Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Laura Anne Bradley, Business Owner
Laura Anne Bradley is the co-owner of Indie Fude, an independent food store in Combers, near Belfast.
Saying that Indie Fude is a food store is the understatement of the century. With Laura Anne Bradley’s passion, it is the biggest champion of Irish food there is north of the border. It acts as a centre of excellence and education and it is so passionate about preaching that gospel that you would be forgiven in forgetting that it is, in fact, a business.
On a personal level, Laura Anne Bradley has had a significant impact on the way I shop and eat. She brought me to Olde Farm, where I met Margaret and Alfie, and a pig called Fergus which I bought and I ate (well a quarter of him anyway). This was my first experience of farm to fork and I’ve never looked back. This has introduced me to the fact that, yes, you can buy directly from the farmer, and the food is like nothing else.
Laura Anne Bradley was there when I shed off my city girl habits and donned my first pair of wellies (thank you Mags) and went running in a muddy field after some poor pigs. She was also there, when Alfie tricked me into believing that you can’t use a chainsaw without a permit (you can get the girl out of the city and all that…).
Basically, food wise, Laura Anne Bradley changed my life. She talked me through the questions and worries I had about buying from people I didn’t know and I’ve since done the same for others. It’s all about education, baby.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I didn’t grow up in what you would call a ‘foodie’ household, so my interest in the food industry didn’t spark until I first worked as a waitress in a local restaurant. At the time this was only to secure some ‘pocket money’, but this was where i found myself developing an interest in what was going on in the kitchen. I could often be found quizzing the chefs about ‘flavour profiles’. And despite not always being well received – enjoyed the chance to develop my own opinions on flavours and cooking techniques.
This is also where I meet David Semple – who went on to be my business partner in running a successful tearoom in a National Trust property, Rowallane Garden. Here’s where my interest in produce really began to pique, as we had the opportunity to grow and use produce from the gardens. And my first taste of self-employment! However, after 2.5years a combination of ill health ( David’s ) and restructuring ( The National Trust ) meant that our time at the ‘Garden Kitchen’ came to an end.
Somewhere along the way I’d been lucky enough to meet chef Derek Creagh – and I went to work with him in The Salty Dog in Bangor. And Derek’s passion for local produce left a huge imprint on me during my short time there. His championing of Abernethy Butter during it’s infancy is one such thing that has stuck in my mind!
I then moved on to James Nicholson Wine where I spent over 6yrs working for Jim, mainly in the retail sector. Here I studied for my WSET’s to the advanced level – and was lucky enough to be able to develop my palate while tasting an incredible array of wines, and doing some fabulous travelling to vineyards. I still have a keen interest in wine, and in particular food and wine pairing.
During my time at JN Wine I started writing a food blog – www.daydreamingfoodie.com. A space where I curated a selection of recipes, and explored the local food industry. This blog, and the attached social media channels, are where I found myself building connections with people who had the same interests as myself. And turned out to be what eventually connected myself and Johnny, my business partner at Indie Fude. He sent me a DM on twitter inviting me to the opening of a ‘pop up’ deli – Indie Fude, and from there I became a friend and customer. A year or so later I started working with Johnny, and after not too long the decision was taken for me to invest in the company and become a joint owner. And here we are now, about a year in to opening our new shop – going from strength to strength, championing the best produce the island of Ireland has to offer!
How does your career fulfill you?
As time has gone on – I’ve discovered that my true passion is local, sustainable produce. But not only the produce. The people behind the produce too. And communicating that passion to others. My positon at Indie Fude allows me to work with these special makers and their produce every single day. And to showcase them in the deli, at our supper clubs – and pretty much at any opportunity I can. This coming year I will be spending as much time as possible visiting producers, and learning more of their individual and unique stories. And I can’t wait!
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Laura Anne Bradley?
At the moment I am riding high on championing our islands superb produce at Indie Fude. We will continue to push forward – with many events on the horizon both onsite and further afield in the coming months. Including something exciting in London. It’s just about getting our message out there. The island of Ireland is a fabulous place for food, and anything we can do to communicate that is high up on my priority list.
Along with Indie Fude, I want to dedicate some time to growing a project I launched last year with Jonny Davison. More Than Fed. It’s key focus is education. We are passionate about food education that is not focused on health – but emphasising the importance of sustainable, local produce. And addressing the lack of core skills when it comes to food preparation. Health will naturally follow. It’s important for our future generations to be ‘more than fed’. Food is medicine. It’s comfort. It’s social. It’s personal. It’s environmental. It’s a life skill. And it’s a joy – that more people need to know about.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
Women in all industries, myself included, can feel they are unable to put themselves forward as a voice of authority. Especially in industries that have been long dominated by men – for example farming, fishing and cheffing. However, the opportunities are there – and in my experience, if you can prove yourself as committed to the industry and knowledgable about what you do, then a female voice and influence is both welcomed and valued.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistantly inspire you and why?
I recently listened to a Foodture podcast with Darina Allen – where she was interviewed about her thoughts on the future of food in Ireland. Her ability to articulate a message about sustainability and organic food that I often struggle with was superb. To hear of her decision to move Ballymaloe to entirely organic farmlands over 27 years ago – long before such methods were well know – show us how important it is to stick to your beliefs. Even if it’s not currently the ‘done thing’.
I am lucky to work closely with a number of fabulous woman all of the time. Hard working woman who I am delighted to call friends. Janice Cuddy of Ispini Charcuterie works tirelessly to make sure every delivery of their award winning charcuterie is top notch. Erin and Jo of The Edible Flower run a superb boutique catering company from their small holding in Saintfield – and are a delight to work with on supper clubs at Indie Fude. With their forward thinking approach to no-dig growing and easy manner of gently educating their customers. To name only a couple!
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
As in many areas of life – the food industry can sometimes feel like an echo chamber of the loudest voices. And we are all well aware these voices are not always the most progressive, inspiring or even engaging. We need to make a concerted effort to amplify the voices that have something interesting to say. The voices that can truly engage with not only the other members of the industry – but communicate a clear message to the general public. We can all support these voices in our own way, be that by word of mouth, social media or just lending a supportive ear. Support networks are an important thing, not to be under estimated.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
My life is rich in moments of pride. Such as whenever someone compliments us on the range of produce available in the deli. In which I am indebted to our tapestry of local producers. Most recently we have introduced Free Range Rare Breed Oxford Sandy and Black Pork into the deli from Stonebridge Cottage Farm. Which is located less than ten miles away from Indie Fude. Robbie is a superb farmer, creating a cracking product – that I am beyond proud to be stocking. Each and everyone of our makers gives me a reason to be proud. I’m so lucky that way!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Just do you. I know it is terribly cliché. And it’s advice I still have to give myself. But it’s important. Be yourself as much as possible. That and the importance of a support network. Treasure the people who prove themselves to be trustworthy, and on the same page as you. You are as lucky to have them, as they are to have you.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Being able to switch hats! Because as small business owner you have to be the marketer, the sales person, the accountant ( thanks to Johnny I don’t have to do that too much! ) and any and all members of the team! That and changing your engagement to suit your audience. Some people want the chatty, educational sales pitch – and some people want a quick interaction. It’s important to be able to read people!
How do you think food tourism can be marketed better in Ireland?
Tourism NI is doing a great job of moving towards supporting our local food industry in Northern Ireland. I am currently involved in a movement to showcase Ards and North Down as a destination for food tourism. And I am delighted!