The cost of living has become a phrase we’ve heard more than ever these past few months. It’s an issue that is impacting factors like your daily cup of coffee in the morning or ordering your favourite dish at a restaurant.
For restaurants and cafes in Galway focusing on bringing fresh, healthy food to customers, it’s marked a lot of change.
“Almost impossible for small businesses.”
Wholly Cow Burgers fell into that category, focusing on bringing homemade burgers and fries to the public. The restaurant, opened by Valentine and Jacinta Lynam in January 2018, closed its doors for the last time recently.
Personal life changes were cited as the reason for the closure with co-owner Jacinta stating that closing had been decided about six months ago. The closure happened to concede with the news of rapidly rising food prices.
“We’re a couple-run business who were running two businesses; we also have another catering company, Green Island Catering, that’s very busy. My husband decided he would return to college full-time to do a degree in engineering,” explained Jacinta.
Wholly Cow focused on having a zero-waste kitchen, with eco-friendly and suitable packaging, a key factor, according to Jacinta.
“Nothing was bought in; we would make all of our sauces, our pickles, our chips and our burgers from scratch”, she added.
However, the change in food prices was still noted in the past couple of months at Wholly Cow. Jacinta stated with her almost 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry; she had “never seen price hikes as high as they’ve been recent.”
“I think it’s just making it impossible for smaller businesses; it is the only word to describe it”, Jacinta continued, “The price of dairy and chicken has gone up by 60%. Our burger buns went up in price overnight while shrinking in size because of the grain crisis to do with the war in Ukraine… it will be almost impossible for small businesses to keep sustaining all these increased costs.”
Back and forth with suppliers
For The Lighthouse, a similar concept of fresh, healthy dishes is also key to the business. Mark Legh took over the Abbeygate Street cafe in 2017 alongside his wife, Kerry.
“We’ve been over it for five years, and we opened this store [Terryland store] in June 2020 because we needed a bit more room to expand and do other things”, explained Mark.
For The Lighthouse, the costs are slightly cushioned in the sense of not buying meat or fish. Still, Mark admits that “the process of getting nuts and seeds and beans, the staples that we use, they’ve gone by crazy amounts.”
This has meant sitting down with suppliers and doing a lot of back and forth to find out who has the best price, according to Mark.
Unfortunately, it’s meant stopping trade with smaller suppliers. “We used three farms in the countryside, and we had to drop one”, explained Mark. “So we only use two now, which is grim because all the farmers are smaller independent businesses who rely on smaller independent businesses to thrive.”
Rising energy prices are also a consideration for The Lighthouse. Mark explained that the food increases made sense “because most of the food, whether we like it or not, comes from a long way away. Whether it’s nuts or oils or seeds..and with petrol prices going up, it makes sense. But with energy prices, it’s a bit like they’re milking it.”
Happy regulars and staff are key
Yet, there’s a common thread that pulls the industry together. “If you work in this industry, you usually have an outgoing personality, you love people, and you thrive off interaction with people,” said Jacinta.
For her and Valentine, the most fulfilling part of the job in Wholly Cow was “building relationships with all the regulars. That’s the part that made us very sad when we were closing. But we’re also really excited for the next chapter.”
For Matt, the regulars are also key as they provide good feedback to the cafe. He also states from the beginning that he and Kerry have always tried to provide the best work environment possible for their staff.
“We’ve always tried our best to be nice people and look after the people you employ, so you want to come into work and work for nice people,” Mark said. “It’s self-perpetuating because then you get a buzz from working from the people.
“So that keeps Kerry and me going, looking after the people we employ. And the vast majority of people we employ do the same back, so it’s a nice kind of a buzz.”
While there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight any time soon for rising food prices, the regulars will do the best they can to make sure that their favourite spot stays open.