So Much For The City: One Family Takes the Plunge and Moves Out West
After setting up (along with her best pal Marion Kilcoyne) the beloved Pepper Pot cafe in Dublin, Dervla James, who originally grew up in Sligo returned home last year to open a new cafe and bakery, Pudding Row.
She tells us about her journey to big city and back and how her childhood adventures were something she wanted to pass on to her own daughter.
How did you start out in cooking or cheffing (which do you prefer to call it!)?
It's funny because my food story started in this very cafe. The summer before 6th year all my friends were waitressing in the local restaurant. They were all at me to get a job with them. The owner at the time only had work in the kitchen as the chef's assistant. Cooking was never my forte but I wanted to have the craic with my friends for the summer so I said I'd give it a whirl.
Once I got into the kitchen and got the hang of things I absolutely loved it. From there I went to Dublin and studied professional cookery and a degree in baking and pastry art in the National Baking School of Ireland in DIT.
I always gravitated towards small artisan bakeries and cafes and my dream was always to have my own.
When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance and with my dear friend Marian we opened the Pepper Pot in Powerscourt Townhouse in 2010.
When you started a family did you always see moving away from the city as a plan for the future?
As soon as I had Edith I started to dwell on my own childhood and think of the freedom we had that she just wouldn't get to experience in the same way in the city.
What were the big motivators for the move to Easkey? Once you made the decision how soon did you make the move?
The biggest motivator for moving was being closer to my family. This is no reflection on Dublin as we had a lovely life there and loved it but there were so many Sundays when our weekend visits were coming to an end that this sense of sadness would descend on me. It took us a long time to make the decision. In truth, about two years but the feeling we got when we finally made the decision was exhilarating and it just felt so right.
Did you have anxiety about the move? Any reservations about leaving Dublin?
Lots. We had a very active social life at one time. It is a tough decision but ultimately it made the most sense for us. Up until the day we moved I was worried I might live to regret my decision but I adore living here and feel a real calm in my life now. We've got the best of both worlds. We have loads of time to spend together as a family and we get to do all these special Sligo things now.
How did Pudding Row come about?
We were aware of the space being vacant but never really saw it as an option. I had planned to slow down for a while and take a break from the kitchen. The building is managed by Easkey Community Council, who approached us through my mother in classic small town style. When we got in and saw it, the spark was ignited. From there it all happened very quickly.
We spent every spare minute making plans. We spoke to a local carpenter named Jonny Walsh who along with Colin Ritchie custom built our beautiful counter, benches and shelves.
How do you work out childcare/family balance?
We were very lucky to have Johny's mum taking time out to spend some time with her beloved granddaughter until we got settled. We had envisaged myself and Johny running the show and just being busy enough to get by, but it's been so busy that we've had to take on nine staff and now have a great team in place. Johny has stepped back from the cafe to work with my Dad and so is able to balance work with minding Edith when I have to work and I do the same on the days the cafe is closed.
As for the balance, every minute we're together seems to turn into a Western Adventure; strolls down the old laundry walk, exploring Easkey castle and hanging out by the Easkey Valley Dolmen.
What do you see for the future?
My dream was always to have an eco-friendly and completely self-sufficient farm to table type of guesthouse and it's most certainly in our long term plan. But for now, it's baby steps. Really fun and exciting baby steps.
The first season of Pudding Row baking classes have just concluded, with more planned for this coming Autumn. Kid's baking classes will run over Easter midterm, along with special evenings of happenings and gatherings. The next project will also be a series of videos documenting rural life and pudding row food. Visit Pudding Row's Facebook Page for more info and details of forthcoming baking classes and events.
Portrait of Dervala by Andrea Flanagan
All other images are Dervala's own. Visit Pudding Row Instagram