It’s January – we’ve all ditched the smokes, banished the booze, and vowed to live clean. What better way to deal with the munchies then, than by dropping into Temple Bar’s Staple Foods for a coffee and a humdinger of a salad? Le Cool talked with the founder Kevin Mulvaney about deserting big banking for cold-press juicers and D.I.Y store design.
My name is Kevin Mulvaney. During school and college I always worked in restaurants; I worked in Roly’s bistro in Ballsbridge and what used to be called Fitzer’s restaurant – it’s now Marco Pierre White’s. So I worked as a waiter with no formal kitchen training – just helping out. When I was eighteen I moved to the south of Spain and worked in a bar, a kind of gastro pub for a year. Then, I came back here and did a degree in photography and journalism and after that I did a master’s degree in marketing. Then, I studied for an MBA in behavioural finance in Chicago for three years. I lived in London and worked in the London Stock Exchange for a while, and I moved back here and I was working for Merrill Lynch until I quit my job last Christmas. I was looking for properties for about four or five months and came across this in May.
I always thought that there was a market for healthy food that was more casual. I think that healthy food tends to be polarised between very hippie-ish and very clinical. I thought that if you can create an atmosphere that’s normal and that you’re not 100% concentrating on it being healthy, and it’s still tasty and filling and all that kind of stuff that it would work, particularly around this area of Temple Bar where not a lot of effort is put into business and the food and all that kind of stuff that the contrast would be kind of healthy.
There aren’t really any particular inspirations behind my approach, it’s more about creating something that I’m able to produce fresh every day. Obviously the space is so small so nothing in here is kept for more than a day. I have no freezers and I just have one fridge. In the morning it’s full of fruit and veg and meats and stuff like that and by the end of the day the goal is to have that empty. By and large, it works. I don’t really have that much waste at all. I just wanted to create something that’s not obscenely healthy as I also think that there’s a stigma with health food that you’re not going to be full after it, or it’s not going to taste good. So I’d still do sandwiches, but the bread I use is a low-GI bread, and salads. It’s also a very accessible price point. I almost got the property and worked around the space as opposed to having a definite idea before getting the property. It just developed over time.
I personally have always had an interest in all sorts of design, obviously my budget wasn’t massive to do this and originally I went to a couple of designers – some really great people that I’ve nothing but respect for, but their prices were just way above our price point. So instead my friend’s a carpenter, he built all the tables, he built the bar there, built those chairs, everything. We just ripped the place out and I designed everything actually, no help. The lights are Irish, all the wood is Irish, that oven is Irish, the fridge is Irish, the coffee machine’s not but anywhere possible I buy Irish stuff. My food comes from Smithfield Market, it’s not 100% Irish but where it can be, it is. I get my bread from a place down on Essex Street called The Bakery, really nice stuff, so the bread’s fresh everyday and, again, it’s Irish where possible. In terms of design and all that kind of stuff it’s just my friends and me basically did it. I just wanted to do something that was easy, and that I could keep a constant theme with, without having a lot of money spending on the branding and marketing and all that kind of stuff. As you can see they’re just eight-euro blackboards from Eason’s.
Up until three months ago I was the only person who worked in here. I did all the accounting, all my marketing, all my food prep, purchases, absolutely everything. So we’ve been open for six months on St. Stephen’s Day. Two and a half or three months ago we hit a turning point. From day one it was always alright – always paying the rent, but about two months ago word got out or whatever it is. For me, word of mouth is amazing. I would say, on any given day 50% of people who come in here are repeat customers. So I would chat with people and I’d create a friendly atmosphere and build relationships with people.
We’ve become known for our juices…so the carrot, apple and ginger one is called Orange Juice, the spinach-based one is called the Green Goliath, that’s by far the most popular, and the beetroot one is the Beat Boxer. I came up with all the labelling and all the recipes and everything, obviously I’ve researched the topic quite a bit, but I think it’s always better to do your own thing as opposed to trying to emulate somebody else.
The juices are very popular, particularly with January, and we were in Lovin’ Dublin – they did a crazy write up. It was great. That really helped with the juices. All throughout December, even before Christmas, the juicing thing was popular but the past two weeks have just been crazy. And then you’ve got the special cold press juicer. Yeah it’s called a masticating or a cold press juicer. There are basically two different kinds of juicers that you can buy; there’s masticating or cold press, and then there’s another one called centrifugal. A centrifugal one is fundamentally a blender, but it has a filter on it to take the fibre out, so there are two spouts, one is juice and one is dry, organic matter. The problem with those centrifugal ones is because they’re using blades they are fundamentally blenders. Anything over 42 degrees heat against a piece of fruit or vegetable will kill off a number of enzymes in the fruit or vegetables. It also oxidises the juice because it’s spinning so fast that it introduces air into it, which will make the juice go off a lot quicker. With the cold press one the main piece of machinery is driven by a motor, which goes at 32 revolutions per minute. That creates absolutely no heat. Then there is a sieve that sits around it, so the fruit or the vegetable goes through there and this turns around very slowly and basically presses the fruit against the sieve. The juice comes out one spout and the fibre will come out the other. So there’s no heat involved in the process and there’s no air added to it. I’m not saying that centrifugal juicing is bad or anything like that, it’s still better for you than a can of Coke or whatever, but this is the best you can get basically. I’ve gone through an awful lot of juicers as well and price does not equate to quality when it comes to juicers. I bought a commercial grade juicer for €800 and it broke within three days. I was using it a lot and it cracked in half. I had a meltdown. So, I’ve gone through a lot of juicers and I’ve come to the conclusion that I know what I’m talking about.
So the juicing thing has been really popular and it really complements the idea of the food, people come in for the juice and then they end up having the food, which is great. We just got voted the second best sandwich in Dublin on the Bridgestone guide as well. I was really happy to come second.
Everything on the menu is not based on anything else; I just sort of looked around the Internet. We only started doing sandwiches about a month after we opened – the menu was all salads originally and was loosely based on the paleo diet with the exception of falafel. There are a million versions of paleo but the most prominent version says you’re not supposed to eat legumes, beans and things like that. So falafel is obviously not paleo, but the falafel we have is organic, vegan and gluten free. This actually makes it unusual because most falafel has some sort of dairy in it. So it’s loosely based on paleo but I don’t like to obsess over anything, just that it’s going in a certain direction, I think that’s what Irish people are like. They aren’t too faddish. Exactly, and it allows me to change my menu. I want to bring out a new menu, as I want to start focusing on gluten free grains, things like buckwheat and quinoa and stuff like that. So I just want to be in a constant state of evolution.
I remember I had gone through quite a few names for the shop, and I was actually looking at quinoa on Wikipedia and somewhere in there it said it was a staple food. Quinoa is typically cultivated in South America. If you actually look at the stock price of quinoa it’s rising fast. It’s good and bad because it’s really helping their economy too. I remember I was just looking at quinoa and it said this is a staple food of I think it was Argentina or somewhere like that. So I just thought it was a cool name, very basic with nothing processed, just basic, staple foods. And how is it, after years on the stock market, do you find yourself shouting? Not really. In the past six months it’s been a massive learning curve for us, particularly in the last two when I changed from, well I still make the food every day but I was doing other things this year with this brand. Changing from a role where you’re just making the food and coffees to more of a management role is something I found quite difficult. Letting go of control is difficult, at the beginning I spent eighteen hours straight just juicing. But now I’ve, obviously, training and I have some really good staff in here, two guys and a girl and I think they almost love it as much as I do, so that’s really nice and it’s really great just to be able to trust people. Certainly that change from just being the day-to-day in here, moving from making sandwiches and buying stuff to managing has been a challenge, but it’s still good. I love it in here. It’s busy in here at lunchtime, typically from a quarter past twelve until about half two it would be pretty full. I think on Monday there were about twenty people here which, in a normal place isn’t that many, but when you look from behind the counter you’re just like, oh my god! Meltdown! It’s a great buzz in here when I turn the music right up; it’s a good time to be here at lunchtime. So I’m loving it.
Interview by Oisin Leonard
Photo by Al Higgins