Recipe for success at Kai Café in Galway
Couples who cook
By Móna Wise
These days, with the rates of divorce skyrocketing even in Ireland, it seems that the act of getting married is easy and staying married is posing to be a sometimes impossible challenge.
Why then, do some couples seem to make life even harder by foraying into the same line of work as their spouse? When looking up and down the coast of Galway and Mayo, it is easy to find several couples who have decided that wedded bliss is just not enough for them and they feel the need to flex their masochistic muscles by entering into a business contract with their bedfellows.
David Murphy and his wife Jess Margurte-Murphy are a perfect example of this. A little over 14 years ago, David, a Carlow native, headed down under to backpack his way around Australia for three or four months. He just wanted to have a bit of fun.
“Those plans all came to a crashing halt because I met Jess almost straight away” he laughed.
A clear cut case of love at first sight, he and his new love, Jess Margurte-Murphy a chef by trade from New Zealand, knew they were soul mates and moved in together within a few weeks of their first kiss.
An engineer by trade, David took a break from his career and showed interest in a job he saw advertised in a restaurant on an island off the west coast of Perth. “They were looking for couples to come out and work on the island for the summer months so Jess and I, along with an Irish couple from Mullingar, spent the summer working alongside each other in the kitchen, Jess as a chef and me as a kitchen porter.”
As with all summer jobs, the fun was short lived and David returned to his career as soon as summer break came to an end.
Although it was love at first sight for the duo now sharing a home together, David was still focused on his career in engineering and pursued that route having no problem finding employment but it did put a strain on their schedules. So how did this work out for the lovebirds?
“It was different I suppose. We were working entirely different schedules and only occasionally saw each other on a Sunday” said David. “All was not lost though, because you see I had time to focus on my love for Rugby and I invested in a paid subscription to Sky Sports.”
Jess chimed in with a loud laugh adding “Yes, it was like Sky saved our marriage really. We were like two ships passing in the night I mean, we still chatted a lot in the early days about me having a little café, but it was all pie in the sky kind of ideas at that stage. I wanted one of those tiny 40 seat cafés, where I could serve up gorgeous cakes, lovely fresh-from-the-farm salads, and in my mind it would be like having a load of friends around for supper every day.”
But this never happened in Australia or in even in Jess’s native New Zealand.
“The timing was not right for either of us. The idea of owning and operating our own business was too scary at the time and I suppose we just were not ready. I felt like I had a lot more to learn and David was focused on working as an engineer. In 2003 we decided to up sticks and move to Ireland. I had always wanted to get work experience in a Michelin Star restaurant. Back then (and still now) Kevin Thornton was doing amazing things with food in his kitchen and so we found ourselves one day dumped onto St. Stephens Green in Dublin, me with my knife kit and David with his toolbox.”
Although David carried on with his career in engineering, while Jess worked her one-year stint with Kevin Thornton in Dublin, the West was calling.
“It was an easy decision to move West really,” said David. “Although Jess had never been, I had spent several summer holidays in the west as a young boy and I knew it would be a great place to call home. The Bord Fáilte ads on the telly had us plagued. ‘Come to the West’ they’d scream at us each night on the telly, with images of the white sandy Connemara beaches beckoning. It was like being brainwashed really. I think even if it had been pictures of lashing rain and people drinking pints by the fire, we would have ended up in Galway.”
Jess took a job immediately in the Ard Bia kitchen and David with an engineering firm in Abbeyknockmoy.
Although the idea of still opening her own place was in the back of her mind, Jess knew she had to learn to walk before she ran and she kept her nose to the grindstone learning as much as she could while working for Ard Bia, then on to Sheridans Cheesemongers and eventually on to Bar 8 on the docks.
It might have been then, when working at Bar 8, when they both felt the tides turning so to speak. Jess was finding it more and more frustrating to not having control over the day-to-day operations and one day just packed it in knowing they were about to make another big change again.
Still, and before making the massive financial commitment a raging entrepreneurial spirit requires, with a bit of wanderlust lingering they toyed with the notion of moving to Denmark for a few years, but that notion dissolved pretty quickly when she heard that The Budding Cafe (Heenahans florist) was relocating and they were looking for a new tenant for that space on Sea Road, now known as Kai Café.
Citing the invaluable experience she had received working for Sheridan’s Cheesemongers alongside Galway’s first Michelin star chef Enda McEvoy (now getting ready to open his own restaurant called LOAM), Jess knew she was ready.
But was David? Would he not miss the world of engineering and a steady pay check?
“No. I love coming to work every day. I never thought I’d enjoy it so much to be honest. Jess had been rambling on about having her own place for so long that it just felt right for both of us. She was ready to go back to her roots and cook in the same style her grandmother taught her, pickling and preserving. Her time working alongside Enda McEvoy at Sheridans Cheesemongers gave her something I never thought she needed – confidence.”
“I’ve always been bossy I suppose; I’ve always been the boss” said Jess smirking, “I knew the time was right to move forward and do my own thing. Something was unleashed in me and it was time to put it to work. I always thought Dave and I would end up investing our own money in Bar 8 and when that did not happen, I just knew it was time for us to join forces and do our own thing. I could not believe I had first dibs on that little cafe. The good vibes from the whole deal made it a no-brainer for us.”
So, how does a couple go from leading polar opposite career paths to beautiful business bliss overnight?
“I stay out of the kitchen” chuckles Dave. “No, what I meant to say is I know the best times to go in to the kitchen. It’s a very small space and you need to have a purpose to be in there as there is just no room for standing around – it’s too easy to get in the way. I have my job and Jess has hers. We can manage to work a twelve or fourteen hour shift together but rarely speak to each other because I’m out front and she’s in the back doing her thing.”
“And we still chat about our day after service. Sometimes reviewing how dinner service ran or who was in for lunch that day” Jess chimes in. “and sometimes we work on different days just so we have a bit of ‘alone time’ at home by ourselves. Every couple needs breathing space, don’t they?”
“We keep it out of the kitchen” said Dave. “We know each others strengths and weaknesses all to well at this point and we just steer clear of each other. Neither of us hold grudges (Jess injects her infectious guffaw of laughter here) and we have mastered the art of keeping our dirty laundry out of the public eye.”
“We are fortunate to work with a few excellent people at Kai Café and they know our moods and understand it is normal. They keep out of our way and we just get on with the business at hand. Now that we have been open for three years it is easier. Home life is bliss, and we have all the right team players in place at Kai so it leaves little room for ructions these days. Now we are at the point where we set aside a little more time to pursue other dreams.”
Perhaps a second place maybe a bit of a gastro pub with restaurant style grub and lots more fermentation and loads of local beers on tap?
“Perhaps, perhaps,” said David. It is all possible isn’t it? Right now we are just going to continue to take care of our customers and employees and enjoy doing what we do. Taking care of people is a great honour and privilege and now we have found a way to build and maintain a solid footing in Galway, we are really just starting to enjoy the ride.
Thanks for reading …. I have a lot more pieces that will be popping up in this local newspaper over the course of the summer.
Those are all the WiseWords I have for today.
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I am a native Galway girl that seems to be drawn to professions that rhyme with 'err'. Writer, Mother, Restauranteur, Wedding Planner, Dishwasher, Grass cutter, Cocktail maker. I suppose you could say I am a well rounded entrepreneur.
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