Pandemic saw us having to reinvent our business

Pandemic saw us having to reinvent our business

Proprietors Audrey and Paul McSweeney of Hannah’s Kitchen, Ballincollig, prepare ‘Afternoon Tea’ boxes for online customers. When the pandemic hit last year they had to reinvent their business as a large number of their customers shut their doors. Picture: Larry Cummins

WHEN the pandemic hit, a year ago now, it had a devastating effect on many businesses across Cork and the country.

What do you do when the company you have worked hard to build up over a number of years suddenly finds itself without many, if not all, of its customers.

Well, that's the situation that Hannah's Kitchen found itself in. On their website you will find the following statement: If you are looking for catering for any event size, then look no further. Hannah’s Kitchen has been catering events for 4–400 people for over 13 years.

They used to cater for meetings, training days, and other events for many companies across Cork on a daily basis, and now overnight all these events were gone.

Another major part of their business was supplying creches with lunchtime meals and like the office blocks they too all closed.

It basically left them with virtually no parts of their business remaining.

All this came on the back of a big year for the company in 2019.

One of Hannah’s Kitchen’s ‘Afternoon Tea’ boxes.
One of Hannah’s Kitchen’s ‘Afternoon Tea’ boxes.

That year they rebranded to Hannah's Kitchen, from Vansandwich, and had moved to new state-of-the-art premises in Ballincollig.

They also had to rebrand their two vehicles, with the considerable outlay for a small company for all this to happen.

All this had been done on what they hoped would have been an increase in business in 2020 and the signs were good. But then it hit and when it did it hit hard, just like it has to many businesses across Cork, the country, and indeed around the world.

So owners of Hannah's Kitchen Audrey and Paul McSweeney had a simple choice.

They could sit in a corner and cry or they could reinvent themselves and with family and staff to look after there was no choice really.

“Almost overnight a calendar that was fairly full for the year started to empty and it was frightening,” said Audrey McSweeney.

“We had spent a number of years building up the business and now we were staring at a situation where we could lose it all. But neither of us was willing to let that happen without doing everything we could to ensure it survived.

“We weren't sure exactly what to do but we knew that we had to do something.” A chance conversation between them led to Paul seeing and opening in the market and they now find themselves “busier than ever”.

“We were due to go to a friend's wedding in Dublin and it was postponed due to the lockdown,” added Ms McSweeney, “so I was online looking for something to send them just to mark the day. I was thinking along the lines of some sort of wine and food box but couldn't find online what I really wanted.

“Paul was listening to me and he said maybe there is an opening here for us and with that we started to formulate a business plan. We looking into a series of boxes and now we have a number that can be bought online.

“We have a range of gift boxes, including afternoon tea (with a gluten-free option), seafood, dessert, and meat & cheese to name a few. It took a bit of time but soon business started to pick up and now we find ourselves busier than ever.

“I really think that the attitude of people has changed due to the pandemic and more and more they are supporting small local businesses and that is great to see.

“But in return, you have to ensure that your product is top quality and that is why we try to work with local fresh producers as well. That way we are all helping each other.” Towards the end of the summer they were starting to get so busy they had to hire another chef to work alongside Paul and currently they are in the process of getting organised for Mother's Day, which will be followed by St Patrick's Day and then Easter Sunday.

“All of these are important dates for us but we are also finding that people are now ordering boxes for friends or family members who may have had it tough due to the pandemic. They are being sent to help give them a lift in what has been a difficult year for many in different ways.” While they are delighted with the way the business has reinvented itself and is now in a far brighter position than a year or so again Ms McSweeney said they can't afford to stand still.

“You have to keep trying to improve your products and the range you are offering,” she said, “with that in mind we have applied for a wine licence to allow us to offer a bottle of prosecco or wine to add to the various gift boxes we have.

“We are also sourcing new insulated boxes to transport our products which will allow them to travel further afield than we currently can. I have received inquiries from places like Galway, Dublin, and Sligo, to name a few, but currently, we wouldn't be able to send them that far.

“Once we have the boxes sorted, hopefully in the next few weeks, then it will open up more options for us.” So like many other businesses that have had to reinvent themselves Hannah's Kitchen can look forward with optimism and know that they are now in a stronger position to grow and overcome all this pandemic has thrown at them and many other businesses.

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