Cancer is now affecting one in two people in Ireland. So in times of illness, Galway cafés Ground & Co and Mr. Waffle are catering and caring for the people in Cancer Care West.

The Galway company, which operates three cafes – in Salthill, Knocknacara and Newcastle – took over the catering for Cancer Care West in January 2018. But what are the key considerations in catering specifically for cancer patients, and what are the key challenges that face a business that is connected with healthcare? We spoke to Kevin Nugent, founder of Mr. Waffle, about his background, inspiration and how the business aims to make patients as comfortable as possible at Inis Aoibhinn.

“I was a catering manager until 2010 when I started up the coffee shop Mr. Waffle,” explained Kevin. The journey, as with many similar stories, included ups and downs, until “After the three year mark it became easier,” and the emphasis of growing the business moved to the catering side.

“Obviously the respite works with limited funding but we said we would work with their budget,” he said, expaining how the business was offered the contract to work with Cancer Care West. The contract is not for profit as Kevin, whose mother passed away in 2009 from cancer, has a personal interest in the issue. “It’s a great thing to be involved in,” he continued.

The main aim of the staff at Inis Aoibhinn is to look after each guest and make their stay as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Friendly chats and conversation are just as much a part of their ethos as the warm and nutritious meals that they provide.

Food is a major yet often overlooked part of recovery. At Cancer Care West, patients can avail of breakfasts from Tuesday to Friday and evening tea from Monday to Thursday.

Breakfast involves creamy porridge oats with healthy toppings, granola and cereals, scrambled eggs, fruit pots, herbal teas, tea and coffee. Evening tea includes hearty and wholesome hot meals like Irish stew, pasta bakes, mild curries and soup as well as salad options, with carbohydrates featuring heavily as part of the recovery process.

“You have to have an adaptable menu,” said Kevin. “Patients can vary day-to-day, so we do everything we can to accommodate them.”

Patients undergoing chemotherapy can be quite ill one day to the next, making it difficult for them to eat larger meals, and perhaps opting for a scone or fruit salad instead – which is often brought to their rooms by full-time onsite staff and overall ‘absolute asset’ Asling Curran.

A lot of the food is prepared off-site and delivered daily but, with a little notice, the team endeavours to feed patients in whatever manner they can. Many of the patients undergoing treatment are losing weight, making carbohydrates a strong part of each of the meals offered such as a pasta bake with chicken, sundried tomato and feta cheese or steamed salmon accompanied with mash and steamed vegetables. All meats are sourced locally, with fruit and vegetables coming from Total Produce as well as eggs coming from Corrib Eggs.

Kevin believes that the job is a “Fantastic environment to be involved with” and that patients are treated more like family and friends than customers. This can clearly be seen in the onsite Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, where patients can have family over for dinner; and the summer barbeque, with both staff and family taking part. “We like to provide them with something different all the time,” said Kevin, as many patients attend the respite for periods of up to six weeks.

Clearly there are challenges involved in running a business in conjunction with a not for profit initiative. “We are a commercial business and very small cost overruns can be a big factor – we have to manage staff costing, pay Asling as opposed to using volunteers because it is a better service, and we have to keep an eye on a monthly basis on our costs,” said Kevin.

Managing costs is key to maintaining the contract and having an idea of how many patients will be booked in for treatment is essential to their projections, knowing then how much can be spent in a given week.

So what does the future hold for Ground & Co? “Well we’d love to be still involved for Cancer Care West for years to come and have a central production kitchen, and dependent on funding we would love to be part of that,” said Kevin. “We would love to flourish the relationship.”

And considering the vital part food plays in patients’ wellbeing, it seems that Ground & Co are taking care of people in a way that is often forgotten about, that should be highly commended.

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