'Sometimes festivals just don't work for us. The food doesn't sell and you lose a lot of money'

Over the years, Kanum’s Marc Fitzharris has learned when it’s the right time to cut your losses.

By Marc Fitzharris Co-founder, Kanum

EVER SINCE I can remember, I have always been interested in a business of some kind.

I’ve been working since I was around 14 or 15 and would always have two or three jobs on the go.

The first thing I started selling, when I was 11 or 12, were Christmas logs around my neighbourhood. Then I started breeding rabbits and sold them to the local pet shop.

I always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of selling and going door-to-door to sell my products. During college I even took a year out to work for C&C, which produces Bulmers, as a merchandiser and sales representative.

Eventually I went into the takeaway business, working for a number of chippers and pizza places. From working at the front of house to being out on the road doing deliveries, I saw every bit of that business and learned what makes takeaways tick.

I got interested in the sector and liked learning about how these businesses operate.

In the mid-2000s, I went travelling for a year to Australia and continued working – this time on building sites – while also spending some time around Thailand as well.

When I came back my first instinct was to get into the takeaway business, but this time by launching my own business and working for myself.

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Source: Conor McCabe Photography

Takeaway industry

When I returned to Ireland in 2006 from travelling, I continued to work on building sites and did any work I could get my hands on for a few years before we launched Kanum – a Thai food takeaway.

I also started working in the Dublin Fire Brigade in 2006 as well and I’m still there today. So I’m kept busy with two full-time jobs.

Before I left to go travelling, I was working for a pizza company and it had just started selling franchises. At the time, I was very interested in the idea of buying a franchise off that company, but when I looked into it more the costs were huge.

Back when I was with that company, pizzas were also starting to get a bad reputation. It wasn’t seen as healthy food and people were starting to demand healthier options.

That’s where the idea for Thai food came in. At the time, when we set up Kanum in 2009 there weren’t many takeaways providing the food we were cooking.

There were a lot of Thai restaurants, but Thai takeaways were few and far between – the market was dominated by Chinese food. So there was a gap in the market.

We were talking about launching Kanum for about a year beforehand and actually set the business up in April 2009, but it took us a few months to find our feet and open a store.

This was at the height of the economic downturn, but it turned out the business we were setting up actually suited the recession because it was restaurant-quality food at takeaway prices.

Even though people didn’t have much money, they still wanted to eat out the odd night but they couldn’t afford a restaurant meal.

Source: Stephen Wall Morris

Growing the business

The recession actually helped us build and it felt like we hit the ground running. By 2010 we had opened a second branch based on the success of the first one.

Since then we have concentrated a lot on event catering as well. We now have three separate event units that cater for different lunchtime markets around Dublin during the week.

We also do some of the big festivals and also cater for birthdays, christenings and weddings.

Last year we opened a central preparation kitchen in Park West, which we also do deliveries from. It’s where we make all our sauces, starters and prepare all our vegetables.

Maybe I just don’t know any better because we started during a recession – I’ve just always enjoyed the day-to-day running of the company. Even a simple thing like a good review on TripAdvisor is one of the highs for me.

I spend a lot of time reading all those reviews because you need to keep on top of it. As far as I’m concerned, the customer is always right, so if they’re telling us that something is wrong, we need to change it and fix it.

So I’m constantly going through review sites looking for feedback that can help us improve as a company.

Source: Damian Bligh


Everyday you learn something new about this business, like new ways of dealing with staff and keeping the right percentages between wages and turnover.

I keep an eye on my suppliers and change them regularly if necessary to maintain the costs at a level we can sustain.

Obviously we’ve made mistakes along the way, but luckily for us there hasn’t been any catastrophe. We’ve had small issues and you learn from them and get stronger.

We’ve had mixed results at a few festivals. We’ve tried nearly every big festival around the country at this stage over the years and some of them just don’t work for our style of food.

Sometimes the food just doesn’t sell because each festival attracts different types of crowds, and it might not be our target audience – we’ve learned from that.

But unless we went and tried each festival, we wouldn’t know that. Now we focus on Electric Picnic, Body & Soul and Forbidden Fruit because that’s where our clientele goes.

We’ve lost a good bit of money at other festivals just trying to make it work or figure out what works for us.

If it doesn’t work, it’s simple – we don’t go back to those festivals. You need to cut your losses if it’s not working because it can be expensive to go to a festival. You need to sell a lot of food to justify the rent and wages.

super eats
Source: Kanum

Juggling jobs

Right now we’re researching whether it’s best for us to expand ourselves through company-owned branches or possibly franchising and selling them to people around the country.

No matter what model we pick, hopefully we can grow the company in Dublin first and then build out from the capital slowly into counties like Kildare.

Our headquarters in Park West isn’t a million miles from Kildare and all our food is delivered from that base, so logistically we need our centre to be close to new branches.

I suppose some people could look at my work life and think I have a lot to juggle, but I enjoy doing all of it and just like to keep busy.

I’m that kind of person who can’t sit still and when you own a business, there are plenty of things to do every day.

I’m getting married next year and we don’t have any kids yet. I suppose when they come along, we might have to reassess the situation and I might need to delegate more of the work I’m involved with at Kanum.

No matter what though, I see myself in the food business for life now. But I don’t think I could leave the fire brigade either. That’s another job for life.

Marc Fitzharris is the co-founder of Kanum. This article was written in conversation with Killian Woods as part of a series on business mistakes and what can be learned from them.

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