Colm Ryan left London behind to open a wine bar and bistro in Kinsale
After a high-octane City career in London, Colm Ryan yearned for village life.
Packing up his office for good just before his fiftieth birthday, he headed home to Ireland, specifically the seaside sanctuary of Kinsale, and opened the restaurant he felt the town needed.
Nestled in Main Street, Cru is a cosy bistro with a simple, local menu and a top notch wine list. It’s just reopened for its second season.
“I came back to Kinsale to wind down after a long career in London. After a year I felt that the best way to integrate into the town would be to run a small business here. The restaurant was vacant and I knew someone would take it on. I had been trying to buy a B&B in the town but it fell through so I thought there was an opportunity there to create something nice.
I funded the business’ working capital personally. I left Dublin in 1990 with a degree in economics and trained in Capital Markets with a couple of Investment Houses in the City (London) before setting up my own firm in 1997 which specialised in trading Interest Rate Derivatives. I didn’t want to be working in that environment past 50 so I took an opportunity to exit in early 2017, just before my 50th birthday. My kids are grown up and studying in the UK, but we had been holidaying in Kinsale and West Cork for years and they love it here, so I decided to relocate back to this part of Ireland.
Our menu is not fussy. We serve simple bistro style food with locally sourced ingredients and classic sauces with lots of flavour. Portion sizes are generous – we want customers to leave feeling well fed. My wine list has depth and breadth and is priced to be accessible.
I spent time in the town marketing the restaurant to hotels, retailers and B&B owners. They are very important for referrals during the busy tourist season. We also use Facebook and Trip Advisor. I hired a small company based here in Kinsale called Socialify to run my social media. They are re-designing my website and will work with me to promote the restaurant across all social media platforms.
Trip Advisor and Facebook reviews matter, particularly when you are trying to establish your restaurant in a competitive marketplace. Customers also have much more power now than they did pre-internet. Bad reviews will damage your business.
I had a fantastic American boss in my early years in London who told me to always under-promise and over-deliver. I still think it’s the best way to approach a career in any service related industry. Customers will quite rightly let you know if they are unhappy with your product.
I love meeting people and looking after them. If you don’t then you shouldn’t be in the trade. I have always loved wine so meeting suppliers, tasting wines and working on the list is always enjoyable.
I made tons of mistakes. The biggest was probably going straight from four or five months of set up into opening, without taking a break. In hindsight I should have allowed myself a week to recover and re-charge. After a few weeks of service I was physically and emotionally shattered and unable to think properly or constructively.
I live two minutes away from the restaurant – it’s a lot more enjoyable than my commute to the office in London for a 6.30am start!
I am incredibly proud of my staff. Chefs in particular work gruelling hours in an extremely tough environment. I don’t quite understand how they do it.
My advice to an entrepreneur would be to make sure you have a very clear concept and vision of the product and service you want to provide. That includes surroundings as well as food and wine menus. You will always have to compromise to some extent, but try to stay faithful to your vision as much as possible. Everyone will have ideas about what you should be doing (everyone believes they can operate a restaurant) but if you try to accommodate everyone you will end up pleasing nobody at all.
I’m pretty content with our first year. It’s been a very steep learning curve in this business. Maybe I could have tried to time our opening a little better; we opened in June, which was challenging as it’s right in high season. But sometimes you have to just get on with a project and pull the trigger.
Switching off has been almost impossible. My one indulgence has been to get to the gym most mornings for a run and workout. It’s a legacy of my previous career and I’d be lost if I couldn’t do that. I love golf but I only managed two rounds in Kinsale last year.”
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