Clarinbridge native Siobhán Joyce worked as an Environmental Officer for a quarrying firm and then as a teacher, but when she found herself out of work, she decided to turn adversity into opportunity and start selling the homemade granola that she and her friends had long been enjoying.
An avid cookery fan, Siobhán started making her own organic granola because she found many of the commercially available brands too sweet for her taste.
“People liked it, I was giving it to friends as presents and stuff, so I just thought I would try and make it to sell at markets,” she recalls. There are two varieties of granola on offer – a honey and cinnamon variety, with raisins and cranberries, and a honey and ginger variety, with just cranberry, “for the raisin-haters!” The oats are organically grown in Ireland and a small amount of honey is added for a lighter sweetening.
Last June, she took her first tentative steps into food retail when she set up stall at Moycullen market. It wasn’t exactly the fairytale experience she had dreamed of during her nine to five drudgery.
“It was extremely wet, extremely windy, extremely quiet. I spent the day holding on to the gazebo. I sold three bags of granola – three were to friends and family. The following week I sold three bags – the friends and family didn’t show up!”
Nonetheless, she persevered, and now she sells at Moycullen, Roundstone and Galway City markets, where discerning customers can’t get enough of her granola, muesli and spelt and oat biscuits.
She also approached Ernie’s grocery store on Sea Road, who leapt at the opportunity to stock local produce, and Bowl-a-Granola is now available in 12 shops around Galway and Clare, including the aforementioned Ernie’s and McCambridge’s on Shop Street. In fact, Siobhán is now facing a situation where demand exceeds supply.
Bowl-a-Granola is the very definition of a cottage industry. Siobhán makes all of the products at her Rahoon home, which is limited by its size and also presents some challenging living conditions.
“It was torture last week,” she notes of the recent hot weather, which was exacerbated by her two ovens running around the clock. A new premises is now her priority, as she seeks to keep up with the insatiable demand for her produce, and to clear the bags of oats scattered throughout her home!
As she seeks to expand her fledgling business, Siobhán has been helped by the Galway City and County Enterprise Board. She approached the board at the very beginning of her venture, but was informed that she needed a more solid foundation before availing of their help.
Siobhán admits that he was still mulling over whether she had enough ground work done to revisit the board, when this time they approached her at this year’s Galway Food Festival.
Siobhán reserves particular praise for Enterprise Board CEO, Breda Fox and her mentor, Aisling Roche, who is aiding her with her business plan, as she has found the considerable amounts of administration and research required to set up a business something of a struggle.
“I’d probably still be shying away from approaching them if they hadn’t approached me,” she says.
Between baking, selling, researching, accounting, marketing and delivering, Siobhán has sacrificed much of her free time but she says she wouldn’t return to her previous job “in a million years”.
“It was lovely having paid holidays, weekends off, off every evening, that was lovely, but I’m engrossed in this.”
Four new licences were granted for the Galway City Market this year and Siobhán and her three companions, soap-maker Simona, tea-blender Suzie and baker Lenka, have formed a little cabal at the end of the market, near the Mexx store on Church Lane.
It can be difficult to attract customers at the periphery but, Siobhán has a philosophical outlook.
“They all call it the end of the market, we call it the beginning! It depends where you’re coming from!”
For more information, search for Bowl-a-Granola on Facebook.