WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – ANNA COFFEY, CHOCOLATIERE
Anna Coffey is Braw Chocolate, an Irish start up and one of the exciting women who started their business in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ve only met Anna Coffey virtually but we’ve had a few calls and zooms. We met when I coached Anna to raise her profile a little on social media. It’s tough for new businesses. So far she has one person that works with her on the chocolate but she does everything else herself. So when you know that, social media is a necessity if you want to reach an online customer base (essential when you don’t have a shop front) and that you don’t have the time or luxury to learn as you go, you hire someone like me, who teaches you the basics plus a nifty tricks.
However, you will find that, like an awful lot of women, Anna Coffey is fierce good at putting others forward but has great trouble when it comes to self promotion. It’s not an easy thing to do, and if you ever come across her online, you could do a lot worse than to follow her and chat with her. There is very little she doesn’t know about great chocolate, and knowing what plans she has for Braw, I can promise you, you will enjoy seeing it develop. Chocolate will be our new overlord and Anna will be one of its greatest messengers.
How did your career path bring you here?
I originally studied business in college and found myself baking as a distraction from study and final year projects! I found it therapeutic and enjoyable. After many months teaching myself basics, I realised I had a talent for it. My brother James (Coffey) is a chef, at the time in Vaughan Lodge, and was looking for a pastry commis so I packed my bags and moved down to Lahinch in April 2010 to start learning on the job. Having a sibling in the industry was certainly helpful and he taught me so much that first year. After a summer season there I moved to the Netherlands and spent two years working in various places, from cafes to fine dining, always learning. I then returned to Ireland and worked in places such as The Dunraven Adare and in Avoca, Suffolk Street Dublin. In 2014 I went to work as pastry chef in Cocoa Atelier and quickly ascended to position of Head Chocolatier, a role I held until moving to Limerick in 2018. In Limerick I spent a year working in the pastry section at Adare Manor just before starting my own business, Braw.
I enjoyed working with chocolate so much I knew I would always want to work in that area. I love working with chocolate and the flavours you can create and then there’s the fun side making Easter Eggs and moulded chocolates. With Braw I have the bakery side of the business and the chocolate side of the business so no two days are ever the same! I supply cafes and restaurants with desserts such as tarts and brownies whilst also doing home deliveries all over Ireland and stocking chocolate bars in a few locations across the country.
How does your career fulfill you?
Its such a creative yet organised job. I love seeing it all come together after sourcing the right ingredients, the packaging, labelling. It is hard work but so rewarding knowing when people receive the chocolate I’ve worked so hard to create, that they’re happy with the product. The best part is the positive feedback from satisfied customers.
Being self employed and running all aspects of a business is exhausting but very rewarding. I find people are very supportive of small Irish businesses and this has made taking this chance on starting a business in a pandemic so much easier to do.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Anna Coffey
I’d love to open a shop to sell directly. In Cocoa Atelier we had a beautiful boutique store on Drury Street and I always loved going in to meet customers and staff and seeing the chocolate displayed. I’m based in Limerick, which is my hometown and I would ultimately like to open somewhere there. This year I’m hoping to grow my stockist base to have my chocolate available across Ireland.
In your opinion, what challenges women face in the food industry?
The industry is changing and becoming more inclusive all the time. The old fashioned attitudes are becoming rarer to come across and the work/life balance is improving. There used to be a lot of sexism and misogyny in kitchens but that is not tolerated anymore.
On a personal level, I found it difficult with long, antisocial hours and having a young child.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
One is hard to pick! I think my work is inspired by Christina Tosi, I love her attitude and enthusiasm. Her recipes and the flavours she uses definitely seep into my work. The way she creates things that
In Ireland, there are so many hard working chefs and business owners in the food industry that inspire me to aim high and do my best – I’m in awe of chefs such as Danni Barry, Aoife Noonan, Jess Murphy, Katie Sanderson. In Limerick there are food business owners such as Lorraine Fanneran (La Cucina) and Hazel Murphy (The Buttery) who are successful and inspiring.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
I think the issue is there is just less women in the food industry so it seems focused on the male chefs, the male business owners etc. Supporting and encouraging each other is the first step. There’s enough room for all of us.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Maybe seeing Pierre Koffmann enjoying chocolate I made a few years ago at Food on the Edge! Seeing Braw mentioned alongside other established Irish Chocolate businesses such as Hazel Mountain and Bean & Goose in articles and magazines recently has been so exciting and surreal for me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To never doubt yourself. I still have to remind myself of this. I think we’re all guilty of feeling like an imposter at times.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
I’d say cold hands but I seem to have the warmest hands and manage to get by! But really its patience. Chocolate is a process and you can’t rush it or take shortcuts.
Are you a savoury or sweet kind of person? Please tell us about a real treat.
I do love chocolate and I love ordering chocolate from other small businesses in Ireland as a treat. Aside from that, I love cheese. Brie de Meaux is my favourite and I wouldn’t say no to a drizzle of truffle honey on any cheese.