'Restructuring last year was challenging. I don't like my staff to be stressed out'

Lorraine Heskin from Gourmet Food Parlour talks avocado toast, recession and keeping staff stress-free.

By Zuzia Whelan Reporter, Fora

LORRAINE HESKIN IS upfront about her love of her mobile phone.

It has helped the managing director and co-founder of Gourmet Food Parlour keep tabs on the growing restaurant chain when she’s on the go.

Since 2006, the company has opened eight eateries across Dublin and Galway as well as a catering unit, which collectively employ 280 people, and sales last year were just shy of €12 million.

As part of our weekly question-and-answer series, we spoke to Heskin about taking on the recession, staying grounded and the importance of time alone.

Here’s what she had to say:

What do you eat for breakfast?

If I eat at home, I love to make my own porridge in the morning, and serve it with honey and berries.

At the weekend, I like to go out for brunch in our own restaurant and I love some of our ‘Foodflicker’, which would be our healthier dishes at the weekend. I love the smashed avocado with poached eggs and seeds and granary toast.

What’s your favourite possession?

Honestly, it’s my phone. It’s always glued to me. It’s such a great way of keeping in touch with everybody. It helps me to facilitate running the business no matter where I am.

What hobbies do you pursue when you’re out of office?

I do go out of my way to make time for walks and runs. I really do try to exercise two or three times a week.

It’s really important to clear my head and it’s also one of the very few times I get to spend on my own, so that’s very important. My kids are very young, so my hobbies are their hobbies.

Who is Ireland’s most underrated entrepreneur?

I was a judge on the Network Ireland Women in Business awards last year and I met so many inspiring women who are creating their own businesses, working from home, raising a family and trying to juggle life.

I think they are probably the most underrated entrepreneurs that I have met in a very long time.

If a potential employee was brilliant but socially inept (or a bad fit for office culture), would you still hire them? Why/why not?

I don’t feel that any employee has everything to give to a role. But I do feel that when they come in to work for Gourmet Food Parlour, I like to be able to train them on the areas where they feel weaker. If they’re the right fit for the job, absolutely I would hire them.

21092018_JB2-72 (1)
Source: Gourmet Food Parlour

What have you found is the best way to motivate staff?

My most important mantra every day is to lead with a positive outlook. I like a positive environment and I want the staff to respect each other. I like the teams to have fun every day and I think that even creating that foundation within the business motivates staff.

From a business perspective – and their own individual career – I like to get a feel for what they love and what they like to do.

When you know what an employee loves about their role, they gain more and they give better results. That makes them love their job an awful lot more.

What do you see as being the biggest challenge for your business?

Over the last 13 years, the greatest challenge was surviving the recession. We opened in 2006 with just a daytime cafe business serving soup and sandwiches. Now we’re a full restaurant business, takeaway and we have a catering and event company as well.

We’ve diversified the definition of the brand over the years. We felt that our restaurants are open anyway and we’re paying rent, so why not try a night-time business, bring in some more sales and try and help profitability across the board? That really helped us an awful lot.

What’s the oddest item in your office/workplace?

Our head office is over our restaurant in Swords and by far the oddest item is on the wall outside our CFO’s office. It’s a postbox that he put outside his door.

If anyone spends any money they must put their receipt in there. We laugh about it, but it’s a really good way of getting everyone to be accountable for what they’re doing.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received, and who did it come from?

The best advice that I ever received was from a lady that I worked for when I lived in New York. She always used to say to me, “Yesterday’s over and today’s a new day.” So even if we had a record day yesterday, today is a new day. Stay grounded, stay focused.

What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to deal with in your business so far and how did you overcome it?

We scaled a lot of the business over the years. A challenge when you’re scaling is minding your staff, minding the structure within the business and making sure that it doesn’t affect anybody.

We’ve opened a few new restaurants and a new catering kitchen last year. That brought a lot of extra work within the organisation and we had to restructure. That was quite challenging I have to say.

You feel such a sense of responsibility to get it right for your team. I don’t like my staff to be stressed out.

Get our NEW Daily Briefing with the morning’s most important headlines for innovative Irish businesses.