Before meeting Lorraine Heskin, you can see how her high level of attention to detail is present in all aspects of Gourmet Food Parlour: the delicate flower-shaped lamps that hang without a dusty spot, the tasteful decor that blends Provençal style and a refreshing, modern, Irish touch; the efficient yet friendly staff constantly in the move and with a smile. “Success is the sum of details” said once American Businessman Harvey S. Firestone, and as Lorraine celebrates a decade in business, not one seems to pass her by.
“I expect a lot from people”, she says, and with 140 staff combining the six Gourmet Food Parlours (Swords, Dun Laoghaire, Malahide, Leeson Street, 37 Dawson Street and Swords Business Park) and a thriving catering business -her most recent venture- Lorraine proudly adds that she doesn’t have a high employee turnover, “I respect staff”, she says and she considers herself “a very hands-on and very honest” manager who “sets high standards and adheres to them.”
Avoiding the Micromanagement Trap
Being on top of every little thing is crucial when you are starting up but as a company grows, it can become a crippling burden for entrepreneurs. While Lorraine is involved in the day to day running of the business -she will often talk to the staff and her customers- she has worked to surround herself with a trustworthy operational management team.
“I delegate the day to day. I worked a few years ago with a consultant to become a better leader”, she says. This feedback led to a restructuring of some areas, and the strengthening of her team. “I want to create a company that is different, where staff is happy to come to work”, she adds, and even though she now has time to focus on the big picture, she has developed a system to stay updated on all that’s going on: everyday, the staff gathers for a pre-shift brief at the beginning of the day and a post-shift brief at the end. Customers’ comments, feedback and any issue is discussed. Then, once a week, she meets with the operations management team to stay informed and make decisions together.
Is there anything difference in what customers asked for 10 years ago to what they want now?
“Yes, healthier food. There’s a much bigger focus in healthier alternatives, gluten free is a very big trend. We work with expert nutritionists to make sure there is something for everyone.”
This nutritional angle is not only important for Gourmet Food Parlour, it’s major for the catering business that Lorraine also directs, which has many high profile costumers and is the official nutritional partner of Dublin GAA County Board and Leinster Rugby.
To ensure that their sports nutrition meals are up to the highest standards, Lorraine works with Daniel Davey and Brendan Egan from FoodFlickr, a company that focuses on tasty, minimally processed foods adapted to many different dietary requirements and needs, from high level performance athletes to wight loss clients to customers with health conditions or intolerances.
The Power of Friendship
It takes a very sensible and rational duo to make the jump from best friends to business partners work. Fortunately, both Lorraines share more than those traits. “We both have the same taste in food and decoration, which is great”, Lorraine says, and she adds that working together has only made their friendship stronger.
“We’re like sisters”, a sister that functions as the Managing Director (Heskin) while the other is the Finance Director (Byrne). In practice, roles might overlap every now and then, but teamwork and mutual respect has grown from the base of a solid friendship between two extremely hard working and like-minded women.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that it has always been easy. After Lorraine worked for four years in the food industry in New York and came back in 2005 with the idea of starting up, they got together and found their first big challenege when looking to access financing.
The learning curve taught them the importance of maintaining a healthy cash flow, and of keeping a balance between offering the best and managing costs. During the recession years, when her charmingly European, top-quality restaurant proposition was challenged by the circumstances, Lorraine was advised by many to change, reduce costs, offer deals and discounts and take other measures that many fellow restaurateurs were implementing to stay afloat.
Instead, they started opening during the evening time with a tapas menu. It became a success and even nowadays is a very important part of her business. “Believe in yourself and don’t let anybody stand in your way, don’t change who you are for others” is the advise she’d share with those wishing to start in the food industry. “Gain experience, and walk in the shows of the type of person you want to become. If you want to be a restaurateur, spend time with a restaurateur”.
Do you ever take time out or fully disconnect from work?
“I find it very difficult, but yes, I do switch off.” Both Lorraines take turns over the weekends and trust the operations management team, however, despite the long hours and high demands, “unless I’m very stressed about something, it doesn’t feel like a job”, Lorraine says.
On her spare time, she likes to spend time with her family -husband and three children, all under six-, and through the interview she mentions a few times that she loves what she does, so staying motivated and inspired comes naturally. She’s also constantly thinking about new trends and ideas that will help her “create the best restaurant I can provide for my customers.”
Among these new trends, she mentions a new cocktail menu coming soon. “We’re working with a mixologist in London and will have only bespoke Irish spirits, we’re very exited”. This wouldn’t be Lorraine’s first experience with alcoholic drinks in the Gourmet Food Parlour, as wine has become increasingly important, especially after the success of their tapas nights.
“We buy from five exceptional companies and every wine in the menu is hand selected”, among her favourites, she points out “an amazing Chening Blanc from South Africa, a Californian Zinfandel and gorgeous Champagne.”
Ten Years in Business: A Milestone and a Very Emotional Day
“One of my mottos is how can we be better today than yesterday. Even if yesterday we broke record sales, today is a new day”, and instead of resting on self-congratulatory success, every new day she goes after new opportunities but despite her no-nonsense attitude and her drive, the tenth anniversary of Gourmet Food Parlour was worthy of stopping and celebrating.
“I was very emotional on that day”, she speaks abot the 28th of July when they officially celebrated the milestone with a big party with the staff. “I was like…” a huge smile is the only thing to complete this phrase and then on a more reflexive tone she said that reaching a decade in business is one of her biggest acchievements. It was amazing, a very proud day”.”
But tomorrow is a new day, and with a newly opened shop, Lorraine’s next move is “to reagroup and prepare for Christmas.” When asked about any new shops on the horizon, she goes for her first “maybe” and as the catering business is the fastest growing area of the company, this sounds like the wise thing to say.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.