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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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Meet the twins behind the happiest, healthiest restaurant in Ireland

They’ve also got a new cookbook out, which has been nominated for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards.

IMG_3737 Inside the Happy Pear grocery store

IF YOU THOUGHT that a diet based on plants could only be as beige and boring as a pair of hemp sandals, let us introduce you to the effervescent Happy Pear brothers.

Identical twins David and Stephen Flynn are the happy pair behind the Happy Pear, a buzzing and bright grocery store and restaurant in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Followers of their Twitter or Facebook accounts will know that they get up before sunrise (which they usually capture on camera and joyfully show to their fans), bring their kids to work, feed them and their little ones a nutritious smoothie for breakfast, and then get down to running the show.

To do all this, you’d want to have energy to burn. But rather than fuelling themselves with espressos or energy drinks, the Flynns joyfully turn to good, old-fashioned organic wholefoods to fire up their bodies.

When we meet, the staff at front of house are preparing for a busy lunchtime. Slabs of tempting wholegrain energy bars – crammed with nuggets of goji berries and oats – and vegan ‘Twix’ bars adorn the café’s shelves, while organic and locally-grown fruit and veg take up pride of place in the shop next door.

At the back of house, things are a little chaotic, with building work being done. But the twins seem to thrive on chaos.

Their attitude has always been a little different to other people’s, and it’s this tw-individuality and passion, combined with a desire to spread the word about healthy food, that has helped the Happy Pear become the inspirational success it is today.

The cookbook

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A few months ago, the brothers released the Happy Pear cookbook, which has been nominated in the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards.

It’s the latest step that sees them branching out far beyond the coast of Wicklow, and into people’s kitchens. This is food that shows the tired stereotypes about puritanical vegetarianism are long overdue being thrown out.

Eating well, and eating plants, is finally hip. Not that the brothers mind either way.

The Happy Pear’s cookbook (rather suitably published by Penguin) came about after multiple requests from customers, and brings together recipes and tales from the twins’ lives.

“We always wanted it to be a mix, not just recipes, ‘cos when I look at most [cook]books I don’t think they have enough story. I think ‘oh I want to see the story, I want to know why they do what they do, who they are, why they live their life’,” explains David.

Because that’s the most interesting thing to me – you can Google any basil pesto recipe, or you don’t need a book at all: it’s more how the book makes you feel.

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Being identical twins, the Flynns can finish each other’s sentences, and are totally in tune with each other.

So it was no surprise to them that though they were both off travelling separately in their twenties, they turned in tandem to wholefoods, then vegetarianism, veganism, raw foods, and even fasting.

“Because we’re identical twins you tend to be on the same path anyway. Even if you’re on different continents the same things happen,” says David. Their shared DNA means not just the same fingerprints, but a linked passion for things that interest them.

They do things “120%”, they say, so when they felt the benefits of a meat-free wholefoods diet, they went full-throttle down the road of healthy living.

But it wasn’t enough just to feel good themselves – they wanted to spread the word and show that anyone can eat well and feel the benefits. You just have to embrace plants.

Buying a shop on a whim

Steve was fasting in Corsica when he had a brainwave: “I want to go into the local veg shop and see if they’ll sell it to me.”

“Even though he had no business plan, no money, nothing,” recalls his brother. The duo both have business degrees, and Steve has a business MA, so they weren’t exactly going in clueless, but the idea just appeared out of nowhere.

What was the veg shop owner’s response? “‘It’s a big question for a Monday morning’,” laughs Steve. “And then he said something like ‘I guess everything’s for sale at the right price’. And it went from there.”

That was 10 years ago. “We knew that if we put our energy into it and did it, of course it was going to work,” says David. “Total, blind faith,” chips in Steve.

They say that being a twin, “you’ve got this person that supports you no matter what”, someone who catches you when you fall.

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In 2004, they opened the shop, and soon began doling out veg and fruit-packed smoothies and juices. They were literally 10 years ahead of the current juicing craze.

Soon, they were so busy they were able to take over the building next door, turning it into a homely café-restaurant.

From chaos to social change

They say starting a business was chaos in the beginning, but things soon worked themselves out. “Right from the start we were going to open it as a charity, an NGO, we wanted to just put money secondary,” says Steve.

They laughingly recount how they were even going to call the shop ‘Flynner’s Fruit and Veg for Social Change’, with hippy ideals emblazoned on their sleeves.

“We were going to open as a charity and our dad, who’s a wise business man, he went: ‘You’ll regret that, that’s stupid’,” says Steve. Even so, the brothers were “so anti-capitalism and so anti-money” that they say that their financial management was “appalling” for the first four or five years of business.

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At one stage, Steve even embraced anarchy in the workplace.

“So we tried that and it was a heap of shit and they were right – it doesn’t work in business,” he says wryly.

“So now we’ve become ruthless capitalists. We’re extraordinarily efficient!” interjects David. He’s joking, but they have had to become more astute about finance over the years. Money is no longer the enemy – it’s a means of doing better work. And with 60 staff to pay, their concerns go beyond themselves.

“The things we want to do are more to affect change, affect positive change. We definitely want to get involved more in schools and educating people, and creating a really nice wholesome place,” says David.

“A happier healthier world,” adds his brother. They realise that they need to profit to be able to do this, and then everyone benefits. Steve admits it took “a long time” to learn that “it’s OK to make a bit of profit if you’re going to grow”.

Papa don’t preach

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The idea is not to make people vegetarian or vegan, it’s just to make them eat better.

The ‘don’t preach’ attitude is key to what the Happy Pear twins do.

They say they tell people they have to take responsibility for their own health, and their own lives.

What the Happy Pear does is give people the tasty tools with which to do this, and their recipe book – which they describe as a collaboration with their staff, who include experienced vegetarian chefs – is a guidebook to bringing health into your own kitchen.

A change in attitudes

What must be gratifying is seeing how much attitudes towards healthy food have changed since the Flynn twins first opened their business.

Though they aren’t the type to say ‘I told you so’, and didn’t get into healthy eating to be ‘on trend’, they’re glad to see the popular food pendulum swing towards plant-based eating.

Though plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean vegetarian or vegan, it can be – and is for many veggies – a tenet of both, and health documentaries like Forks Over Knives have led to people embracing what is essentially a vegan diet in the name of health.

Concerns about animal welfare and the impact of intensive animal farming on the planet are also reasons for some people to embrace eating veggie diets, often with an emphasis on wholefoods.

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But regardless of what people call their mode of eating, the twins are clearly happy to see others follow the same spinach-strewn path.

“[When] we started, we were very left-of-centre. We were total hippy idealists with a vegetarian cafe (we never say it’s vegetarian) but now we’re nearly cool,” says David.

It’s hip to be healthy, eating plants, not necessarily those horrible ‘v words’, vegan and vegetarian, but people are much more interested in wholefoods and in terms of health. And now that Hollywood actors and actresses realise that eating plant-based and drinking lots of juice and smoothies is very hip, now the mainstream has caught on.

“I guess we’re just doing our thing – and what will be, will be,” says Steve.

That’s the Happy Pear attitude in one organic, Omega-3-packed nutshell.

All photos by Michelle Hennessy.

The Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards take place on 25 November. Public voting is open until midnight 21 November and all details and nominees can be found here.

Read: Want to eat healthier food? Here’s how>

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