded them to bring our chocolates to the tourist shops they were supplying. It went from there. We have our own dedicated shop now, The Doolin Chocolate Shop in Doolin village on the Wild Atlantic Way, where we sell the full range of our chocolates.
What Gives You The Most Satisfaction From Your Job?
Achieving the things I set out to do each day. I usually have about 40 or 50 items on my to do list. But I have to trim that to five or six things I really must do. I’ve just started using a ‘paperclip’ system, where I code the important paperwork with a coloured paperclip. The most essential gets a red one! Red paper clipped items are the things I know I really have to attend to that day. It works a lot of the time, but not always, so it’s very satisfying when it does!
You have to be multi-tasking in this job as well. I often have to think ‘What hat am I wearing today?’ I have about fifty hats! I could be doing anything from cleaning to designing new products and packaging. Right now we are working on Christmas products, so that’s very exciting, dreaming up new ideas and packaging for the festive season.
Which Part Of Your Job Do You Like The Least?
All the paperwork and the multiple regulations you have to satisfy. I’ve come to realise that the modern paperless office people talk about is just a myth, it’s simply not true! We have tons of paperwork and you just have to do it.
What Advice Would You Give Someone Looking to Become a Chocolate Maker?
I think when you get started, you just have to be able to survive your own mistakes. You hope that you wont make any big mistakes early on, because they can be very damaging to the point where they can actually break a business before it even gets going. There are always things that will go wrong when you start off. We made a few mistakes we learned from, which turned out to be helpful. So it’s good to use those experiences as a learning curve.
If You Weren’t A Chocolate Maker What Else Would You Like To Be?
That’s a great question and I haven’t ever really thought of doing anything else or allowed myself to even have that thought! I love what I do. But now I’ve been asked to think about it, I really like buildings, I find them very interesting architecturally, so I might possibly do something in the field of property. Whatever it would be, it would certainly be a job which is a bit more calming than what I do now!
Are You A Technophile or Technophobe?
I love technology so I would be a definite technophile. I am not necessarily going to keep up with the latest iPhone, but I find technology a very useful and critical tool for modern business. I would love to be able use it properly, to be better at it and have more time to use it. I’d like to learn more about using technology creatively, to design and write a blog for example. I think in that sense, technology can really free you as a creative person, if you don’t find it all too overwhelming.
What are the daily challenges of your job?
The daily challenge for me is getting the task done that I absoluely need to get done. I find it’s best to work consistently to achieve what you want to achieve on any given day, rather than letting jobs build up so you end up having fifty things dragging you down. There is no typical day in my job, so every day is a challenge. We could be working away on something and then we get visitors to the shop who want to see chocolate being made, and ask questions.
Of course we always stop what we are doing to chat and tell customers how we make our products, and let them have a taste. That’s a really important part of what we do and we love to welcome people to the factory and shop. But the challenge is in working that aspect of our business around the practical stuff which also needs to be done every day.
How Do You Manage the Work/Life Balance?
I’ve got better at managing my work/life balance. Especially when it comes to mental list making. I used to find myself at home with the kids doing homework or sitting round the table eating, and my brain would be off making lists of things I have to do at work. I’ve trained myself not to do that at home now and keep it for my working day. The kids do give out to me though when we go anywhere and I see a chocolate shop. I have to go in to see what other people are doing. I can’t totally switch off!
How Do You Relax When You Get Time Off?
I don’t get too much time off but we do try to get away for a day here and there, or a weekend. We are all culture vultures so if we have a holiday we go to a city. My kids love cities, we’ve done Paris, Rome and London and they like seeing the galleries and stuff. As they are growing up now though, I’ve started to think it might be nice to go to a villa in Spain, somewhere with a pool so we can all just chill out! I also do yoga regularly which is very calming and helps me relax after work. I try to go on a yoga retreat once or twice a year.
What Is Your Guilty Pleasure?
I am usually the last one to leave the factory at night and I always steal a chocolate bar to take home with me. It’s my guilty little secret! My current favourite is our Caramel Twirl. I try to hide it from the kids but they know I do it at this stage, so I usually end up sharing with them.
What’s Your Favourite Good Food Ireland Place To Visit?
We sell at the Milk Market in Limerick and I must say I love to wander around and visit the other stalls to see what they have. I always end up at Peter Ward’s Country Choice stall. He has the most amazing oils, cheeses and his own home made products which are just fantastic. I normally end up buying something. I spend our profit on bread, cheeses and olive oil!