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The Big Idea

The Big Idea: Will the Irish ditch the breakfast roll for sushi?

Smithfield’s only sushi factory has gone from farmer’s market stall to serving U2 sushi, and continues to aim high.

CONVINCING PEOPLE TO eat raw fish from a petrol station doesn’t seem like the world’s best business idea, but one Dublin company has been doing just that, and making a success of it.

Hidden away down a lane in Smithfield, Oishii Sushi busily churns out stacks of Japanese food every day. The company is the brainchild of 34-year-old mother of two Ciara Troy.

Troy wasn’t a typical graduate when she left Trinity with a degree in Business, Economics and Social Science aged 27. A semester in Tokyo had ingrained a love of all things Japanese, especially the food. Instead of looking for a job, she decided to strike out on her own.

Starting out making sushi and other Japanese food at farmer’s markets, Troy has grown her company exponentially and now supplies ready to eat sushi to some of the largest retailers in Ireland. Dunnes, Spar and Topaz all stock her produce.

Her ambition is limitless, with a plan to take on no less august an institution than the hallowed breakfast roll.

Video / YouTube

Since her days in the farmer’s markets, the company has gathered momentum and expanded its operations and employee count, even finding time to whip up a batch of Salmon Nigiri for U2 when they played Croke Park in 2009.

“I’m not joking when I say I did it all. I’d leave the house at five in the morning and get home at nine that night. Literally, I was doing the deliveries, I’d go back to the kitchen and make the stuff, then I’d go home and do the invoices with my Mum.”

Troy wasn’t cowed by the size of the task in front of her, despite her inexperience.

“I had never worked in retail, I had never worked in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) sector. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way.”

Eight years later, the company has 20 full-time employees.

Object lessons

As a small business owner that has had a lot of success selling her product into larger companies, she says that passion and the ability to tailor a pitch is key.

“I think you have to have a point of difference, and you have to be very passionate about what you’re selling in to them. If you’re not passionate about it, then they’re not going to buy it.”

The fish that goes into Oishii sushi is almost exclusively sourced from Irish waters, through Dublin suppliers Kish Fish and Wright’s of Howth.

Steering a start-up company through the recession, never mind growing it, is no mean feat. Out of all the hurdles she’s had to clear in the last few years, Troy rates getting access to funds as the trickiest element of running a small business today.

Educating herself about the diverse sources of finance, and making sure her branding was spot on were both key.

Video / YouTube

“Employees would be capped at ten for the local enterprise board (to consider funding), and while Enterprise Ireland would be good, if you’re not exportable, or you’re not gearing up to be exportable, I’m not sure you would meet their criteria.”

While the company has been able to spot and exploit secondary income streams such as coporate demonstrations and group outings, cash constraints mean that Oiishi has to keep a lid on its ambitions.

“We have more ideas than we have money to do. We are very much beholden to cash flow.”

And while Troy doesn’t rule out expanding into other markets at some point in the future, she wants to conquer her home territory before looking overseas.

“There’s still a lot of work to do in the Irish market.”

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