KNOCKADOON man John O’Brien has seen a lot of action during his 24-year career in the Irish army, including four trips to Lebanon, stints in Somalia, Kosovo and the Balkans as well as acting as a European union monitor with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Now, running his own mobile catering business, The Lobster Pot, just a stone’s-throw from where he grew up, John says there is a lot of daily action on Knockadoon Pier.
“The amount of activity on the water is amazing,” says John, who has been trading in the shadow of the bird sanctuary, Capel Island, every summer for five years.
“People are kayaking and canoeing, they are out on the water having fun in paddle boats. The kids are having great fun diving off the pier and making sandcastles.
“The amount of daytrippers coming to Knockadoon every day is amazing. I think everybody was fed up of being locked down, only able to travel 2km and then 5km,” says John.
“Now that there is a bit more freedom across the county and now that the popular Knockadoon walk has opened up again, everybody is availing of the great outdoors and the fine weather.”
Knockadoon, perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, was always a hive of activity.
“Knockadoon Swim Week was always a fantastic event for families,” says John.
“It was one of my busiest weeks during the season, cooking up burgers, sausages and chips for the swimmers. There’s always a great atmosphere.
“People came for the whole day, bringing picnics. Then it was burger and chips for tea!
“Students from all over Ireland came to the Knockadoon youth camp in the summer too,” adds John, who is vice-chairman of the Knockadoon Enhancement Project, involved in on-going projects benefiting the area.
“Unfortunately, we won’t see the students this year. But everybody else is availing of being beside the seaside when the sun shines.”
And everybody who is hungry after a refreshing swim or a bracing walk can avail of the al fresco dining room outside the Lobster Pot amid whispering seagulls and crashing waves breaking on the glittering beach.
John, who comes from a fishing family, gained cooking experience in the army, making meals for his comrades.
“I did a lot of cooking while I was in the army,” says John.
“Catering for large numbers gave me a lot of experience. Only last week a bus-load of 14 people arrived here for a day out. They really enjoyed having lunch — prawns, squid rings, and chips on the beach.”
These days, John, now self-employed, calls his own shots being his own boss.
“Being your own boss is good,” says John. “Chatting and having a laugh with people is a great way to spend the summer.”
And he gets to make a few bob?
“Business is booming,” says John, who sources his fresh produce from his own back garden, the Atlantic Ocean.
“All my brothers and nephews are fishermen who have their own boats,” he adds.
The O’Briens know there is plenty of fish in the sea.
“For sure!” says John. “I’m never short of a variety of fresh fish.”
He likes running his own ship.
“This year is particularly busy,” says John. “My takings are 100% up from previous years. It is exceptionally busy every evening and particularly busy at weekends.
“Lots of people people enjoy a beach walk or the cliff walk in the cool of the evening. Afterwards, they sit down on the bench and enjoy a coffee, a snack and a chat.”
There is a bit of work attached to being your own boss. It’s not all plain sailing.
“There is a lot of hard work involved,” says John.
“The effort is worth it though, getting the rewards.
“You are responsible for stocking the mobile unit, the lifting, the prepping, the hygiene standards, the cleaning, the maintenance, and the transportation. This year I’ve employed two helpers, Siobhan and Stephanie.”
Many people are willing to travel for a moveable feast.
“Yes, they travel for miles for fresh fish and chips that are reasonably priced,” says John.
“It is a novelty after being restricted at home for weeks and weeks.
“Eating and chatting outdoors is really sociable and it is relaxing.”
People have probably got tired and weary from trying out variations of brown bread and banana bread during Covid-19?
“That’s right!” says John.
“Having a nice meal cooked for you by somebody else overlooking the sea; what more could you ask for?”
ANOTHER FOOD VENTURE
Across the bay, the new kids on the block, or on the beach, Fry Guys, are cooking up a storm in the blue haven of Ballycotton and in the east Cork hamlet of Shanagarry.
The name of the food truck is cool.
“Yes, it is!” says Colin Hennessy who has been cheffing for 15 years.
“I have to give my wife, Holly, the credit for that. She came up with the name.”
Colin came up with the idea of a mobile food truck before the pandemic broke out.
“Last year, David O’Callaghan and I took over Caseys Smokehouse in Shanagarry,” says Colin, who previously worked in Pier 26 Ballycotton and in Sage, Midleton.
“Bill Casey ran the smokehouse for 35 years. Dave and I continued the tradition of smoking small batches of Irish organic salmon. We had discussed buying a food truck, travelling around to festivals and events like farm walks. So we did it this year.”
Was it a timely decision to open a mobile food business?
“Well, all the festivals were cancelled,” says Colin.
“But we are very busy here in the locality every weekend.
“We specialise in fresh seafood. Growing up in Ballycotton, I know a lot of the local fishermen who now supply us with fresh fish.”
The lads, both busy dads, are busy with their smoked salmon business, supplying 24 Cork shops, the locals and daytrippers every weekend arriving with healthy appetites, with mouth-watering delights such as Ballinwillin House organic wild boar hot dogs, spiced chick pea burgers served with chipmichurri mayo and truffle parmesan chips.
“It is totally different to anything we’ve ever done before,” says Colin.
“And it is a lot busier than we expected!”
Sometimes different can be good.
“It is great not having any overheads like rent or rates,” says Colin.
“You don’t have any staff to worry about. It is just me and Dave moving about to events and operating at our two same locations at the weekends.
“It is working out very well, even though it is hard work behind the scenes getting everything prepped and ready for the road.
“We hope to branch out and travel more, hitting other locations over the summer.”
The social life, (such as it is now), must take a bit of a hit?
“Ah, you get used to it,” says Colin.
“I get Tuesday off and the odd Sunday off.”
The trend of eating on the road has caught on in Ireland in recent times.
“These days, there isn’t much of a choice,” says Colin.
“But it’s also a really nice thing to do, stopping off, chatting to people in the queue and eating nice tasty fresh food outdoors in a beautiful setting. It’s cool!”