Women Of The Irish Food Industry – Ruth Healy, Shop Keeper
Ruth Healy owns a wonderful culinary store called Urru Culinary Store in Bandon, co. Cork.
Ruth Healy is some woman for one woman. She is a founding member of the Bandon Farmers Market and of the Bandon Food Trail, which is still going strong and which has a pumpkin carvin competition happening “right now” as I’m writing this article.
Ruth Healy is fiercely passionate about Irish Food in general but West Cork food in particular and this constant support and advocacy made her an ideal candidate to become a Failte Ireland Food Champion.
I first came across Ruth’s work through twitter. She uses the space in Urru very cleverly and has some blackboards on the wall which she uses to communicate, educate, share things of interest. Some will teach you something new and make you want to read a tone more things, some will make you uncomfortable but always in a good way (I’m thinking about a recent one about homeless children having difficulties chewing solid foods) and some are just pure craic but always with an educational twist. I have put a selection of recent exemples at the end of this post for your consideration.
In many ways, Ruth Healy reminds me of my dear friend, Sarah Kelly. They are both caring women, who put a lot of time and effort in their respective community. You can clearly see that they work hard every day at leaving the world a better place than they found it.
I’m talking to women the Irish food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
I think I always had an inner shopkeeper waiting to out! Even before I was the shop manager in school, there was shopkeeping in the blood: My grandmother was a 2-shop-shopkeeper from the 1920’s in the Mardyke in Cork City; my dad was a wholesaler to small shops and pubs all around the city up to age of 75. I took the scenic route via studying marketing and Japanese, working with P&G and going to Ballymaloe Cookery School before opening Urru in Bandon in 2003.
How does your career fulfil you?
I love shopkeeping. I am partial to food and I love the dynamic of family kitchen life. In a shop you can can see the immediate link between our efforts and influencing people’s lives. I’m also able to work in a way that is consistent with my overall life view: hang on to the best of my heritage while constantly looking to future.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for you?
I’m doing the new Postgrad Diploma in Irish Food Culture in UCC. Already that has all the creative and critical brain cells buzzing. Who knows how that might influence where I take Ruth and Urru next.
I buy into Anthony Creswell (Ummera Smokehouse) take on growing business by “getting better not necessarily bigger”.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry in Ireland?
I think the tendency to look at the retail/ service and hospitality sector as a job rather than a career is work-life limiting.
Tell us of one woman in the Irish food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
There are many; and many of them know the esteem and affection in which I hold them.
I think Karen Austin (Lettercollum Kitchen Project, Timoleague and Clonakilty) has more than her fair share of attributes that make her admirable: longevity; consistent ethos; continuously evolving business; beautiful food; great food writer; lovely person.
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry in Ireland?
Seek out the 2nd place option when sourcing products & services; when choosing a venue; when selecting speakers etc.. They are likely to be on an upward trajectory and hungrier for your business than the no. 1 player and I suspect there are more females at that level of industry still making their way forward.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Proud moments come and go. They are important to keeping the energy going whether it is someone enthusing about a sandwich or receiving an award.
I am very proud everyday though of how good Nicola (my niece who has worked with Urru for over 5 years and who has Down Syndrome) is at her job and how she is an example to all of how to provide hospitality well.
What advice would you give your younger self?
A partnership will enable a faster more dynamic development than a solo effort; be brave enough to open more limited hours/ days; a portfolio style business is almost essential for business growth and personal growth in a town setting.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
The universal ones are resilience and graft.
More specifically to service/ hospitality is the ability to care enough to not too much (enough to be excellent in the eyes of customers; but not so much as to lose sight of what really matters to the business and what doesn’t).
Specific to my business has been the willingness to embrace the complexity of small producers to be competitive (knowing that most of the competition ultimately gravitate to efficiency).
You’re making a Sunday roast, what are “all the trimmings”?
Tasty meat, multi-coloured veg, buttery mashed potatoes and gravy is enough for me but definitely there has to be enough to be able to have seconds.
I also only came across the combining of apple and horseradish recently to something creative with that combo will be on the menu next time.