Corkman goes from banking to burgers in career switch

After 15 years in banking, Declan Keane decided to follow his dream and has now opened a high-end burger joint in Bandon, he tells CHRIS DUNNE
Corkman goes from banking to burgers in career switch

TEAM WORK: Declan Keane with his wife Emma, who he says is a huge help to his business

AFTER working in finance for 15 years, and for the Bank of New York in Cork for half of that time, Declan Keane has changed career — and opened his own burger joint.

Gangster Burger is doing a roaring trade in North Main Street, Bandon, and he is delighted he took the plunge.

“I knew if I didn’t take this chance I’d never follow through in the future; so here I am!” laughs Declan.

“I’ve always liked food, it’s just one of those things,” adds the 45-year-old father of four.

“In an earlier life I worked as a chef prepping in Roxy’s Diner and New Yorkers in Kerry.”

Cooking is in the blood too.

“My brother has a restaurant, Croí, in Tralee. Food runs in our family,” says Declan, who is originally from Tralee and has lived in Bandon for a decade.

“I’ve always had an interest in food and there is a heavy connection with food throughout our whole family.

“I grew up working on the scene and regularly spoke about opening my own place, and when I eyed up a premises on North Main Street in Bandon, I took the chance when it came up for sale. It seemed the perfect location for what I had in mind.”

Declan Keane at his Gangster Burger store in Bandon.
Declan Keane at his Gangster Burger store in Bandon.

He bided his time to live the dream.

“Year upon year kept on passing by and nothing was happening,” he says,

The spot in North Main Street, central to pubs and shops, was the perfect place to start living the dream and he had the perfect formula for the King of burgers.

“I always go fresh and the beef is sourced locally, from O’Crualaoí, Ballincollig, where it is mixed in their abattoir. It has zero additives,” says Declan, who is dad to Daithí, five, and twin girls Holly and Ruby, three and a half. His son Andrew is 20.

“The meat is then mixed in twice with a bit of pork to give it all the taste it needs, while the freshly cut chips are cooked in beef fat instead of the traditional vegetable oil.

“Veggie man, Michael Moone, delivers the cut chips every morning; he has the machine to wash the potatoes and a second machine to cut them. Often cafes and restaurants use vacuum-packed potatoes. We don’t. We double fry the chips first at a low temperature and then at a high temperature to crisp them up.”

Declan, used to wheeling and dealing, is hands-on in Gangster Burger.

“I love doing fresh cut chips and rolling mince; doing handmade stuff with fish and beef,” he says,

What finishes the job?

The house relish is very popular,” says Declan. “And good and spicy to compliment the meats.”

Chicken and bacon complete the crème de la crème of his burgers.

“I’m lucky I get all my ingredients in one shop,” says Declan, who swapped the office for his own shop.

“When Covid kicked in, I was in an office Monday to Wednesday and then home from Thursdays to Fridays. Any time I met my brother I’d always talk about my dream of owning my own place.”

What did his boss says when he told him he was following his business dream?

Declan laughs.

“He wasn’t that impressed. He said would I try to open just at weekends at first to see how it went.”

He clearly didn’t want to lose his professional banker employee.

“I don’t think he did,” says Declan.

“Giving up a pensionable job was a tough thing to do. One moment you are confident, another moment you are not so sure if it is the right thing to do.”

Did he have sleepless nights mulling over his decision to take on all the responsibilities of a new business?

“It was a bit scary,” admits Declan. “You have to think about your salary, your employees’ wages, the wife, the kids, the car, the house, the mortgage.”

The dog?

“And the dog, Buddy, who is a rescue and has no tail!” says Declan laughing.

He felt the fear and did it anyway.

“The fear was almost crippling. There was a lot of fear,” says Declan. “My boss asked me a lot of questions; are you sure now? Stay awhile and operate a half-way house, he’d say. But I had to commit.”

Declan had to go the whole hog.

“I’m delighted now and we are really busy. People are really supportive here in Bandon and customers are coming from Courtmacsherry, Dunmanway and Douglas in Cork.”

His mum and dad must be proud of their two entrepreneur sons?

“Yes, they are proud,” says Declan. “My dad had his own business as well.”

What does it take to become a successful businessman?

“100% commitment and doing it right from the start,” says Declan.

We all know that behind every successful man is a woman. “I wasn’t doing everything on my own,” says Declan. “My wife Emma is a huge help, sorting out the admin side of things.”

Who came up with the name Gangster Burger?

“I may have lifted it from my brother, who had the name in mind if he ever expanded,” says Declan. “I did come up with a couple of names but before he opened Croí he had talked about opening a high-end burger places and when he said Gangster, which was in his head back then, I thought, what a great name, and I thought I’d steal it! It was better than any name I could come up with. It sounds good. It came from his idea for Culinary Gangsters and then he ran Gangster Plants — it goes well with a lot of words and it can be attached to other things if we ever expand.”

How is cooking and frying going down instead of pushing figures around?

“I love it”!” says Declan. “Our burgers are best sellers. They’re 80% beef and 20% pork. The pork brings the salt so it brings all the flavour of the beef. So I don’t add anything else at all. It does all the work and there’s no additives or anything like that.

“The beef burger is the one people are talking about,” says Declan. “It’s done with two smashed patties and cheese and we use a house relish sauce. It is quite a burger and it accounts for 75% of our orders. It is certainly popular. A big man would be full after it.”

Declan is a happy man these days behind the counter and behind the ovens of Gangster Burger, which is shaping up to be a very successful business.

How is he fixed for a loan?

“Step into my office”, he jokes.

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