The Cake Café

As you will read in the Spring edition of Celtic Life International Magazine (on sale March 28!), The Cake Café in Dublin is a self-proclaimed “leafy courtyard oasis” in the heart of a busy city. Recently we spoke with the eatery’s owner Michelle Darmody.

What is your own background/ethnic heritage?
I was born in Cork but my Mother’s family come from County Meath and my Father’s from Tipperary. After attending my local school I went on to study art in Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork City before heading off to travel for a few years. I worked in the US and Australia before returning to Ireland to set up The Cake Cafe

What inspired you to start the business?
I do not think I am the world’s greatest employee so I decided to hire myself.  I grew up in a big Irish family where the oven was always on, there were scones being popped in or bread being taken out of it almost every morning. Seven years ago when I opened The Cake Cafe it was not so easy to find good home baking in Dublin’s cafes or restaurants. I missed my mother’s recipes and I thought there must be people who would also enjoy good quality baked goods, so I went about setting up a bakery and cafe. I wanted to create a space that was relaxing and centered around the kitchen. Like my Mother I only use natural ingredients in our cakes and bread, the eggs are all free range and we use real Irish butter not any cheaper substitutes.

What are the challenges of the profession?
There are a lot of hours on your feet and you need to be open to change and to new ideas when you run any business. I enjoy the challenges of the food industry and we create a new menu daily depending on what produce is available to us. At certain times of the year the farm produce is lean and we do not have as much to work with.

What are the rewards?
I love owning my own business. I work extremely hard but when you are doing something you love it never feels like work. I am very proud to be championing Irish food producers and to be able to serve the great quality Irish produce on our menu. In 2012 I published my first book, The Cake Cafe Bake Book, which was really well received and made it onto a few best sellers lists. I also released a selection of Irish designed tea towels and aprons. The same ethos has gone into developing them as I have with sourcing food. After much searching I found a small artisan Irish linen mill that produces the material and then prints and finishes the cloth for us a few miles from Dublin. Again it is such a privilege to be able to support local indigenous industry, especially such a historic one as our linen trade.

What is the company’s core mandate?
Good food at a fair price. Good design, good food and good intentions I guess. I am very proud to support local small producers and to run my business so it creates as little negative effect on the environment as possible. We are located within the Daintree Building; an award winning sustainable premises and we recycle and compost our waste as well as use environmentally friendly cleaning products. We have a huge amount of regular customers who we have got to know well over the years. I love that we are a meeting place for people, a hub where they can chat over good food.

What are your key products?
Beautiful decorated bespoke cakes made with good quality ingredients, great home-cooked lunches and more recently The Cake Cafe Bake Book and our Irish made home-wares. The home wares are able to travel the globe better than a cake can so it is great that people can take a keepsake from Ireland with them or get it posted to relatives abroad.

What is your marketplace?
In The Cake Cafe it is mainly locals but we do get quite a few tourists wandering down the lane to find us. We love getting visitors and it is great to be able to impart our local knowledge to them. From our website we receive orders from all over the world. There is a huge Irish Diaspora as you know, and we get asked to send our book or tea towels to them as gifts or keepsakes from Ireland. Our tea towels and aprons incorporate maps of cities and Ireland into the design so it’s nice to know that people still connect with our designs even if they haven’t been to the cafe.

How do you differ from your competition?
We have always tried to be original and creative in our food and products from The Cake Cafe. In terms of cake baking, people come to us if they want an unusual cake created with love, and because we deliver to anywhere in the city we do a lot of bespoke cakes for cooperate clients and film and photo shoots. Our food is cooked fresh everyday using the best ingredients we can get our hands on. We have always kept our prices fair and I think it has helped us through the last few years. Our menu is really good value for the quality of the food we produce I think our customers know us for great food and are pleasantly surprised when they compare our prices to others. The cafe has a beautiful outdoor courtyard so we are very secluded even though we are in the city. You can relax and sip a glass of wine without the noise of traffic passing by.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Irish economy?
Our economy has been in trouble over the past few years and the country is really feeling the effects. I notice more and more young people have left our shores. I wonder that I have not seem a customer in a while and then when they finally pop back it is to say that they are home on a visit, they have moved to London or further afield. There are positive aspects of the recession to be seen in Dublin City too. There are more spaces available to artists and more low key gigs are being organized. Things have shed the glare of money and have gone back to basics which can be nice and makes a city feel vibrant and more unique. I love living in Dublin despite what problems the economy might have it is still a wonderful place to visit. Its size and the diversity of businesses here make it a great holiday destination as well as a great place to live.

Are we doing enough to preserve & promote Celtic culture generally?
Within Ireland Celtic culture is all around us, it is our everyday and our history so here it is not necessarily promoted but lived.  The GAA is more popular than ever and I think people have a sense of pride in the Irish culture in this generation that may not have been so prevalent in the past. It is a new confidence that does not look so much to history but towards the future. There has been a resurgence and greater acknowledgement in the quality of Irish produce and the Irish cuisine that stems from our Celtic culture and old traditions are being preserved.

What can we be doing better?
I firmly believe in supporting small businesses which help to make every city and town in Ireland unique while building and strengthening community ties and creating local jobs. The people creating artisan Irish food, that we are so proud to put on our menu in The Cake Cafe, are preserving old methods and parts of our culture that would be left behind by “one size fits all” model of big business. Ancient methods of cheese making are still being used to great affect and small farms are tending to their cattle in a manner that not only produces great meat but uses age old traditions that have been adapted for more modern times.

What’s next on the company agenda?
Our home wares have been so well received I want to continue working with people in our linen industry to create more new, modern designs that represent a fresh, new image of Ireland.  I also want The Cake Cafe to continue being a success which then allows me the time to work on a new book which is very exciting. I am writing a book at present with a view to having it released next Christmas. The wheels of book publishing turn slowly.