A Day in The Life of Patsy Rogers of in a Nutshell and Café Nutshell
Patsy Rogers owns and runs Cafe Nutshell and In a Nutshell Health Deli and Health Food Shop in New Ross Co. Wexford, with her husband Philip. Nutshell has been part of the New Ross food scene for 23 years, first with the shop, then with the additon of the cafe. Philip is the financial wizard behind the business and also the gardener, growing seasonal vegetables and salads for the cafe menu at the couple’s home. Patsy is the Head Chef. Here she tells us a little bit about her daily life, and her working partnership with her husband of thirty five years.
When and How Do You Begin Your Working Day?
Philip is a morning bird so he gets me up. He will make me a Spirulina Smoothie or a Raspberry and Granola Shake. Then it’s coffee and once I’ve got all that into me, I am ready to rock! I go into work ready for the day. One thing you don’t always take into account as a business owner is the amount of questions your staff will have for you when you arrive each day. It’s not that there is anything wrong or they can’t manage without me, it’s just that everyone wants a small piece of your time first thing in the morning and once they have had that, they can get on with their day in the right frame of mind. That’s something I have had to learn to deal with and understand, especially when you’ve got ten to fifteen people looking for you at once! But I expect it now and of course I will always make time because afterwards we can all get to work in a positive mood.
In the kitchen, morning prep always starts with the soups. We could have three pots of soup on in this cold weather, all made fresh so we get them on first. Our menu is pretty free-flowing depending on what’s available day to day. It depends on the economy and general mood as well. I like to give my customers something to cheer them up, so if it’s very cold or wet or there’s doom and gloom in the news or something, I like to be able to offer dishes which will revive them. Something like a big hearty beef stew. So we have a meeting about the menu every day and everyone has input, then we will decide on what’s on for the day and print it up.
How did Your Passion For Cooking Begin?
I became very frustrated in what was on offer for people to eat out. We had been preaching good health in the shop for five years before the cafe came along, and it became clear that there was a fundamental lack of knowledge in what people should be eating. So I thought if I was going to get stuck in there I had to practice what we preached. We do what I call ‘scratch’ cooking, that is, we make everything ourselves from scratch, from our stocks for the soups and stews to all the breads and baking. We’ve had the cafe for 18 years now and without wishing to jump on the bandwagon, because I do feel some phrases in the food world are a bit overused these days, we are and always have been about fresh, homemade and local.
What Gives You The Most Satisfaction From Your Job?
Achieving the best results you can in the food going out and seeing an empty plate coming back. To watch someone sliding down in their chair after a meal and looking like they are feeling very satisfied with what they have eaten. Then you go into the kitchen and see a pot of Irish stew all gone, and you think it might have been nice to have a bit left, but then you know that it’s all gone because it was so good.
Currently I can’t stop talking about the parsnips that Philip grew and we are now harvesting, because the smell of them is so profound and they taste amazing. It’s that earthy sweetness you get from freshly picked homegrown parsnips, so hard to describe. Philip is growing almost 80% of our vegetables now and we have had a fantastic year with crops. We’ve had heirloom tomatoes and salads and courgettes, so much homegrown produce to be able to offer our customers. It’s such a fantastic sense of achievement to stand over every crumb and morsel we serve.
Which Part Of Your Job Do You Like The Least?
What upsets me most in this business is when cowardly people go on Trip Advisor and leave a dreadful review. It upsets me so much, for me and Philip and our team, because we have survived a terrible recession, we have clung on to our staff for eight years and I think these people who write these reviews have no idea of how it affects the staff. They work so hard and to have to read some of the things written is just appalling. If whoever writes these reviews knew how much our regulars appreciate us, from our day to day customers to our chemo patient customers who only survive their treatment sessions because they know they are coming here afterwards to get a nice lunch or a lovely homebaked scone and tea, these are the important people for us.
I do wish that anyone who comes here and has any kind of complaint would just say it to our faces, then we can at least try to deal with it. But to do it on Trip Advisor in the nastiest of ways is so bad. I feel very strongly that Trip Advisor is not controlled and these reviews are often personal attacks on members of staff. Usually it says more about the person who is writing than anything we have done wrong, but it still hurts and damages team morale
Other than that, there are always sides of the business that are difficult, and without Philip’s financial expertise we would never have survived the recession. I could not have done it on my own. We are lucky, we have survived and we are now better than ever. We have just undergone a new makeover for the cafe. We did it gradually over the space of the last year and Philip managed the financial side so we haven’t had to borrow a penny to do it. We used local labour and suppliers which was great and did it bit by bit. So I can now look at the cafe and think it looks amazing and we didn’t have to go into debt for it, which is brilliant!
What Advice Would You Give Someone Looking to Become a Cafe and Shop owner?
Be aware of how much hard work is involved. People underestimate that. What outsiders see looks like a well oiled machine, so anyone thinks they can do it. But most people have no idea what tools you need to achieve that well oiled machine. Philip often says he is a ‘professional juggler’ because he has had to manage the finances so well during the recession, so I would say you do need a good financial person with you if you are not good with that side of things yourself. Then I would say do your research and know your customer base. You have to know what kind of things people want to eat, because there is no point in serving up flashy food which cannot survive your market and you’ll be closed in six months. Do the research.
This job is hard work and long hours and there is obviously a physical side to it. So ask yourself ‘Are you ready to work really really hard?’ If the answer is yes, then add 20% stress levels to that and you are just about there! It’s important to build a returning customer base. They will keep coming back and keep you in business but it can take years to build that up. During the toughest recent years, we kept some of our customers by doing a soup and sandwich deal for take away, which was cheaper than eating in, so it meant they could still have a good lunch. You have to be able to adapt to these situations and to know and trust your customer base.
If You Weren’t a Shop and Cafe Owner What Else Would You Like To Be?
An art teacher or a window dresser! I love to be creative. Or else I would be living a bohemian life on our bit of land and be self sufficient from our garden and doing something arty to satisfy my creative side.
Are You A Technophile or Technophobe?
I am better than I was with technology. I realise how important it is for the business. We have our In A Nutshell Facebook page where we always put up the menu and specials. We are just debating whether to put the Epos till system in at the moment, that’s where you can key in what you want straight to the kitchen. I am a bit afraid of it I must say. But sometimes we just have to get over ourselves and get on with it!
What are the daily challenges of your job?
Those certain people that come in and you know that no matter what you give them there is going to be a problem. I am sure every hospitality business has one! You just see them coming in and think ‘Oh God, not them today.’ Other daily challenges include multi tasking and keeping everything turning over. Preparation is key and that can be mundane, but in my book, if you’re in control you are going to work in a positive way.
How Do You Manage the Work/Life Balance?
Much better now than I have done previously! We don’t work after 6pm and we don’t open Sunday or Monday. The deli is open Monday but the cafe is closed. This means that all the cafe team get two days off and we come back refreshed and ready to work through from Tuesday to Saturday. It also provides consistency. We find it just a more streamlined way of working. It really matters to respect that your staff also have a life outside your business. It also gives myself and Philip time to be off together for two days.
How Do You Relax When You Get Time Off?
The garden is our relaxation. I grow a lot of the flowers that we use in the cafe. I also sow seeds for Philip. He does all the digging and the hard work. He is also a great sower and he plants out. This year we are getting a new tunnel, it’s our year project for 2017! We are also doing work on our glass houses so we can increase our crop of heritage tomatoes.
What Is Your Guilty Pleasure?
A glass of wine and eating our lovely food, probably eating too much of it! You get a real sense of ‘wow’ when you’ve grown it, nurtured it and now you are eating it. We are very self sufficent as a couple. We love to spend time together sitting down, chatting, eating nice food. We don’t need a lot more than that from life.
What’s Your Favourite Good Food Ireland Place To Visit?
To be honest it becomes increasingly difficult when you are a cook to find places where you can eat which are better than what you would do yourself! We’ve had great meals in Cistin Eile in Wexford town, we love Warren Gillen’s food. About three times a year we also try to have a dinner and overnight at Kelly’s Resort in Rosslare. That’s a real treat when we can have a nice bottle of wine and not have to worry about getting home, then have a nice breakfast in the morning.