Nearly three years ago, enterprising coffee enthusiasts Sean and Julie restyled a horsebox to their own taste and set up High Horse Coffee This year, they opened a second unit in Waterford and they’ll be adding to their team in the New Year. They’ve ambitious plans brewing for the future too. High Horse serves award-winning, artisan coffee from Coffee House Lane (a local favourite). Their food offering includes pastries, their renowned sausages rolls, traybakes and more…all freshly baked in their new micro bakery. We asked owner, Seán Byrne to fill us in on his bright business venture so far…
To start with, Seán, will you tell us about your food business?
We looked into renting our own Coffee Shop back in 2016 but got priced out of it at the time. In December of that year, Julie & myself came across some lovely, converted Horsebox Coffee Shops in the UK. This really got us excited about finally entering the Coffee world and also it was affordable. So, we jumped right in; bought a Horsebox in 2017; converted it ourselves and launched it in February of 2018.
That same Horsebox is now permanently stationed at the Bilberry section of the Waterford Greenway and just last month we took on our 2nd Unit out in the Waterford Airport Business Park which is a lovely barn-style container that we turned into a takeaway Coffee Shop & Micro Bakery. This is where we make all our pastries from scratch for both locations.
What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?
Having the opportunity to stamp our personalities over the business and having the influence to do so. I love it when someone takes a look at the units and knows that it’s ‘us’ behind it. We get to do something we love every day and meet loads of great people doing so. We do it our way that’s what I love most about it. That and job creation. It’s very satisfying creating a job for someone, I find, and if it works out it’s a great feeling. We’re delighted to say that we have two new super employees coming on board in the New Year (one of whom has worked with us before). So, it’s very exciting.
And what do you find is the most frustrating?
That there are probably not enough hours in the day!!
We do it our way that’s what I love most about it. That and job creation.Sean, High Horse Coffee.
Describe an average workday.
For the Airport Unit, ‘The Barn’, it’s a 6:45am start where I open up the hatch for 7:45am to catch the early morning coffee drinkers. Then I get the Breakfast ready for 9am. We tend to catch people on 10am and 11am breaks too. We serve them our own homemade goods like ‘Saava’s Savage Sausage Rolls’, ‘Jambon Jovi’s’ and more… Then it’s all about getting the lunch menu ready for 12:30pm which will run until 2pm (Mon-Fri).
For lunch, we serve our own soup like Butternut Squash & Chilli, ‘Bangin’ BLT’s along with treats like our homemade Brownies and Lemon Drizzle Traybake. Our hatch closes then at 2:30pm for the day.
Regarding the Horsebox at Bilberry, it’s a similar set up. There’s a lot goes into the decorating, stocking & heating of machines but it’s all very much worth it as we take pride in how well it looks to the public on the Greenway. Roughly, it’s an 8:30am start with trading commencing @10am – 4pm.
What keeps you going or inspires you?
I suppose it’s been the dream for me to work for myself since I was a teenager. It took a lot of years from then to the point where I actually became properly self-employed. So, I am not prepared to give that up, having waited so long for the opportunity. Also, now that I’m in the midst of it, I love it each and every single day. So again, I won’t give up on it, no matter how tough it can be…and it has been tough at times.
It’s been the dream for me to work for myself since I was a teenager. It took a lot of years from then to the point where I actually became properly self-employed. So, I am not prepared to give that up.Sean, High Horse Coffee.
Initially, did you manage to get any support or funding for your business?
We’ve gotten amazing support from Waterford Chamber Skillnet and Fitzwilliam Training & Consulting (Wexford) who work together delivering training courses for Start-Up’s, especially those transitioning from social welfare to starting up their own business. I did my first course with them in late 2017, and I’ve done five excellent courses through them, since. The guys at FTC keep in touch on a regular basis, and we’ve learnt so much from them. They are more than trainers to us; they’ve become friends for life.
Can you see your business expanding further? In what way?
Yes, I can. I don’t think we are finished yet. We are loving the challenge of running two units and we’ve lots of ideas of what we’d like to do next. We have one new avenue that we have settled on and we’ll be launching that service in the New Year. We’re very excited about that. It’s a little different to what we do but still ‘coffee related’. However, we’ll keep it under our hat until then (lol!). And long term, we kind of have a dream venture in mind which we will chase. But again, for the moment, we are going to keep it under wraps as it’s a little different (he, he).
Do you have any ‘time saving’ tips for business owners?
I don’t think we’ve sussed that side of it out yet (ha-ha!) However, ‘lists’ definitely help, just re-writing them on a daily basis and staying on top of them helps you to keep ahead, I guess. It can be so full-on much of the time, that I think it’s important to make time to step back. Take that day off, away from the workplace and just keep the head clear. I think that helps massively. It can be easy to get dragged into working 24/7 when self-employed. But that ‘one day’ can help you stay ahead by stepping back, I feel.
I think it’s important to make time to step back. Take that day off, away from the workplace and just keep the head clear.Sean, High Horse Coffee.
Did you embrace or dread the shift to online (further induced by the COVID pandemic)? Does having an online presence help or hinder your business?
It does not really apply to us at this moment in time, as we don’t sell online but, I’d like to think we would at least try to embrace it. However, an online presence such as posting through Instagram, Facebook etc has helped us massively. Even though, we don’t sell directly online. We use the platforms as often as possible to give ourselves a presence; to show what we are about; what we offer; show our personalities through our work. And just to show how much we love what we do and what we put into it.
Julie is amazing at the Social Media side of things. People have often said to me that when they read a High Horse post, they know it’s Julie talking. I think that’s great as that proves the point that our personalities come through in what we do. I think, it helps us stand out a little which is important.
How do you engage with your online customer? -What’s your favourite channel?
Instagram seems to be the one that works most effectively for us .That makes sense, I suppose, as it’s the pictures of the coffee, latte art, and homemade pastries etc. that show exactly what we do and can do. Julie is constantly engaging with the online customers by replying to each and every single comment and message. She just gets the regular content out there to the customer but keeps it fresh & interesting too.
What advice would you offer someone who is thinking of starting their own food business?
- Have patience.
- Educate yourself.
- Surround yourself with good people.
- Be prepared for the hard knocks but never give up. Do it!
Cheers Seán, we wish you and the High Horse Coffee team every success for 2022 & for the future too!
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