Former Cork jewellers steal Rebel County hearts with gem of a café

Former Cork jewellers steal Rebel County hearts with gem of a café

Jacquie O'Dea and her husband Henry Crowley, proprietors, and their daughter Ella with Ali Cullinane, baker/chef, at Seasalt Café, Cobh.  Picture: Denis Minihane

A CORK couple with 20 years experience as jewellers decided to follow their love of food and open a café in 2019.

Seasalt Café in Cobh opened its doors in February 2019 under the management of wife and husband duo Jacquie and Henry O’Dea.

“We had been self-employed for almost 20 years with Treasure Cove Jewellers in Cobh but my passion was food,” Jacquie explained.

“I decided to do the Ballymaloe 12 week course in 2009 and loved every second.

“One is completely immersed in locally grown food, food ideas, food books and taught by Darina, Rachel, and Rory who are the most knowledgeable, interested, and approachable guides,” she added.

“It’s such a creative environment and we couldn’t wait to open our own cafe.” With young children in tow, Jacquie decided to work daytime hours in cafés and restaurants where work was going.

“Our kids were young so I decided to work daytime hours and was immediately hired by Gillian in Bramley Lodge, Fota,” she said.

“From there I worked in Ballyseedy, Ali’s Kitchen, and Basil Deli.

“Every person one works with teaches you something - a new skill, a little trick, a new recipe.” All the while, Jacquie and Henry were busy scouring Cork for the perfect premises for their café.

“We viewed units in Cork city, Midleton and Douglas,” Jacquie explained.

“Eventually, after almost 10 years we found the perfect spot in Cobh - directly opposite the promenade, with beautiful windows and original 18th-century floor tiles.

“The couple who previously owned the cafe wanted some family time and so we grabbed it,” she added.

From there, the couple established themselves as a brilliant food destination with a simple ethos.

“Our ethos has been local, fresh food - simple,” Jacquie said.

“We make pretty much everything in-house.

“Animal welfare is a consideration of ours - we’re happy to eat meat if it has been reared well,” she added.

“We serve chicken rarely and then only free-range. Our pork is outdoor bred from Caherbeg.

“Yes, it’s more expensive, but it tastes incredible and our customers are happy to pay a little extra.” The Seasalt Café also does not stock single-use plastics.

“Our soft drinks come in glass bottles so you’ll find us at the bottle bank every week, smashing it,” Jacquie said.

“It’s fantastic stress relief, smashing those bottles into the bank.

“Our takeaway containers are compostable and we love to see people with their own refillable cups and containers,” she added.

Like tens of thousands of businesses across Cork and Ireland, the Seasalt Café was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions introduced to combat the virus.

“Before Covid, we were extremely busy with a staff of 10,” Jacquie explained.

“Then last March we closed for what we thought would be a fortnight.

“We reopened in early May with Ali, who began as our baker and has evolved into our everything - chef, baker, dishwasher, and spirit lifter.

“Along with Kadie and our children Ella and Ben, we have muddled through each stage of lockdown,” she added.

Transitioning from a sit-down café into a takeaway service was another new interesting learning curve, Jacquie explained.

“The menu had to adapt so that it could still be enjoyable in a takeaway capacity,” she said.

“I feel our creativity had to be stifled a little, the dishes we would love to have tried probably wouldn’t taste good 10 minutes after cooking.

“We have been supported throughout by our amazing customers - they have been amazingly loyal and understanding,” she added.

The Seasalt Café purchased a display fridge during lockdown which is now home to a fresh, popular deli section, selling flatbreads, salads, sausage rolls, kimchi, and more.

“This worked so well that we now have a little ‘siopa’ selling a carefully chosen range of dry goods,” said Jacquie.

“We aim to sell mainly Irish, artisanal products from independent makers.

“It has never been more important to buy Irish and we are spoiled for choice when it comes to delicious Irish-made food,” she added.

“After Christmas, we introduced a display freezer, which we keep stocked with a range of frozen meals.

“These are so popular with customers who stock their freezers each week.

“I think people are a little weary from cooking and are delighted to have a night or two off each week.” The café also began working from the NeighbourFood market in Cuskinny which opened last year.

“We jumped at the chance to get involved,” said Jacquie.

“This was a unique way to showcase our food to a new customer base.

“It has grown into a thriving market, with a huge range of suppliers.

“We are taking a break for the busy summer season ahead, but will be back at NeighbourFood in Autumn,” she added.

Looking ahead to the future, Jacquie said the team at Seasalt Café is so looking forward to welcoming back people to their tables once more.

“It would be such a joy to have people sitting inside at our tables again,” she explained.

“The sound of chatter and the fun we have with our regulars is what we miss most.

“Hospitality is about comfort and welcome. You lose some of this when people have to eat elsewhere,” she added.

“We saw one of our most regular customers last week for the first time in twelve months.

“It was great to see them but we now have to be aware that some people are uncomfortable in a cafe situation, some hospitality is lost.

“We look forward to readjusting the menu once more, this time for eating immediately, inside, at a table, with cutlery. Now, won’t that be something?”

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