A Business With Wings – The Poulet Bonne Femme Story
It is said that “out of adversity comes opportunity” and for one couple this definitely rings true. Gavin McCarthy and Sara Mitchell felt the sting of the recession when Gavin lost his job, but from the depths of the downturn their entrepreneurship qualities took flight. The eagle didn’t land, but the chicken did, and what resulted was Ireland’s first rotisserie business; Poulet Bonne Femme. Fresh from winning Entrepreneur of the Year at the IMAGE Businesswomen of the Year Awards, I chatted to Sara about how they went from being market traders to partners with Avoca and what the future holds for Poulet Bonne Femme.
When Gavin was given redundancy Sara admits their options were limited, “there were no jobs in property in 2008 for my husband, I had just had a new baby, he was 10 days old, and I couldn’t leave him, so we knew we needed to do something ourselves”. Finding inspiration after holidaying in Spain, where they enjoyed a hot rotisserie chicken bought straight from the spit at a local farmers market, they spotted a gap in a market. With no experience in the food industry they invested Gavin’s redundancy money in a rotisserie machine and a custom built trailer and Poulet Bonne Femme was born.
They set up stall in Dún Laoghaire Market but they didn’t envisage staying there for very long, “it was definitely just a matter of getting by until we could get a job. We thought we might have to do it for a year, no more”. However, their chickens soon attracted crowds and over time the pair realised just how special what they created was; “a few years later job offers started coming in and we turned them down. I think we knew by then we had a brand that we could grow”. The pair shunned advice not to use free range chickens as a cost cutting measure and their commitment to ingredient provenance and quality is what has set them apart; for both ethical and taste reasons. “There is a huge difference between the taste of a battery hen and a chicken that has been roaming around in a field” Sara enthuses. They continue to source their chickens from a group of twelve dedicated free range farmers who are based in Co. Cavan and Co. Monaghan who call themselves ‘Farmers to Market’.
Just when they were thinking it was time to get out of the rain and into a permanent location they heard on the grapevine that Avoca were including a rotisserie in their new Monkstown store, “we quickly got in touch with them to ask would they be interested in partnering with us and we went in as a concession. It was the best outcome we could have hoped for”. The pair now have four rotisserie outlets in Avoca stores in Monkstown, Rathcoole, Suffolk Street and most recently Avoca’s Kilmacanogue store in north Wicklow. As well as the best ingredients, the Poulet Bonne Femme roasting technique has played no small part in their success, ensuring the most deliciously mouthwatering, glazed meats which customers can take home or have in a salad or sandwich. “They are slowly roasted on a spit, so they’re basting in their own juices, and this gives you a succulent roast chicken” Sara explains. In addition to their classic roast chickens, beef, lamb, pork and crackling are now on the menu too.
As well as being rotisserie masters Sara and Gavin are delivering Master Carving Course in Avoca Monkstown, teaching attendees the art of carving just in time for Christmas. Sara believes being relaxed and having confidence are two of the most important carving tools, “there is no real secret to carving, but a lot of people have built it up in their heads”. For those tired of turkey Sara is keen to promote the humble chicken as an alternative centrepiece; “We also roast a lot of large chickens for smaller groups of people. I think the chicken has much more flavour anyway”.
From a stall in Dún Laoghaire, Poulet Bonne Femme has spread it’s wings and now is about to truly take flight. As well as developing a range of side products, Poulet Bonne Femme is set to grow with Avoca, which was recently acquired by US food services company Aramark, in a deal believed to be worth in excess of €60 million. “There are big plans and we are delighted to be part of it” Sara says. While the business might have been inspired by continental rotisseries Poulet Bonne Femme represents everything that is great about Irish food; quality ingredients, prepared with love and served with a smile.
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 a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree 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.