A Cork café that’s Good for the Soul

A stint in Australia inspired Ballincollig native Sarah Cotter and her husband Eoin to open up a café on her return to Leeside, writes KATE RYAN in the latest feature in her Café Culture series
A Cork café that’s Good for the Soul

CAFE IS GOING FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH: Good for the Soul in Ballincollig is run by husband and wife team, Sarah and Eoin Cotter.

THERE’S a magnetising force around Good For The Soul, drawing people into their sunny space bedecked with chandeliers of living greenery, ridiculously good looking staff, lively buzz, pallet furniture and the expectation of delicious things to eat and drink.

The fortifying news is that everything it does is just as good as the way it looks, and smells… and tastes.

The townland of Ballincollig has undergone a transformation of character in recent times. What was once an outpost of Cork County Council — neither in West Cork or in the city, has been repositioned as an outpost of Cork City Council.

The only obvious solution when not wholly part of one thing or another is to create an identity that is all of its own, and that’s exactly what Ballincollig has done — a thriving, buzzy, community-focussed place; perfect for a café like Good For The Soul to flourish.

The café is the brainchild of Sarah Cotter and her husband Eoin. Ballincollig born and raised, Sarah studied Occupational Therapy at UCC, graduating in 2010 before heading to London for three years working in the NHS.

Soon after, the travelling bug hit and Sarah and Eoin packed their bags for South America. As going off-plan seems to be a constant theme running through their lives, they left South America for Melbourne, Australia, where they stayed for three years.

Melbourne is the source of modern day café culture. It has embraced the art of the barista and coffee connoisseurship, and can brunch like no other place on earth. For someone like Sarah, who always entertained the idea of opening a small place of her own, there was an inevitability that Melbourne would cast its magic over her, to take those dreams and turn them into something far more concrete.

In 2018, two years after returning to Cork from their international adventures, Sarah, Eoin and a roll call of supportive family members, began turning a former children’s clothes shop into the bright and airy space that is now the epicentre of café culture in Ballincollig.

“I always had these mad notions to open a place in Cork!” says Sarah.

“In 2015, while we were still in Australia, Eoin said that if I wanted to create a café business I should probably work in it first. So I quit my job and started working in a café in Melbourne called A Thousand Blessings that had this gorgeous community vibe.

INTERIOR: Good for the Soul, Ballincollig.
INTERIOR: Good for the Soul, Ballincollig.

“I trained as a Barista there, and then moved onto a café start-up and managed that for a few months to learn the trade.

“I loved it straight away, I jumped in and just went for it! When we came back to Ireland in 2016, I ended up working in GoGo’s in Douglas, and Nourished in Mahon. I learned loads from both, but I was just biding my time looking for the right unit of my own.

“Eventually, after losing out on a place in Douglas I found what is now the home of Good For The Soul. The ideal was always a corner unit with lots of natural light, so when this place came through it was just all meant to be!”

“I kept loads of pictures and collages of all the cafes in Australia that we loved and inspired us with the concept and style of the café we wanted to create. I showed what we had put together to Patrick and John (my father-in-law and uncle-in-law), and they brought it to life for us. Everything we have in the front of house, all the pallet furniture, everything you see was built by them.”

St Patrick’s Day was chosen for the soft opening — a service of coffee and cakes to satiate the crowds attending the parade that snaked past their front door.

“It was just myself and Eoin in the café; we really just wanted to say hello to everyone! We officially opened three days later with five staff. That grew to seven pretty much straight away, and 18 months later we’re going from strength to strength!”

Sarah was born and raised Ballincollig, and her family is still firmly rooted in the town.

“We definitely have that local vibe. I know people who have lived here forever, but there’s also that connection with new people coming in, so there’s always a bit of a buzz here all day.

“We open from 8, and our first rush is the takeaway coffee crowd for work, then parents popping in after dropping their kids to school. Retired people come later in the morning, college students come for their brunch and then we move into our lunch trade from all the office workers.

“Saturdays are different: we retire our weekday menu for an all day brunch menu instead. We have queues from 9am, but people come in, put their name down, go for a walk and then come back in time to have their brunch without waiting around!

POPULAR BREKKIE: Soul Stacks at Good for the Soul, Ballincollig. 
POPULAR BREKKIE: Soul Stacks at Good for the Soul, Ballincollig. 

“With our menu, I definitely wanted something for everyone and to make the menu as adaptable as possible. So a lot of the items can be made vegan-friendly, vegetarian, gluten or dairy free. The ‘Build Your Own’ is always a good option — build your eggs then add your sides. Our breakfast burrito has become popular with people who want something like a full Irish, but it’s funkier and a great brunch dish. Our lunch menu is really adaptable too: we have a really beautiful salad bar and anything on our menu can be prepared to go; or of course sit in and take your time.

“We didn’t want Good For The Soul to be too cool and hipster, we knew we’d have to meet a spectrum of customers along the way. So we celebrate our avocado brownies and funky stuff, but the classics are still there — the tea and scones, homemade soda bread — and we make our own jam and chutneys too.

“We really wanted to create a place where people would feel comfortable coming in on their own. The mix of high and low tables and counter seating definitely creates an atmosphere that this is a chilled place to come and hang out — whether that’s on your own or with other people.”

SUPPER CLUBS

Every now and again, whenever the mood so takes, Good For The Soul open their doors of an evening. While living in London, Sarah revelled in the underground Supper Club culture of the city — turning up at an informal restaurant setting for a shared dining experience with others you may not even know. For the café’s head chef, Ballymaloe-trained John Barker, it is a chance to let his culinary creativity spread its wings across a five-course set menu.

“The whole concept is a shared, casual dining experience with a set menu and BYO. When our head chef John came on board last August, we talked about my idea for Supper Club nights and he was really eager to jump on with it. It’s a Pop-Up so there’s no pressure, we just do it as and when we have the right ideas and time.

“We seat people at long tables, and it has a really funky, trendy atmosphere. It costs about €45pp, so it’s an affordable experience for our customers, and an add-on for us.

“We’re hoping to do three cosy winter Pop Ups, so keep an eye out on our Social Media channels for news on that!”

SUPPORTING LOCAL CLUBS

For Sarah, being part of the community is more than just serving coffee and creating a beautiful space for people. It’s also about being active in the community and supporting the things you love.

“Eoin and I are pretty sporty. I played basketball all the way up through school, as did my brothers, so we are proud to sponsor the Ballincollig men’s senior National League team. I just think they’re fantastic, they’re so committed and we love backing them.

“We’re also involved with Ballincollig Tidy Towns and we’ve sponsored our local GAA club.”

That local ethos runs through to their menu too, which features meats from Ó Crualaoí Butchers, literally down the road, sourdough bread from Arbutus, fresh fish from Good Fish in Carrigaline and smoked salmon from Ballycotton Seafoods. Organic peanut butter, olive oils, oat milk and herbal teas are all sourced from Health Hub — a hop and a skip from the café’s front door.

“I like to think of Good For The Soul as one big family, and we put in effort to do lots of things we don’t have to but which definitely pays back: regular team meetings, parties and social outings. We offer a friendly, welcoming environment for our customers with really good service, a great coffee experience, and simple food done really well.”

Find Good For The Soul on Instagram and Facebook.

Next week: Seasalt in Cobh.

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