Taking the decision-making out of wedding menus, Orla McAndrew Catering works with quality Irish food producers to create bespoke meals based on surplus ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.
Why did you set up Orla McAndrew Catering?
I spent years in college and came into food as a mature student. I did a Culinary Arts degree that was really a business degree and I didn’t last very long in that industry.
I had a huge passion for food so I did a diploma in Speciality Food Production and a postgraduate in Food Marketing, but still didn’t know where to cast my net.
“The word passion is often overused but I believe my enthusiasm for what I’m doing pours out of every pore and is infectious for those around me”
I started a family and was a stay-at-home mum for about five years, without a career of any description. I was feeling lost and undervalued.
But then I had an epiphany; nobody was undervaluing me – my destiny was in my own hands. The next day, I met a girl in a park who said she was getting married in six weeks and couldn’t find a caterer. It was as if the heavens opened and provided me with this golden opportunity that I snapped up with both hands when I told her “I think I could do that!”
What makes Orla McAndrew Catering stand out?
The word passion is often overused but I believe my enthusiasm for what I’m doing pours out of every pore and is infectious for those around me.
My team is 100% behind every effort, and I am very fortunate to have built a team of people whose energies are aligned with my own.
“We offer a zero-waste wedding package, where I create a bespoke feast for the couple and their guests based on what my suppliers have in surplus the week of the wedding”
Often, I’ll hear someone say “this doesn’t feel like work” and I know the sentiment is shared by the whole team. It’s always fun and always interesting. That positive energy is felt by our guests, who can count on a high level of service and affability of the front of house staff.
We offer a zero-waste wedding package, where I create a bespoke feast for the couple and their guests, based on what my suppliers have in surplus the week of the wedding. I work with local farmers, growers, fishermen, bakers and Irish food distributors to rescue perfectly good produce and ingredients that may otherwise end up in landfill.
“I took every job that was offered, confident that those who tasted my food would taste the love and the passion that went into creating every bite and then recommend me to others”
Neither I nor the couple know what’s on the menu until the week of the wedding. Couples love it because it takes the decision-making out of choosing what to feed their guests and they can feel good about having a sustainable wedding. They like that it’s something different and entirely bespoke and 5% of all profits go to my charity partner, Peter McVerry Trust.
What challenges did you meet and how did you overcome them?
The first challenge I met was getting people to know I existed. I set up social media channels and set to work promoting myself amongst various community groups across Cork.
I took every job that was offered, confident that those who tasted my food would taste the love and the passion that went into creating every bite and then recommend me to others. That’s exactly what happened. Every single job in that first 18 months came from a direct referral.
If I didn’t have a social media following and my Google reviews when I started the zero-waste events part of the business, the idea that I could make something delicious out of food that would otherwise have ended up in the bin, might have been more challenging to do.
The other challenge is the reality of getting food from suppliers on the week of a wedding with no guarantee what you’re going to have. I’ve countered that by making sure I have at least two of each supplier and that they’re all fully committed to the concept.
Has your business been affected by the pandemic and how have you adapted?
“I have learned the value of saying no. I have learned how wonderful it is to walk away from potential work in favour of family time. What a privilege it is to be able to pick and choose the work I perform and how that is a key factor in the sustainability of this practice”
In March 2019, I had just completed work on my purpose-built kitchen and was looking forward to a busy summer season having slowly built a good reputation around Cork. My Five-Year Plan was that I would solely be catering for weddings and large corporate events and I was happy to be on that trajectory. Within ten days of the pandemic hitting I had brought a weekend treat box to the market – the first to deliver all around Cork County. Others followed suit and so I moved on to care packages of homecooked, chemical-free freezer meals for people who were isolating or having babies. I followed that with a six-month series of supper clubs, all the while the goal being to get as many tasty calling cards to as many people as possible so that when things opened up again, I would be in as strong a position as possible.
I grew my social media following during this time by hosting several live series introducing friends and colleagues in the food and wedding world and made some valuable connections.
What is the support for entrepreneurs in Ireland like and how could it be improved?
Access to supports could be improved. I, and many other entrepreneurs I speak with would find it really helpful if there was someone we could go to that would advise us of all of the supports that are in place for us. I have found navigating supports more laborious than it ought to be and I have probably missed out on lots of supports because of it.
What lessons have your learnt and what would you pass on to other businesses?
I have learned the value of saying no. I have learned how wonderful it is to walk away from potential work in favour of family time. What a privilege it is to be able to pick and choose the work I do and how that is a key factor in the sustainability of the company. The work I do requires extreme focus, energy, and leadership. It is incredibly taxing and I realised early on that I need to protect my energy in order to be able to do what I do at such a consistently high level. This isn’t just a job for me. This is me giving my heart and soul to a project to ensure it surpasses all expectations. It is so important to me that the people who hire me are completely blown away by the experience. And so, I mind myself.
Have belief in where you’re going and have a focus on where you wants to be. That’s really important. Surround yourself with a network of like-minded people, who are an inspiration to you.
What is your proudest moment?
The past four years have offered such growth both personally and professionally. I have had many proud moments from winning creative professional businesswoman of the year, to being a regular contributor to the RTE Today Show, to being featured on national radio and newspapers, for launching a brand new concept in event catering “zero waste weddings and events”. However, my proudest achievement has been committing to focusing on what is really important to me. And that is my young family. Their happiness and wellbeing trumps all else and I am proud of myself for understanding that.
What are your plans for the future?
I’d like to contribute more regularly to recipes in newspapers, to do more TV work, and most importantly to keep talking about and effecting change in zero waste catering.