Gill Carroll’s journey in business has seen many setbacks, but each time she got back up and turned things around. Here’s her remarkable story.
Everybody loves a success story – especially one that strikes just the right balance of determination, passion, values, and dedication. Gill Carroll, the proud owner of 37 West and 56 Central, two unique restaurants in Galway city, is living proof of entrepreneurship done right. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, she talks about the importance of continuous improvement, the meaning of giving to the community, and the changing culture in a male-dominated industry.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant industry?
I grew up surrounded by business. My father is the creator and owner of Zhivago music shop in Galway city. My mother is a nurse. The combination of the two led me into the hospitality industry. I had a burning desire to add value to people’s lives.
I studied business and hotel management in GMIT. While doing my degree, I also did a certificate in human resources. From an early age, I knew I needed to have a broad education. I invest in my education every year through courses, talks, books, podcasts, masterminds and people. Anywhere I can learn, I am there.
I got my first taste of being a business owner at 26 in Edinburgh when I was approached by my boss at the time to open a Gastro Bar with him. Wow, what an experience! Two years of insane work, I made so many mistakes. The bar became successful, but I didn’t as a human. I was looking at it all the wrong way around. Partnerships are so hard. After two years and a broken heart from a breakup, I returned home to Ireland.
It took me a while to get back on track. I spent a few years in the family business offering new ideas to help them survive when CD sales were dropping. I learnt valuable survival skills from my father. How to keep a business going, how to make cuts, what to focus on when sales are dropping. My father’s business is still alive, it’s growing every year, and I am still involved with it.
I met the best mentor in my life who has since become my best friend, Pat Divilly. He helped me find the light in me again. I pulled together savings and bought the Spud House in Newcastle from two sisters. Two weeks later I reopened it as 37 West. I have since changed dramatically. I now shine my light so bright and have helped so many people along the way as a result.
“I learnt valuable survival skills from my father. How to keep a business going, how to make cuts, what to focus on when sales are dropping.”
What was the biggest setback that you had to deal with along the way?
With 37 West it wasn’t easy, cash flow was hard, but I was in a good place. I went to Tony Robbins with Pat in New York, and when I returned, I went straight to the bank and got a loan to place an offer to buy what is now known as 56 Central. Full of energy and ready to bring Galway something new, we opened. It was so hard. Even though this time we had cash flow from the start, it wasn’t working. Some people didn’t like what we did, I had massive staff issues, and I was broken again.
I guess in this industry you put your heart and soul and passion into a business – I was the creator of it all, the design, the menu, the concepts. Galway is a small place, but sometimes I thought I was in New York or London. For me, it was like Scotland all over again, I was overworked, stressed, confused and at a loss.
Then I got a coach, John Johnston, in Scotland. We Skyped weekly, I journaled and really dug deep. I did all the homework he assigned me. I made some changes personally and in the business and went for it again. I guess I pressed reset. I found my true core values and vowed to live by these going forward.
I also hired an internal business coach, Derek O’ Dwyer, from Action Coach. He worked with the management and showed us some ways to create a system. It worked. I am glad to say, we have a much more profitable business, good margins and a much happier crew. This year I have plans to take this up another level. A good business is a reflection of how good the systems that are in place actually work. This year my buzz words are systems and audits.
“I made some changes personally and in the business and went for it again. I guess I pressed reset. I found my true core values and vowed to live by these going forward.”
Giving to the community is an integral part of what you do, why is community important to you?
The community is basically people. We are all humans, we are all born and then our circumstances kick in. Everyone should care about each other and look after each other. I have been looked after by so many people that I, in turn, need to pass this on. Giving people a hand up, listening to them, seeing where you can add value is what the world needs to do more of.
Once you make yourself truly happy, which I have worked hard to do, then you can really go hard adding more value to other people’s lives. I don’t want to leave this world with a selection of handbags, I want to leave this world with good feelings and the knowledge I have made a difference to someone’s life.
I have had great days in business, made nice money, had great compliments, reached targets. But nothing ever gave the feeling of intensity as the day after my first ‘Sleep Out for Simon’ I did with my dad, Joe, reaching our target, knowing we had made enough to buy a new kitchen revamp for one of the Simon houses. I will never forget cycling home that morning exhausted, crying my eyes out overwhelmed by the opportunity I had to make a difference and add value to the community. So simple but so rewarding.
“Giving people a hand up, listening to them, seeing where you can add value is what the world needs to do more of.”
Women are underrepresented in the restaurant industry – both as chefs and restaurateurs. Why do professional kitchens still have gender inequality?
It’s all about culture, we are making significant changes with this, women have come together over the last few years to discuss this. But now we need to sit with men and explain this. Men need to step up and understand our needs are different. They need to listen. Women have made massive inroads as Sheryl Sanberg said to “Lean In”, but now after reading Work Like a Woman by Mary Portas, I agree that we need to all work hard at changing the culture within our businesses instead of leaning into a culture that doesn’t want us.
“I don’t want to leave this world with a selection of handbags, I want to leave this world with good feelings and the knowledge I have made a difference to someone’s life.”
I work in the kitchen in my restaurants, and as my chef says they love having me there as it balances them out, women need men and men need women. We have grown together now that we have educated each other on what we need from each other. There’s nothing my male colleagues and I won’t talk about.
Also, the dynamics have changed, I have chefs who are very family-driven, whose wives are self-employed for example, so we need to work around this as a business, making sure they have time off for childcare days and time out to be a family and of course a partner to their wives.
We have very honest conversations about these needs, and we have worked together on their vision, their core values and making sure they have personal goals. We have a female head chef in 37 West, we have created a more honest culture, a much softer and open workplace. She is doing amazingly and leading a great team. She is very supported and has a great work-life balance.
Interview by Irene Psychari.