Triona Duignan and Paul Hodder of Pantri in Dingle have spent the winter regrouping after their first summer season in business.
The couple opened their café on the town’s Main Street last June but they had both worked in the catering business for years before that. “Paul is a chef,” says Triona. “He had worked with Wildside Catering in Cork and then as a freelance chef with the likes of Star Wars but he wanted something steady, something of his own.”
Triona herself has experience front of house, having worked in Dingle’s award winning Out of the Blue for several years.
Together, they decided to set up their own café on premises where Triona’s mother was the previous tenant. “That meant I knew what the place was like and thought it could work for us,” says Triona. They wanted to put their own stamp on the place but had very little money. What they had instead was vision.
Triona was influenced by cafés she had visited in Berlin and that urban sense of style is referenced in the warm orange colours, industrial lights and simple wooden furniture used to decorate Pantri.
The couple did a lot of the work to get the café open themselves. “Paul’s father donated wood for the tables and Paul constructed the tables,” says Triona.
They both also contributed to designing their menu. “Paul loves breakfast,” says Triona. “Nowhere really did it in Dingle when we opened so we decided to focus on that.”
Triona herself is a vegetarian and her mother had previously run the café as a wholefood vegetarian place. “At the beginning, I wanted it to be vegetarian but then I realised I had to compromise,” she says. “We serve meat but it’s meat of the highest quality and we still have that healthy ethos with juices and lots of vegetables on the menu.”
Quality is key at Pantri and Paul and Triona have chosen their suppliers with this in mind. “They are all small and we know them personally,” says Triona. “We usually buy off them directly.”
They buy their meat from Gubbeen and Jack McCarthy. Mushrooms are from Ballyhoura. They get a lot of their vegetables from a local farmer. They even get a local herbalist to make up special tea blends for them. Paul and Triona haven’t done any advertising or marketing to date, instead focusing on slowly finding their feet.
“We wanted to ease our way in,” says Paul. “We still haven’t done much social media. We know it works. It’s just hard to find the time for it.”
Figuring out how to make the most of the seasonal nature of business in Dingle has been another learning curve. “We are definitely going to need to take on more staff next summer,” says Paul. “We all worked far too hard last year. Almost all of our staff have other jobs and we were their second job. This meant they were all working long hours during the summer. Also, we’re going to open seven days instead of six to make the most of the season so we’re definitely going to need extra staff, particularly a chef.”
Their first winter was busier than they expected too. “We were very busy up until the end of October,” says Triona. “We were the busiest we’d ever been during the Other Voices festival. We were going to close in January but then we found that because most other places were closed, we were busy.”
They closed for a few weeks in February but by the time you read this, they should be open again, refreshed and ready to take on a new summer season.