Barry Walsh captures the innovative and enterprising spirit of Laois through 10 growing businesses.
Known as Queen’s County from 1556 to 1922, the midlands county of Laois is land-locked and boasts natural beauty from its lakes and mountains.
The county has a population of 91,657, an increase of 56% since the 2002 census.
Laois is home to significant employers, including Dawn Meats and Glanbia Oats Mill in Portlaoise and boasts a strong agricultural and food heritage.
Here are some of its most promising young businesses:
Aghaboe Farm Foods
Niamh Maher created her bakery in 2015. As she mentions on her website: “We specialise in traditional baking but with modern flavour combinations. All our products are made by hand from scratch. Our selection is inspired by the seasons and where possible we favour local and sustainable ingredients. Niamh built her business on a love of childhood baking and growing up on the family farm and has developed her kitchen in the 200 year old family home surrounded by the Laois countryside.” Previously their Christmas Cake has won the Gold Blas na hÉireann award and they’ve also won Blas na hÉireann and Great Taste awards for their mince pies, passion fruit curd and Christmas puddings.
Ballykilcavan Brewing Company
David and Lisa Walsh-Kemmis opened Ballykilcavan Brewing Company in 2018 on their 13th generation family farm near Stradbally, Co. Laois. The brewery is based in a 240 year old stone grain store at Ballykilcavan and all the beers are brewed with barley and water from the farm, with a small hop garden providing some of the hops as well. The beers are brewed, fermented and packaged on site and have won nine awards at the Dublin Craft Beer Cup. They are sold in pubs, off-licences and restaurants around Ireland, throughout Northern Italy and in South West France.
In April 2022, David and Lisa converted a 200-year-old mill building into a new visitor centre and tasting room, and they now welcome visitors from all over the world to the brewery. Over the last 12 months, the company has been certified as a Gold member of Origin Green, won the Small Firms Association sustainability award, the PwC / Sunday Business Post award for best small to medium sustainable business and the Laois Business Award for sustainability and climate action.
Created in 2019 by the Mountrath Community Forum and based in Mountrath County Laois, Bloom HQ is a co-working hub with a difference. Bloom HQ is on a mission for people to ditch the commute, work and live locally and grow their business in the community. It has a 7,500 sq ft co-working space with meeting rooms, high-speed internet and catering facilities. Hosting consultants, freelancers, remote workers and people who would like to work near home, but not be “distracted at home”, the space grew enormously in popularity during Covid-19 pandemic. Facilities include training for businesses based in the hub, links to other business networks in Laois and as a community facility to help bring together entrepreneurs.
Brian and Norma Rohan started Embrace Farm in 2017 after Brian’s father Liam Rohan Liam died after suffering a severe blow to his head in 2014. Brian and Norma were surprised with the lack of support available to them after the accident so they set out on a mission to create a support network of families who suffered farming related bereavements.
Embrace Farm supports those who have lost their lives, have been injured, supports survivors of farm accidents, their family members friends and the wider community.
The team now has a monthly community meeting for those affected by farming accidents, a remembrance list of those who have died on farms in Ireland each year, resources and information about mental health on rural farms, and a board and team with a wide range of expertise and experience in farming and support services for bereavements.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Michael Onalimi has unique taste and cooking methods. “The result is a beautiful range of delicious full flavoured sauces showcasing a fusion of some of the freshest irish ingredients and the finest of african spices.”
Food has always been a fundamental part of family life for Michael, as he grew up surrounded by a variety of foods and spices and cooking and eating.
“My aim is to introduce Ireland and indeed Europe, to the richness of African culture and in doing so, inspire others to share their heritage and use their love of food to awaken the foodie within all of us.”
Flavour Safari is a graduate of the SuperValu Food academy and is now on most SuperValu shelves nationwide. In October, Michael won Business of the Year 2022 at the Irish Micro Business Awards.
Glamping Under the Stars
Glamping Under The Stars is a magical place. Just an hour from Dublin, this multi-award-winning glamping resort offers two fabulous staycation experiences. The original ‘Meadow’ glampsite offers classic glamping in a mix of bell tents & handcrafted wood lodges set on a beautifully landscaped site. The new, ‘Mountain’ glampsite is a ‘hobbit village’, featuring luxurious and quirky grass roofed accommodations that are perfect for a family stay. Both sites offer indoor kitchen/dining facilities, private bathrooms, campfire areas, and swathes of wildflower meadow for kids to explore.
Recent awards include:
- Winner – Excellence in Tourism & Hospitality – Laois Chamber of Commerce Awards 2022
- Winner – Best Glamping Experience – Midlands 103 Hospitality Awards 2022
Established in 2019 by the all-female led team of Jayne Delaney, Eimear O’Connor and Aisling Kirwin, the company specialises in “scheduling high-quality appointments with key decision-makers and influencers on behalf of the sales teams within technology companies.” 70% of the leads come from outside Ireland. “We do not charge retainers and there is no exit clause attached to our campaigns making this risk free for the client. You will only pay for the appointments we deliver”, is their approach. This has led them to expand into 16 countries throughout the world and this is set to grow in 2023.
Kelly Lou Cakes
Owner Kelly Lou opened her cake shop in June 2012 before moving to a bigger premises in 2014. Now located in the Parkside Shopping centre they state on their website: “We are open 7 days a week and along with our tasty sweet treats we serve an extensive savoury menu, offering brunch and deli style lunch to eat in or takeaway. We can take cake orders online, or by telephone, text, email or Facebook message. (Please note we cannot take orders through Instagram). If you prefer to speak to one of our team in person you can call in to see us in our café where you can order cakes and enjoy our fresh bakes with a cup of freshly brewed tea or ground-to-order coffee, or take them away to enjoy at home.”
Part of Kelly’s rise has been her wedding cake business telling Her.ie: “Our wedding cake business has grown incredibly and barely a week goes by when there isn’t a wedding or two to cater for. We have corporate customers who often order large quantities of bakes personalised with their logos.”
Kelly has won the Laois and regional finals of IBYE (Ireland’s best young entrepreneur) and competed in the 2016 national finals. In 2017, Laois business award for best e-commerce business. In 2018, the café and bakery in Parkside won Best Café in the Midlands in the Irish Restaurant Awards In 2018 our café in Parkside won the best café in Laois in the Midlands Radio customer service awards and most recently won the Best Online Presence at the Chamber of Commerce 2022 Laois Business Awards.
SOLAS Eco Garden Centre
What was once a derelict waste has been transformed into a thriving award-winning social enterprise garden centre, shop and farm.
The 9-acre site was derelict for decades before several people from the local business community bought it in 2017. “So began the struggle to breathe life back into a brownfield waste – reroofing, rewiring and reimagining former workshops into hubs of commerce, agribusiness and employment. Later came the garden centre – housed entirely within revamped warehouses and repurposed 40ft containers. Like its centrepiece lighthouse, the project shines as a beacon of what is possible. This hub of Commerce, Food, Plants, Markets and Arts now employs over 100 people in Ireland’s Greenest Campus”.
While having sustainability as its core value the centre has a focus to this from the lighting it uses, to having electrical vehicle parking spots, to growing their own ingredients for their restaurant everything in the centre has been built with sustainability in mind.
It’s farmers markets and local produce sold in the store make it a source of local commerce in area and the cafe and shop allow locals to sample and take home some of the produce grown on the farm.
The centre won the Start Up/Emerging New Business of the Year Award at the 2022 Laois Chamber of Commerce awards.
The Sweet Bakery
Created in 2018 after the Dusa family moved from Dublin to Portlaoise, Marcin and Patrycja, were professional and passionate bakers with almost 20 years of experience. “Everything is made by hand, from scratch, in small batches.” Their services include a bakery with fresh bread and sweets made every day, specialised deserts and a cake design company that can be used for birthdays, weddings or special events.
Their main retail unit is based in Portlaoise Town Centre and their Bakery is in Mountmellick and in addition “we have been supplying our unique and premium products to a number of retailers, shops and supermarkets mainly across Leinster Region since early 2020” their best selling products include a variety of pound cakes, Viennese fingers, gingers or cupcakes to name a few and they also specialise in homemade breads and fresh cream cakes.
Main image at top: Photo by Ben Eubank on Unsplash