The Business of Adapting is not an easy task. Small businesses who were forced to close their doors, needed to reinvent their business within a short time in order to continue earning money and keep their families going.
The stress and fear that must go with that when you need to pivot your whole business within days is mind-blowing. COVID lockdown in Ireland began in March and was the first shock-wave to businesses like Cork-based wedding caterer Orla McAndrew’s. Orla needed to re-assess her business within a week and a love of what she does and natural want to help people grew a new and long-term viable business, alongside her plan to continue on the road to becoming one of the top go-to wedding caterers of Ireland.
What is your business in detail?
Orla McAndrew Catering is primarily a wedding catering company. I started 2.5 years ago after a chance meeting in a park with a girl I didn’t know! At the time of meeting her, I was working part-time in a local café and a stay-at-home mom. I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled and something she said set a light bulb moment in me.
She explained she was getting married in six weeks and had no caterer. I thought ‘well, I could do that’, so I offered it and she was a lunatic trusting me, with no experience catering, and here I was serving 120 people.
It was a phenomenal success and I loved it! The feedback was incredible and it all went so smoothly. I knew this is what I needed to be working in. I quit the Saturday job almost straight away and threw myself into the catering.
Everything happened organically from that wedding. I didn’t have a business plan and was getting referred from one person to the next. I said no to nothing, took every job that came my way and through that my confidence, and the business built.
Covid hit just as communion season came and the bottom fell out of it.
Within a week I was offering weekend treat boxes which were charcuterie and cheese boxes. I was the first to offer it in Cork but it’s now being offered in lots of places which is lovely to see.
Do you deliver all over Cork?
I started delivering all over Cork and every bit of it was done by myself. I loved every second of it. It was like a tasty calling card, showing my skills to people which worked as an amazing marketing tool. I packaged them all up, drove all over Cork, with three small kids at home.
It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. I found it impossible to have quality time with my family as I was working all the time and even when I was with them I was thinking about what else I needed to do. It would never have worked long-term.
I have just launched ‘More’ which is a freezer meal offering. This is great for people who want lovely home-cooked meals in their freezer to save them cooking or if they’re not well, have a new baby, in isolation, or just want to treat themselves! It’s also something that serves our family well and works well around the kids.
Did you go straight into the treat boxes or take any type of break first?
Yes, I pretty much went straight into it, it was a very quick turnaround. The idea formed in a week and then I started doing the treat boxes up.
Did you always have the freezer meal idea in mind?
I offered both the treat box and ‘More’ at the same time but wasn’t marketing the freezer meal option. I started it because my sister had a baby, simultaneous to the treat box offering, and I was filling up her freezer to help feed her while she looked after her new baby and I thought, wow there’s something in this. I just wanted to take time to ensure I got lovely strong packaging and a logo behind it before I launched it and began marketing it.
Where do you see your business going?
In between building ‘More’ and the weekend treat boxes, I also have micro-weddings that are still being catered for. My goal is to become a well-renowned national wedding caterer. That is my five-year plan. The ‘More’ range is also a viable business option, which may end up as my whole business depending on how things go, but my goal is to be amongst the top wedding caterers throughout the country. Getting the chance to see so many people enjoy and savour the food I have created is all I want.
How do you find working alone and how do you manage everything that needs to be done?
It is insane, there’s no other way to describe it. There is a huge to-do list and when you get to the bottom of it, another one forms and it never ends. I eat, sleep and breathe it. It’s all-consuming and you couldn’t do it if it wasn’t an absolute passion, I certainly couldn’t.
It makes me tick, makes me buzz and I’m so happy doing it. I feel like I was waiting all my life to do this.
How do you market your brand? How are people finding you?
It’s nearly all word-of-mouth and reputation. Cork people are great and everyone knows everyone so word travels. I’m also quite active on Insta if people wanted to follow or contact me.
What makes you most happy in your work?
Knowing someone is enjoying my food gives me so much pleasure. I would almost give it away for free because I love seeing people so happy with my food.
What is the most positive thing you could take from this last year?
Personally, how resilient I am and I never thought of myself as a business woman but I’ve moved my business with how things have happened and I’m proud of how I’ve managed to keep it going. I’ve found women in general are phenomenal, I’ve surrounded myself with women in networking circles and we are really amazing.
What will you do differently going forward?
I will be more strategic about how I work around my family so its sustainable long-term. This was a huge learning in lockdown while I tried to do it all and felt like I was burning out.
Any advice you can give to others in small businesses?
Definitely reach out and connect with other business-women and get a networking tribe. I thought I’d never fit into with those strong business women but then I realised, now I’m surrounded by like-minded people. We’re all in the same boat and able to help each other. There’s nothing like the support you get and can give to others.
Thank you to Orla for her time! If you have an interesting story around how you and your business is coping at this time, I would love to interview and feature you. Contact me at email@example.com.