WOMEN OF THE IRISH FOOD INDUSTRY – NIAMH DOOLEY, CO-FOUNDER
A young woman with bags of ambitions and a bright future ahead of her. Niamh Dooley wants to do good work but primarily she wants to do good and that sits so well with me. Along with her brother, she has come up with a novel concept (commercially and in Ireland at the very least) that should appeal to chefs, bakers, and sustainably minded people alike. BiaSol flour is flour made with spent grains from local breweries and I think it’s so smart it makes me want to punch the air like I just don’t care (but I do, I really really do).
How did your career path bring you here?
I think it all began in school really. That might sound obvious but when I look back on those years, the only subjects that interested me in the slightest were Home Economics and Biology. I was always a little bit obsessed with food and hugely intrigued by nature. I was definitely someone who didn’t know which career path to choose, like most eighteen year olds, it’s a huge decision to put on any young persons shoulder. Luckily I got my first choice of studying Food Science & Health in the University of Limerick. It was a great four years in a great campus!
My strong work ethic began at an early age, starting work in the hospitality sector at sixteen. I’ve worked in front of house in every type of establishment from small coffee shops, international hotels and fine dining restaurants in Ireland and abroad. Some of these include; The Bastion Kitchen Athlone, The Sheraton Hotel Athlone, Gurney’s Sea Resort Montauk New York, Poco Loco Restaurant Alicante Spain, Chickpea Restaurant Vancouver Canada and Longhorns Saloon Bar and Grill Whistler Canada.
After completing my degree I knew I wanted to travel, I didn’t want to enter the science career path right away. I saved and packed my bags and headed to Canada. I travelled on a two year working IEC visa, I absolutely loved my time there and met so many wonderful people. I worked in a vegan food truck and restaurant in Vancouver before moving to the mountains to learn how to snowboard. I worked at the base of the mountain serving food and drinks for Apres Ski which was extremely busy and attracted many high profile customers.
On returning home, I was hired as a project manager for Bord Bia’s initiative Food Dudes. This primary school program aims to increase children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables through a behavioural change model and positive reinforcement. This job was a great balance between working from home and travelling for meetings. I thoroughly enjoyed this job, especially motivating children to eat more nutritious foods and its importance. Unfortunately it came to an end with Covid-19 as schools closed early for the summer and extra school programs were not a priority.
My brother who is currently living in Sydney Australia, suggested we start a project together. My interest in sustainability had grown so much since Canada and working with the vegan community there. It was an obvious choice for me to start researching sustainable food sources. It ultimately led to working with brewers spent grain, a by-product of the brewing industry. We have progressed so much in under a year and this with a big thanks to the New Frontiers program, the national programme designed to develop entrepreneurs which is ran by Enterprise Ireland in conjunction with Institutes of Technology and Universities. I would recommend anyone with a concept and eagerness to explore their idea to apply for the program. I was also selected to participate in the Supervalu Food Academy and learnt so much about the food retail industry and how to get a product ready for market. The Local Enterprise Board have also been very supportive and have so many initiatives to help support start-up businesses. To date we have bootstrapped the business but to progress it further need to acquire funding and this is what we are focusing on currently.
How does your career fulfil you?
I discovered from my managerial position in a restaurant and from my project management job that I loved the variety of demands and challenges in these roles. Routine is good to a certain point but I thrive on multitasking and getting things crossed off the to do list.
I think beginning a start-up gives you exactly that and more! It is a lot to juggle and some days are definitely harder and longer than others but there is never a dull day. I really enjoy keeping that continuous momentum going.
Health, nutrition and overall wellness is something I am really passionate about. Producing sustainable, nutritious food products and explaining their health benefits to consumers in a clear and transparent way, is one way I’d like to help people make better choices.
Also promoting why and how we should alter our lifestyles (where possible) will help the fight against climate change. As a co-Founder, I know BiaSol is a drop in the ocean but we want to have that ripple effect for other industry leaders and make an impact.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Niamh Dooley?
I really want to make BiaSol a recognisable brand in the food industry, one that is known for helping fight a cause not being a contributor to the problem. This will be my focus for the next 2-3 years. I really enjoy the NPD aspect of a food business so I want to help develop products, it is exciting to see an idea come to life and taste great too!
Continuing my education has also been on my radar. I’d like to further advance my knowledge on human nutrition and in a holistic way. I believe mind, body and spirit are connected and we should try to balance these as best we can to optimise health.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
Grainne Mullins. I was lucky enough to be in an entrepreneurial group with Grainne this year and she is extremely talented and helpful. Her success is a testament to her work ethic. It is inspiring to see an idea grow at a small home scale and progress into something much bigger with a huge amount of potential for exponential growth. I am at a much earlier stage of the journey but I hope my business can grow at a fraction of what Grá Chocolates has.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
I think women supporting and encouraging each other. There has definitely been a general push in this area in all aspects of life, for example the #MeToo movement and other feminism campaigns. I believe if we continue to raise each other up instead of being overly competitive and petty, there is room for each of us to blossom.
If you require a mentor to help you with some part of your business, seek out another woman that is already successful in this area. I found this very motivating myself and you can learn so much through their past successes and failures!
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
I think my proudest moment so far is moving to Canada, being fully independent for the first time in my life and landing my first managerial position in a start-up restaurant.
In Vancouver there is a huge food truck scene and something I hadn’t experienced before. There is every type of cuisine produced at such high standards. They are parked all through the city and there are also food truck festivals where you can sample the worlds food in a short walk. How cool!
I got a job in the most successful vegan food truck at the time and learned all of the ropes, I was even parallel parking the truck in downtown Vancouver in a matter of weeks (I had just got my full drivers licence about two months prior)!
The Chickpea Food Truck was doing so well it opened its restaurants doors on Main Street and I was hired as Front of House Manager due to my extensive experience in the industry and my proven hard work on the truck.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You don’t need to have the mortgage, marriage, children and career sorted out by the time you’re thirty! It is silly to think about that now but I feel there is such an unspoken pressure amongst women in their early twenties to think that way. Everyone’s on a different journey and mostly just winging it. Life is a learning curve and when you look at it that way you can really make the most out of your days. Things will start to fall into place then and you will be led to where you are meant to be.
Also not to categorise yourself. We tend to put people into boxes and I don’t think this is healthy. You should try everything; art, music, science, music, languages, computers and dance. If we label someone a ‘certain’ type of person they may not have the confidence to explore an area/subject/hobby that they could love and be passionate about and even turn into a job!
‘’Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’’ This quote has stuck with me from the first time I heard it.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Right now being a multitasker!
I am responsible for product development, production, marketing, sales and overall day to day running of the business. Good communication skills are required, my business partner lives in Sydney so I spend most mornings on zoom meetings. IT, negotiating and relationship building skills are also important.
Are you a savoury or sweet kind of person? Please tell us about a real treat.
Oh more of a pastry and chocolate gal! The key to my heart is through donuts, danishes and cupcakes. Basically anything baked and lathered in chocolate. So I might have a slightly sweet tooth.
I test out a lot of recipes with Brew Flour so I am constantly baking and eating them. It is definitely my favourite part of the job. I have a really good blondie recipe where you can just add any of your favourite chocolate, caramel or marshmallow pieces and it works! I am just trying to not let it become part of my staple diet, everything in moderation!