Dare to be different

Posted on: 5th September, 2016

Category: Food & Wine

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Hannah and Rachel Dare share more than the common bond of sisters says Mary O’Brien. This ‘healthy’ partnership has created a thriving business in the heart of their hometown, Bantry. Now employing 20 people, Organico will celebrate 25 years of successful business next year.

Started in the early nineties by Hannah and Rachel’s father Alan Dare, over the years a bakery and café was added to complement the health food shop.

In 2014, the Dare sisters expanded the café, creating a large open space over two levels. It proved a wise move, as Organico café, with its delicious, wholesome (mostly vegetarian) food has become a destination for lovers of food that tastes good and of course is good for you.

Inspired by her mum’s cooking, Rachel trained at Ballymaloe and runs the kitchen, while Hannah, a student of English and Sociology, concentrates on the business strategy.

Reared on a 30-acre organic farm by parents who embraced a sustainable and eco-friendly way of life, the Dare sisters’ upbringing has much to do with their business ideals and way of life.

Their parents, Alan and Caroline Dare, moved their family to West Cork from the UK in the eighties with a dream of living a self-sufficient lifestyle. All four of the Dare children were educated at home. “Mum also hosted a school at our house for the children of their friends two days a week, which was wonderful,” says Hannah. “I was well ahead when I started Secondary School. For the rest of the week, growing and cooking food played a big role in the Dare children’s education. “Mum made everything she could…bread, cheese, yogurt, mayo, pickles, chutneys, jams, cider vinegar, sparkling elderflower, the list goes on. We had our own bees and made our own honey. If we had chips they were made from our homegrown potatoes. Making your own food was just a very normal part of our childhood.”

Hannah and Rachel’s father, Alan Dare, started one of the first live yogurt making businesses in Ireland. “All of the yogurts on sale then were pretty much just sugary desserts,” explains Hannah. “Dad was really into functional foods and foods that benefit health. At that time, there was no understanding of the benefits of bacteria. Hannah used to help her dad with the deliveries. “It was really successful and was stocked in all the large supermarkets but he made the mistake of taking a bank loan to expand the business when it was offered to him. He tried to grow the business too fast, overspending and overstretching himself.” It’s a lesson in business that Hannah and Rachel have taken to heart, choosing to grow Organico slowly and steadily over the years.

Using almost 95 per cent of organic ingredients, sourcing as much of their produce locally as possible, snubbing pre-packaged food and rearing their own pigs for sausages and bacon — business decisions are made on ethical choices rather than the bottom line.

Hannah and Rachel are passionate when they speak about food; its source and the role it plays in health and the community.

“So many people have no concept of the fact that food plays such a big part in their health,” says Hannah. “You can see it so clearly with some health conditions, for example gout; you remove whatever’s causing the problem from your diet and the gout is gone, you reintroduce it and the gout returns. Or cut down your sugar intake and notice how your mood improves.”

“We are seeing more and more people in the café with food intolerances and food allergies to all sorts of food, even onions,” says Rachel. ‘I really think peoples systems are becoming less and less tolerable because of all the pesticides and chemicals we’re exposed to.

“A lot of our customers are looking for treats made without sugar or vegan food. And just because a dish is made without using butter or sugar or regular flour, doesn’t mean it won’t taste good. Our gluten-free brownies are the naughtiest things in the café,” says Rachel smiling.

Although at one stage, mid-recession, Hannah and Rachel did consider closing the café, they have just come to the end of their busiest summer yet. “Moving the café over two floors was a big undertaking and a risk but it has really worked out,” says Hannah.

The large friendly cafe – boasting big windows, lots of wood, and reclaimed industrial fittings, big comfy couches and high walls filled with local artwork – is always full at lunchtime. “This has been our busiest summer yet,” says Rachel with a tired but happy smile.

“We’re getting much better at encouraging feedback from our customers,” says Hannah “which I think has helped raise the profile of the business. I feel very proud when I see people coming into the café who previously wouldn’t have ever contemplated trying our food. And we’re getting a lot of families who want their children to be more adventurous and eat food that’s good for their health.”

“We were worried when we introduced meat that it would take over and alienate our customers who don’t eat meat. But we stuck with one carnivore option and lots of vegetarian options and it’s a recipe that’s worked really well for us,” says Rachel.

Although they admit they’re always “tweaking things just a little bit here and there” serious future plans include developing the online presence of the business.

“And when things quieten down a bit in the cafe, we have to finish our homework for our business mentor James Burke at the West Cork Local Enterprise Office,” says Hannah smiling.

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