Having previously worked for Google, Ella Wallace (along with her partner Paul Froggatt) opened Pupp, a dog-friendly café, on Dublin’s Clanbrassil Street.
The obvious question is why? Why open a dog-friendly café Paul?
We wanted to start a business long before we opened (in early 2016), though we weren’t sure what form it would take. Ella was keen on creating a food business, though it was only when we were finding it difficult to bring our dog Toby around with us that the idea for a dog-friendly restaurant started to take shape.
“When doing your business plan ask someone who runs a restaurant to look over your cost estimates. There are an enormous amount of fees, charges, and bills.”
Why did you want to move into such as radically different industry? (Ella left Google to run the restaurant, Paul still works at Google).
Ella was keen to try something new, develop a community, and face the challenge of running a small business. It wasn’t a case of looking to leave the tech industry, just to take advantage of the opportunity of something different while it was available.
Is it true that people can pay what they want?
We have one item on the menu (porridge with homemade fruit compote) that is pay what you want.
Pupp is about community, and we wanted to offer something that was accessible to everyone, so we chose to allow people to price the dish at whatever they thought was a fair value. The results have been really strong, though may not be viable for higher cost items or an entire menu.
“We founded the Dog-Friendly Association of Ireland to help other businesses become dog-friendly and now have over 100 business members.”
What is it about your restaurant that makes you stand out from the crowd, apart from being dog-friendly?
Our team. We’ve been really lucky with the people that have joined Pupp, and for small businesses, it’s often the most important part of the customer experience. A particular shout-out to our restaurant director Esther who has done a phenomenal job developing the team and is the first face most customers see.
You have leveraged social media very well. What works best for restaurants?
Facebook offers us the greatest reach, and we currently have about 10,000 followers. It’s great for competitions and announcements. However, Instagram is an essential channel for sharing the goings-on within the restaurant. We love to laugh and share some of the personality of the characters within the team. You can find us at Facebook.com/PuppIreland or as PuppIreland on Instagram.
“The food industry has very tight margins so make sure you’re doing it for passion rather than to become a millionaire.”
You’re famously a dog-friendly restaurant. Do you see this as a rising trend in Ireland?
This is core to the Pupp proposition and has seen a huge amount of exposure since we opened. It was also part of the reason we began in the first place. At the time there wasn’t anywhere actively promoting it, and we wanted to encourage a more open discussion about dog-friendly environments. We were also keen to set the standard so people could see you can have a lovely cosy restaurant for everyone while also allowing people to bring their dogs. We founded the Dog-Friendly Association of Ireland to help other businesses become dog-friendly and now have over 100 member businesses.
What advise would you give to someone thinking of going into the business?
When doing your business plan ask someone who runs a restaurant currently to look over the cost estimates. There are an enormous amount of fees, charges, and bills (e.g., water charges, accountant fees, music licenses, insurance, building rates, staff holiday pay, equipment repairs) that are easy to overlook. It’s worth ensuring your business model is resilient enough to compensate for the costs of actually running a restaurant.
The food industry has very tight margins so make sure you’re doing it for passion rather than to become a millionaire.
How long did you spend on your business plan before you launched?
We were looking for suitable premises for a few months before finding our current spot and were also developing the business plan at the same time. When we took on the building, it also needed a lot of renovation, so we had six months of planning time before we opened the doors.
If you could, what would you do to encourage more entrepreneurship in Ireland?
Develop a marketplace of people wanting to buy and sell small businesses. We started from scratch, but it would have been so much easier if we took an existing restaurant and transformed it into Pupp. Especially in the restaurant industry which has such high turnover, people want to enter and exit the market all the time but often don’t have the contacts to hit the ground running.
Is there a business or café that inspires you?
The Happy Pear have done a great job scaling their business while maintaining their founding values – we met up with them before we launched to get some advice. They have a great business and are great founders.
Interview questions by Barry Walsh.