"We knew from the outset that running our own business was never going to be easy but this is on another level to anything we ever imagined."
It's a strange time in Dublin. While it appears the food and hospitality scene is booming with a never-ending stream of new restaurant seats, the truth is that independent, neighbourhood cafes and restaurants are being squeezed to the point of throwing the towel in - and not for lack of customers.
Last month the city lost the Jo'Burger group - just one year after Hey Donna opened to resounding praise.
The industry is far from easy, particularly for independent businesses who are competing against massive chains and deep-pocketed proprietors.
A quick look at massively popular Camden Street cafe The Fat Fox on social would have you believe they are killing the game.
You wouldn't be wrong - the FF team managed to make a real name for themselves in record time in one of the most competitive areas in Dublin, racking up social followers and getting the people of Dublin talking.
But a note in their bio reads "Closed. MOVING LOCATION. Be Back Soon" and this is an insight to what's really going on behind the cool smiles serving you coffee on your commute.
Claire Cullen, one of TFF founders, wrote us a letter about the hugely difficult few months the team has endured, trying to find a new location for the cafe after their Camden St space was sold by the owners.
Here's the letter in full.
So where do we begin? About a year ago we found out our building was being sold and this in turn meant we had to vacate our shop (we had a short term lease). Within a month we had found a potential premises which was very close to our original shop meaning we would stay in the neighbourhood we knew and loved and of course keep our incredible regular customers.
It took several months of planning with architects and designers to come up with what seemed like a perfect transition to a bigger, better and more prominent shop. It was all going a bit too smoothly and whispers had begun to circulate about the move (you can’t keep anything secret in Dublin) when our solicitor brought to our attention some underlying issues which resulted is us having to walk away from the property. It was the first big blow in our search for a new location but with a couple of months left before we had to vacate we remained relatively calm (we think?).
The second location was a little further out of the city in D6 as many people know. It was a much larger fully seated unit which is always what we had envisioned The Fat Fox expanding into. This in turn meant we would be able to open seven days a week and no longer be exclusively take out only.
We were so excited and immediately the planning began with architects and designers to create what we considered to be our dream space. We’re an extremely small team at TFF which meant all of the planning with regards to the logistics of the move and the designing of the new cafe was done on top of the daily running of our original shop.
Our fitters were on standby to commence work on the new premises when the phone rang with the dreaded news that there was once again issues with the lease and it would be a minimum of 9 months before these complications could be resolved and we could take possession of the unit.
This was simply not an option for us and it was at this point that sheer panic took hold and sleepless nights set in.
Its tough to describe how we felt at this point. We had worked so hard to create a new brand and a community, but with this turn of events we felt we were letting everyone down.
We had no control over the situation and we were living our worst nightmare. One minute you have a thriving business and next the rug is swept from under your feet. All of this was going on while we were still open.
We were still getting up at 4.30am every morning and opening our doors while dealing with this and having to hide behind our smiles.
On September 18th we had to close our doors having no idea where we were going. This is an absolutely terrible place to be. At this time we made a decision to keep our social media presence alive and always positive and hoped we’d find a solution.
Within a couple of days we had a lead on another location. This time it was in a cute suburb of Dublin but there was a catch and it’s called “key money”.
This, for those of you who don’t know. is the term given to the sum of money you pay to obtain a lease. It was something we were trying to avoid but under the circumstances we had no other option but to approach the bank and apply for a loan.
On top of the key money there is also the cost of fitting the place out and relocating our business. Dealing with the banks was more stress added to an already stressful situation. On the same day that we were loan approved we got the dreaded phone call one more time. Our solicitor had noticed something that they were concerned about. Because it was such a large investment they advised us it wasn't worth the risk.
This was a month before Christmas and it was at this point we knew we wouldn’t have our business open again before the new year. On top of all this our company still had all the usual outgoings that a business has such as direct debits and loan repayments.
We knew from the outset that running our own business was never going to be easy but this is on another level to anything we ever imagined. Frustrated and full of anger we decided it was best to take a step back and ask for help. After speaking to family and friends both in and outside our industry we quickly realised that whatever is for us won’t pass us by. With this we decide to open up to our followers and talk about what we are going through. Social media is a funny place and you always put your best foot forward. Opening The Fat Fox our aim was always to make people happy and even through these difficult times we’ve always showed the highs and not the lows but in life it’s not always smooth sailing. Now that the dust has settled the hunt is on for the perfect location for us to be bigger and better than ever.
Watch this space.