Cork vegan cafe owner: Being vegan’s great but I won’t preach about it

Interested in following a Vegan lifestyle? EMMA CONNOLLY chats to the owner of a new Vegan cafe in Cork about the benefits
Cork vegan cafe owner: Being vegan’s great but I won’t preach about it
Nicola Smyth of Antiquity Bookshop Cafe.

YOU’LL feel the benefits of being a vegan in as little as 10 days — and it requires very little sacrifice.

That’s the convincing message from the owner of West Cork’s new vegan café, Nicola Smyth, who runs the business with her daughters Shawn and Madlyn.

Nicola, and her family — a husband, two daughters, and two sons ranging in ages from 22 to 16 — have been vegan for the past six years. Prior to this they had been vegetarian, and it just seemed like a natural progression for the family, who have been living in Skibbereen for the past 10 years. Their motivation for making the dietary changes were for health and environmental reasons.

Nicola, originally from Scotland, and her husband, moved all over Europe while their kids were young.

Both self-employed, their business was ‘building libraries for people,’ she explains.

In Skibbereen, they were keen to put down roots and opened The Time Travellers Bookshop eight years ago, which sold niche and rare books.

Nicola Smyth, left, with her daughters Shawn in the middle and Madlyn on the right, of Antiquity Book Shop Café
Nicola Smyth, left, with her daughters Shawn in the middle and Madlyn on the right, of Antiquity Book Shop Café

They’ve now taken their book business online, but with daughters Madlyn, a trained vegan chef, and Shawn, a Ballymaloe-trained chef, they’ve just opened the Antiquity Book Shop Café in that space.

The premises also includes a book business, which Madlyn had previously run online, separate to her parents, hence the title.

It’s very much a family business, with everyone chipping in and helping out, and Nicola said that ‘vegans have been coming out of the woodwork’ since they opened, keen to see what they have on offer.

“We also have a lot of non-vegans who are surprised to see that we don’t just eat humous and vegetables. I think there’s a lot of fear based around veganism, with people keeping their distance, so it’s nice for people to come in and see that they can eat ‘normal food’.”

Nicola said that as a family they didn’t feel any great hardship going vegan.

“Butter and parmesan were probably the hardest things to give up, but really it only takes 21 days to break a habit and we didn’t suffer too much at all.”

And besides, the benefits speak for themselves, she says, adding that people tell her she looks far younger than her 49 years.

You can only achieve interest in what you do if you can see benefits; and she said the fact she looks younger and feels better is where her interest base comes from.

From a health point of view, she insists that anyone suffering from diabetes, heart issues, inflammation issues or who has weight to lose will see almost immediate benefits.

“Try it for three or four weeks, but I guarantee you you’ll notice a difference after 10 days, I’m full of energy since I became vegan. I can easily get up at 5.30am, run the café and still feel OK at the end of the day, and I think that comes down to my nutrition.”

Antiquity Vegan Cafe and Bookshop
Antiquity Vegan Cafe and Bookshop

Having said all that, Nicola does acknowledge that some people can assume a superior position by following a vegan diet, and she doesn’t think approaching it from a militant place is helpful.

“I am very aware of the fact that everything you put in your mouth is very personal. It’s almost like religion — and I don’t preach about it and I don’t find it helpful when people, including vegans, do.”

She said she’d never wrinkle up her nose at someone eating meat — as that was their choice.

“I don’t look down at someone eating McDonalds at all,” she said, adding that she does wear leather shoes.

A typical day’s food for her starts with lemon water with black pepper and turmeric on waking, to kick-start the system. That’s followed by a juice, usually something like apple, carrot and ginger, which is followed by a smoothie later in the morning.

Lunch is usually greens with wholegrain rye bread or a vegetable stew.

“I do go through phases though of juicing all day and not eating until around 4pm or 5pm — pasta with vegetables; or a baked potato. We really eat the same as everyone else — just with more vegetables, which we grow for our own consumption.”

Nicola also avoids refined sugar, instead she uses maple syrup.

“Lots of vegans turn to sugar as some kind of a substitute which obviously means you won’t get any weight loss benefits.

“A lot of our eating is habit-based and influenced by advertising. If I find I’m hungry after my juice I’d have porridge or avocado with toast but otherwise I’d wait until lunch.”

Most of us are conditioned into thinking we need to start the day with coffee and jam with toast, or to have that Sunday roast, but Nicola says there’s only one thing to ask yourself if you’re contemplating going vegan: “That is, what is it you can’t live without?

“You’ll find there’s a vegan equivalent. It’s not as difficult as you’d think, it’s not difficult at all.”

Christmas Day dinner for her family was a nut roast with lots of vegetables, and plans so far for 2019 include to give cooking classes in the café on Bridge Street.

If you’re considering a vegan diet, this is a good time. Veganuary is a global charity inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year.

See for more.


Nicola shares one of her family’s favourite dishes, Black Bean Chili.


5 medium tomatoes, cut into ½ inch dice or 3 (15-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, with their juice (about 5 cups)

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ½ inch dice (about 2 cups)

½ medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

4 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped

4 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

3 large celery stalks, cut into ¼-inch dice

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped

1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels

½ bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

¼ teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

Sea salt

Steamed grains or warm tortillas, for serving


In a large stew pot place the tomatoes, red bell peppers, onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes (the juices from the onion and tomatoes will be enough to keep the sauce from burning).

Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. In a blender in batches or using a hand blender, blend the sauce until smooth. Return to the pot.

Add the black beans, celery, green bell pepper, corn, kale, cilantro, lemon juice, paprika, chili powder, salt to taste, and two cups water to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the greens are tender and the chili thickens, 10 to 15 minutes.

Serve hot over steamed grains or with warm tortillas.

Cool the soup completely and transfer to an airtight container. Store in the fridge for four to five days or in the freezer for up to one month.

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