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'My Westport café became a deli overnight'. Covid-19 challenges and a couple of recipes from Mayo

Lucy Bracken of Leafy Greens in Westport discusses the shutdown and offers a couple of tasty recipes.

Lucy Bracken

MY NAME IS Lucy Bracken. I’m sitting here amongst the sprawled tables and chairs with the sunlight streaming through the window, warming my heart and my lovely little café here in Westport, County Mayo.

Like many restaurant owners up and down the country, I feel a little bit emotional about what this pandemic has done to our business, but I tell myself all will be ok and this is just more of the process on our often windy and unpredictable path through life, as people who just love to feed others the best of healthy, locally produced food whenever possible.

When Covid-19 hit, I had already been through a lot of ups and downs. I hate to think back on the many fraught weeks trying to pay suppliers and ensure that my staff could be sure of good pay and a great place to work. 

fresh veg From farm to fork. Lucy sources fresh veg of all shapes straight from the field. Source: Leafy Greens

But then, Leafy Greens was borne out of chance, luck and a long-held belief that I had something to offer our town. Healthy, local, good food at lunchtime, decent coffee and a free and easy way of working and living for those who worked with me. 

‘Booming business on the Wild Atlantic Way’

The first thing we did in setting up the café was source the very best of what was around us here on the Wild Atlantic Way – amazing base ingredients like Joe Kelly’s organic vegetables and salad, Gerry Hassett’s fresh and smoked fish and seafood from Achill Island, Keanes of Newport’s wonderful local meats, Sinead’s Orchard organic apple juice, and Aaron of Beanwest’s locally ground coffee to name just a few.

We did a lot of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free food but also had a bit of chicken and crispy bacon for those who wanted that too. Good food can’t be exclusive in my view. 

We got very busy, very quickly. Word spread fast and sometimes we had to turn more people away than we could feed. I knew we had something special. Perhaps this is where the first inkling of spreading our food through take-away began. 

Of course, the place is tiny. We have five tables of two in the window, two tables of three and a four-top on the other side. You could be forgiven for putting your coffee down on the table beside you thinking it was your own. But, the small space made it cosy. Lots of conversations and friendships started in our sunny front window and the odd romance seemed to bloom there too, a little like the flowers on our wall garden of fresh herbs at one end. 

brekkie Lucy's sourdough, poached eggs, buttery mushrooms and special home-made salsa. Source: Leafy Greens

The day would start with hearty meals like free-range poached eggs, avocado, pan-fried mushrooms in butter and fresh herbs on sourdough or crispy bacon and maple syrup atop homemade fluffy pancakes. We would move on then to simple favourites like grilled local goats cheese, syrupy nuts and hardy West of Ireland plums or warm chicken and homemade pesto atop Joe Kellys mixed organic salad.

The food was great, healthy, tasty and affordable.  If you were just coming in for a coffee and a treat, we had gluten-free healthy cookies, raspberry, white chocolate and coconut cake to name a couple of the sweet treats.  In a very short time, we had won two awards one year after another for “Best free from” by The Restaurant Association, and an award for our “Friendly atmosphere” from The Junior Chamber ECO awards.

Everything changed, again

I juggled everything until unfortunately, I became really ill in September 2018. I had to take two months off work but the café managed thanks to the dedication of the staff. When I returned to work, however, the financial side of the business needed work.

I still had the dream and couldn’t close the business so with a lot of hard work and perseverance the café lived on. I was accepted by the 2019 ACORNS rural development fund and this also helped me plan for the future. By Christmas of 2019, a year later things were finally back on track, and I was looking forward to a well-earned break in early 2020 ….. when Covid-19 struck. 

I have to admit there were numerous times when closing the café, as it was operating, seemed to be the smartest option. I was already thinking about possible new models for serving our signature meals. One week into Covid-19, the same type of thoughts came creeping back into my mind again. But, this time, it was the crisis that others were living through and helping with that became my main motivation for change.   

I worked fast and opened up the café when most other places in our normally vibrant and busy town were still closed and I started to do take-away to help those who were helping others. I immediately offered half price to all the frontline staff. Honestly, my view was that anyone who wanted food could have it. Money wasn’t the motivator. Helping in a crisis was. Lots of people had to work and I thought I will do my bit too. Luckily, my partner, Eamon was at home to take care of our daughter Alice, leaving me free to get the café transformed for social distancing. 

A business with a new shape

So I fed the local workers and dropped off cakes and soup and juice to many of my loyal customers and others around town I felt could use it. After all, the whole reason I had the café was to feed people good nutritious food, so what could I do but honour that whatever way I could. 

Over eight weeks in and Leafy Greens Café has now officially turned into a takeaway.  And Covid-19 has shown me that when we eventually come out of this restricted period, my way forward in business is to turn my lovely little café into a special, local-food deli, bringing my hearty and tasty cooking into my customers’ own homes. Leafy Greens Cafe will be renamed Lucy Brackens’ Deli. 

I am a firm believer that out of every crisis there is always an opportunity. I am looking forward to a new beginning, with the very same quality, local ingredients and happy work environment that have given us such fantastic years so far. 

Here are two of my favourite, simple and healthy Leafy Greens recipes – from my table to yours.

shutterstock_739668787 Source: Shutterstock/goodmoments

Raspberry white chocolate and almond cake (GF)

6 x eggs

1/2 cup of sunflower oil

1/2 cup of buttermilk 

1/2 x cup of sugar

1 x teaspoon baking powder

2 x cups of ground almonds

1 x 100g white chocolate chopped into small pieces

1 punnet of raspberries

Method:

Put all the ingredients except the raspberries into a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, mix for a couple of minutes until well blended.

A hand whisk will do with some elbow grease. Pour into a papered and buttered cake tin.

Pop the raspberry’s nicely on top and then bake for 35 mins on 160 degrees centigrade. 

Enjoy your gluten-free cake with natural yoghurt or whipped cream. 

shutterstock_1640289757 Source: Shutterstock/vaibhav.j

Fabulous Falafel

4 x cans of drained chickpeas

1 x large red pepper

1 x large carrot grated

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2 x big cloves garlic

1 x med sized onion

1 x tablesp. Chopped coriander

Heaped teaspoon of turmeric, cumin, salt and freshly ground pepper

Olive oil

Method:

Blitz the red pepper, garlic, onion, coriander and lightly fry for a couple of minutes in a little olive oil with grated carrot and spices. Roughly blend chickpeas and mix with the rest of the ingredients.

Make into balls and refrigerate. Pan fry when required.

If the mixture is a little loose, add some porridge oats, gluten-free if you like. 

Serve with some salad, some wholemeal pitta bread and away you go!

Lucy Bracken owns Leafy Greens Café in Westport, County Mayo.

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Lucy Bracken

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