Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Denise McBrien, General Manager
Denise McBrien is the General Manager of the Old Spot in Dublin.
The Old Spot restaurant is located in Dublin 4 and has an excellent reputation amongst the local and it’s been recommended to me again and again by the chefs I know. Well this is the restaurant that Denise McBrien is currently managing.
I follow her on twitter, but to be honest I knew very little about Denise when we started to chat about featuring her in this series. Once I read the highlights of her career, I had to pick my jaw off of the floor. She has had a momentous route to success.
The one thing that Denise McBrien seems to have forgotten to mention is the fact that she won the award for Best Restaurant Manager in Dublin, a title she wrestled from the mighty Talha Pasha. It is no small achievement and ISN’T IT A GOOD THING I DID MY RESEARCH, DENISE….
Do you know the way, we say that behind any great man there is a great woman? Well I think that this is also the case for every great restaurant. And it’s about time the women were not just behind any more.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I started as a bar commis in The Garage Bar in The Clarence Hotel. U2 had just bought it and it was a very exciting opportunity. I quickly moved in to the bar In The Tearoom when it opened and completely caught the bug for hospitality. After that I worked with Conrad Gallagher in Peacock Alley which won a Michelin Star. I was very lucky to meet and become great friends with Domini Kemp from there.
In 1998, I moved to London to work with Marco Pierre White which was an Amazing experience. I was his head receptionist for 3 years in The Oak Room Restaurant and then The Criterion Brasserie on Piccadilly Circus. When I came home I did a short stint in Chapter One when Jessica Lewis was on Maternity leave. I worked with Sallyanne & Derry Clarke in L’Ecrivain Restaurant for 5 years during the crazy Celtic Tiger Years. L’Ecrivain was jam packed every single day and had a fantastic team some of which went on to open their own restaurants like Andrea Hussey who opened The Pigsear on Nassau Street. I worked with Stephen Gibson in L’Ecrivain and we would regularly daydream about opening our own restaurant. When Richard Corrigan opened Bentleys in The Cliff Townhouse I set up his reservation system for him before finally opening my own restaurant Pichet on Trinity St in July 2009.
I left Pichet in 2015 and worked on the Bewley’s Café preopening project. It was a great experience working with The Campbell family. They are so passionate about the Bewleys project with 3 generations working there today.
In late 2016 I worked with Adriana & Mark Fitzpatrick who were opening Old Street Restaurant in Malahide. We finally opened the doors in March 2017 to a great response. Within 6 weeks the Michelin Guide were in and we got in to the guide in October. I still chat to the guys regularly and check in. In February 2018 I started to work with Brian & Stephen in The Old Spot. The guys are very hands on and passionate about the business but they let me run it as if it was my own. It’s a great company to work with and I am very proud we achieved the best Gastro Pub in Ireland this year at the recent RAI awards.
How does your career fulfil you?
I love to look after people. I absolutely love great food, wine and service. The attention to detail is very important to me. Danny Myer wrote a brilliant book about how hospitality is about a feeling and that is so true. How you feel when you leave a restaurant, bar, hotel anything really is so important. I don’t like transactional only places which is why I choose owner operated or family run businesses when I eat out.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Denise McBrien?
I have owned my own restaurant before so that box has been ticked. I am very lucky that in The Old Spot the owners Stephen Cooney & Brian O’ Malley let me run it as if its mine. I’m working with the guys 16 months now and with one of the best teams in the city so I am very happy for now. We recently won “Best Gastro Pub” in Ireland which is a huge achievement.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
I may be killed for this but I do think women ourselves can be our biggest challenge. We seem to shy away from praise & that “can do it” attitude needed in business. We can be afraid of been seen as a bossy bxxch men don’t suffer with that they are seen as ballsy & determined. I once sat in a meeting with me & 5 men, I could see the meeting was going badly so I just gave them what for. It landed us a lease & a huge amount of respect, I knew we could do it.
Men also seem to think that because I am being friendly, doing my job, that I am flirting with them and that is such a pain.
I have been asked about my childcare arrangements in interviews as I have 3 children and I am a single parent, I don’t imagine many men get the same question.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
I admire so many women in our industry so it is very difficult but Maire Flynn from the Tannery in Dungarvan. I love going to The Tannery and staying in The Townhouse. They are so good at what they do and the amount of work Maire puts in to Dungarvan as a town too is amazing. They have a restaurant, townhouse & a cookery school. When the food festival is on in April they use all their contacts to get great people involved. I try to get down at least 2 or 3 times a year. My boys love it down there, it’s a time to switch off and relax.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
I think encouraging women in the industry is the best thing we can do. Make young girls aspire to work in the kitchen or front of house It is a great industry to work in and the days of demeaning people I believe is gone. I am a positive solution driven manager instead of always dwelling on the negative problem. When someone comes to me and says “The problem is” I quickly say “The solution is”. The food industry in Ireland should be seen as a career choice rather than something you fall in to. Look how many amazing women we have working in all aspects of the food industry, the list is endless.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
I am blessed to have had a few especially recently but winning a Bib Gourmand from The Michelin Guide in 2010 for Pichet was absolutely amazing. We were 6 months old and I still remember that announcement. I would absolutely love if The Old Spot could win such an accolade. I know some people do not care about The Michelin Guide but it has been a huge part of my career. I worked with Marco Pierre White for 3 years, he held 3 Michelin stars and 5 red knives & forks which is the highest accolade The Michelin Guide can give a restaurant.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Believe in yourself more and take a risk. You need to be open to change and learning everyday. I have been working in hospitality for almost 30 years now and the past 4 years I have learned so much more and I am at my happiest both personally and professionally.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Empathy and understanding. I work in the service industry but I am not a servant. We are not robots and we do not all have the same skills. I try to see the teams strengths & weaknesses and use them to get the very best results. I have always tried to create happy teams and it works. Passion for food & wine goes without saying.
What’s your favourite cocktail?
I’m a glass of Champagne girl and I love Laurent Perrier Rose. Its not really a cocktail but I do love an Aperol Spritz before dinner.