Fans of Sprout & Co. will be unsurprised to hear the news that the healthy day time restaurant will open a third location just within a year of opening its first standalone store on Dawson Street. But just days before signing the lease of the new premises, on Sir John Rogerson Quay, founder Jack Kirwan, 27, still can’t quite believe how fast Sprout & Co. has bloomed and blossomed.
“If you told me a year ago that we would have three restaurants I would have laughed at you. I drove by that building a year ago, and said if I could open a restaurant anywhere in Dublin that would be where I would love to, so I couldn’t believe that it became available.”
An alumni of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Jack launched Sprout Food Company in 2013, opening a juice bar in Avoca Rathcoole, owned by his cousins family the Pratts, and where Jack had been a chef for three years. The concession proved to be the perfect incubation unit for the seed of the company to take root, and steadily they grew; first getting stocked in the rest of the Avoca stores, and then, when they made the move to cold pressing their juices, in independent retailers around the country.
His brother Theo joined in the company in 2014. “Theo got involved a year after I opened. He had been living in London as an actor. He’s the charismatic one,” says Jack laughing. Two years into the juice business, they set up Sprout & Co Kitchen in November 2015.
“This is what I always wanted,” says Jack as we sit at one of the wooden communal benches in the bright Dawson Street store. “Everyone who saw us taking it on at the time said we were mad, that nothing had worked in this spot, even some family members. But I think it’s a great space.” “But it was kind of good that it didn’t happen straight away,” Jack admits, “because I don’t think it would have been run or thought out as well if I had done it back then, when I started the juice business aged 23, with nobody working for me.”
“But also being connected with Avoca was fantastic for us, it immediately gave a connection to a quality brand. People already knew what we were before we started here, we weren’t starting from scratch.”
The business has flourished on Dawson Street, with queues regularly forming around the block for their generous and genuinely delicious salads, wraps, juices and coffees (plus decadent, virtuous treats from NutShed). “My intention initially was to open up one a year, if we could,” Jack says, but when the opportunity arose to open a second premises in a restored Georgian building on Mount Street, with the support of a backer, he says they “just went with the momentum”.
Riding that same tide of momentum, the brothers are set to open the third Sprout & Co. in November. “This is going to be the most exciting project we’ve had out of all three,” Jack reveals, adding that they plan to open, for the first time, 7 days a week, and serve weekend brunch.
Jack and Theo certainly look the part as the poster boys of healthy eating, but Jack insists he isnt “uber-healthy”. “I just always liked cooking with great ingredients, and when I was down in Ballymaloe I was really impressed by how they picked stuff on the farm and cooked it straight away.” This farm to table ethos is at the core of Sprout & Co., and through their go-to man in Smithfield market, Ciaran Butler, a fourth generation fruit and vegetable trader, Jack and Theo champion local growers and build their menu around what is available from season to season.
“We change the menu four times a year”, says Jack , “but we have three signature salads that if we took off the menu the customers would go crazy.” These favourites include the ‘Super Guacamole’ and a ‘Sataysfied Turkey Bowl’
For autumn, new additions include a Vietnamese salad with a pickled beansprout mix, coriander and mint dress, and prawns, and a ‘Beets 3 Ways’ salad; featuring pickled heritage beets, roasted beets, and a beet tzatziki, all served with bulgar wheat and goats cheese.
“What we want to do more is start talking more about the seasons, and our producers. I think if there is a story behind food it makes it more enjoyable. Previously it’s just been Michelin star chefs talking about seasonal produce and local producers, that’s great but it can be inaccessible to a lot of people. What we are doing isn’t rocket science, but there is a story there.”
True to the ethics of the company, Jack is particularly excited about an initiative they are working on to support Irish farmers. Partnering with some bigger businesses by ordering as a group they will be able to guarantee local growers a consistent revenue stream. “Some of the Irish farmers are really struggling. The big guys are doing well, but some of the smaller guys find it really hard because the prices of veg from places like Holland where they are mass producing are so much cheaper.”
Sitting in the cafe, the diverse mix of customers that come through the door shows that Sprout & Co. isn’t just for gym bunnies, and health obsessives. “We make a joke that I say our customers are 80% women, but Theo says it’s just 80% of the women that I notice,” Jack says with a grin. “But in reality it’s a big mix, and the same goes with the juice business. When we started out in Rathcoole we had guys coming in, trying kale for the first time, and then coming back. That’s pretty cool.”
“Also our portions are pretty big, and from the start it was about making sure that I would be filled by our salads, and I have a pretty good appetite.”
Portion sizes, quality ingredients, and health credentials aside, what keeps people coming to Sprout & Co. is the flavour. “I think the key to that is that we hire really good chefs. Our two head chefs both worked in Avoca, I actually used to work under them. We were really focused on that; there’s a takeaway contemporary vibe here, but there is no compromise on flavour.”
“I think what makes us unique too is that when you come in you can smell the falafel cooking, and the butternut squash roasting; we make everything on site.”
While Jack is in control of the Sprout & Co. kitchens, brother Theo oversees the juice side of the business. They have just secured a contract for distribution within Spar stores and Applegreen service stations, and there are plans to spread their green (and yellow, orange, and purple too) goodness to independent retailers all over the country soon. “We’re probably about to double our stockists from the start of October.”
As for how many more Sprouts we will see sprouting up around Dublin, Jack says they have no plans to branch out further just yet. However, while unlike the fairy tale this Jack might not have a bag of magic beans, there certainly seems no limit to where and how fast Sprout & Co. will take root and reach the skies.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.