When founder and managing director of Keogh’s Crisps, Tom Keogh, approached his father, Peter, and uncle, Tony, with his idea of turning their Co Dublin farm’s potatoes into crisps, he says he was met with a bit of scepticism coupled with some solid support.

“The idea for crisps came on the back of that very sharp decline in potato sales between the years 2000-10,” he explains. “Around 50% of national consumption declined in those 10 years. We had competing carbohydrates, trends like the Atkins diet, and there was a big image issue with the potato.”

So when he thought a good way to diversify their harvest was to invest in crisp-making equipment, the initial reactions of his dad and uncle were: “You’re mad.”

“Because the crisp market is so competitive,” he explains. “It’s probably the most competitive landscape in the whole food industry, globally, and it’s dominated by few global players. In the early days, I didn’t even think I’d get a supermarket listing at any stage, but we proved that wrong.”

Despite their initial doubt, Tom says his father and uncle took a chance and let him rent one of their older potato stores, which he modified into a high-care food production facility during the summer of 2011 (the same year he sold his first bags of crisps).

Humble beginning

“I bought my first fryer from an Amish community in Pennsylvania after developing all of my recipes here in my mam’s kitchen,” he recalls, smiling. “My mam had a cookery school here on the farm, so I had access to that commercial kitchen, which was fantastic.”

Far from those first low aspirations from over a decade ago, Keogh’s Crisps have grown to such an extent that the majority of the family’s 400ac harvest now goes into the crisp business as opposed to fresh produce. Tom has since expanded their offering into popcorn, and is now supply Keogh’s popcorn to schools throughout Ireland for lunch programmes. Keogh’s can now produce up to 400 bags of crisps per minute, but as opposed to using large equipment, they have kept with the ethos of cooking in small batches.

Tom Keogh started making crisps out of his family farm potatoes in 2011. / Philip Doyle

In light of all this success, how has the father-son relationship fared?

“I consider myself extremely blessed that I grew up here on the family farm,” he says. “The highlight of my day was being able to run out and help Dad. From a very young age they had us out helping – and right up until recently, I worked shoulder to shoulder with my dad. There’s not a lot of people who can say that. I feel very lucky to have had that opportunity, to have worked with my father.

“He has the patience to let us learn from our mistakes,” he continues. “That’s a big bonus in a family business. The crisps were completely self-funded. There were no hand-outs, and it developed the family brand into what it is today. People often meet me and they say, ‘I love your crisps – and I see you’re doing potatoes now.’ We’ve been doing potatoes hundreds of years!”

Finline Furniture

Kieran Finane.

There is a good chance you’ve sat on a Finline Furniture couch or armchair. Whether you’ve purchased one yourself, sat on a friend’s chair or got comfy on one of their pieces in a hotel, they have been selling to Irish customers for 45 years.

Starting in Emo in Co Laois, the focus from day one has been on high-quality furniture. Run by brothers Ciaran and Cilian Finane, they are following in the footsteps of their parents Kieran and Bridget.

“Dad spent years working in the furniture business but back in the 80s and 90s, there were a lot of small factories focused on the lower to middle-end market. My parents wanted to focus on quality high-end furniture and it’s a strategy that is still paramount to our business model today.”

Ciaran says growing up, some of their earliest memories were in the factory. “Ann Beehan has been working with us 45 years and I remember her minding me as a baby, sleeping on cushions next to her desk. As we got older, we would play football out the back of the factory with the lads when they were on their lunch break, we loved that. And lots of farmers around us in Laois have childhood memories jumping into hay but we used jump from the lofts onto big foam packs, and Dad would be giving out, saying we’re wrecking the foam,” says Ciaran, laughing.

Cilian and Ciaran Finane.

Valuable lessons

“As much as we enjoyed it though, myself and Cilian didn’t think we would actually go into the business. After school, I worked with a stockbroker while he was a quantity surveyor. When we reached our late 20s though, as many people do, we started to look at things through a different lens, and with a bit of maturity on our side, we both followed the road home. Now we are co-owners of the business.”

Sadly, their mother Bridget passed away in 2013. “After that, Dad started to step back, but he continues to be involved in his own way. He still goes to trade shows and he has a huge depth of knowledge about fabrics and raw materials. He has had relationships with people since he first started the business and he is always there for advice. For example, although our main premises is still the one that Mam and Dad set up in Laois, we also have shops in Dublin and Cork. Next month, we are moving premises to a shop that is double the space on the Long Mile Road. It’s great to have Dad there to chat these things out.”

The best lesson that both he and Cilian have learned from their father though is around people. “Treating your employees with respect is so important. We have 80 staff and the majority of them have been with us for over 20 years. I think it’s because Dad was always very fair and this is definitely something he has passed on to us. He is also a sociable man and loves networking. He always says, ‘never refuse a meeting with anyone, you never know where it may lead.’”

This is certainly the case as the company have a new project which has both a social and sustainable message. “We’re working on a project with Aiséirí rehabilitation clinic in Waterford, which provides treatment for adults and young people who are struggling with alcohol, drugs and gambling addiction.

“It’s called the Revive programme in which we buy back people’s old Finline Furniture sofas. They are then sent to Waterford and the people there work on the furniture as a project (as part of their treatment), ripping out the old materials. However, instead of the frame going to a landfill, it will be sent back to us to be re-purchased and re-sold as pre-loved. It’s definitely a new idea, something different but it all goes back to having furniture that lasts a lifetime, which was my parent’s mantra from day one.”


Evie and Eliza, sisters and owners of Nutshed, with their dad Peter. \ Claire Nash

Evie and Eliza Ward are sisters who co-own and operate the artisanal peanut butter business, Nutshed. Two of the most confident young women in business you might ever meet, they never had any doubt in their minds that they could do anything they set their minds to. This, they say, is down to the support and example set by their parents, Peter and Mary Ward of Country Choice market in Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

This February, Peter and Mary were honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Irish Food Writer’s Guild Awards – they have been in business for over 40 years and, in that time, have been a constant champion to small producers and local farmers. Of course, their capabilities and passion for food rubbed off on their children.

“First, we had an events business, which was Eliza’s baby,” Evie tells Irish Country Living. “We did great festival food at festivals and events. I grew up baking in Country Choice. I fell in love with plant-based, high-energy food and we started giving them to our friends and colleagues in the events space.

Award-winning peanut butter

“At the same time, we started a market stall at the Milk Market in Limerick and our most popular product was our peanut butter energy balls,” Evie continues. “We were going through buckets of [hand-made] peanut butter every week and selling over a dozen jars. So then Eliza said, ‘Hold on a minute – we need to focus on this a bit more.’ From there, we moved into a production unit and Eliza took on a massive project to plan all of that.”

Eliza adds, “I was able to use my skills from being 10 years on the festival circuit, working markets and events around the country, and then Evie has been baking since she was a kid, so bringing those two skills together is the foundation of what we do at Nutshed.”

Evie and Eliza, sisters and owners of Nutshed, with their dad Peter. \ Claire Nash

Today, the pair make six different flavours of their natural award-winning peanut butter. Their production unit in Nenagh is found just around the corner from Country Choice. The sisters say their father always inspired them to go off and see the world, but in a sense, this is also what brought them back home. Peter says it would be wrong to expect the girls to take over the family business, in the traditional sense.

“Business is like the weather – there are good days, there are wet days and you just deal with what comes,” he says. “Retail today is more challenging than it has ever been in my 43 years. I am very happy to see the girls with a specialist business where they’re able to contain it and marry a lifestyle with it, as well. We managed to tie our lifestyle and our business together. I’m not sure people want to do that anymore. I hope the girls will keep something going in some form, but I have to be very careful. When I was 17 and sitting at home on a lovely farm in Co Meath and dipping sheep all summer, I didn’t really want to stay there.”

“With how we manage our business, it’s almost like we’re in Country Choice every day,” Eliza says. “We’ve taken all the principles we’ve learned from Mom and Dad and we’re just selling a different product. We grew up with Dad always saying to ‘have the courage of your convictions’, so we always felt we’ve been able to trust our voice.”

“My Dad gave me my first cookbook when I was 11 and he wrote a very inspiring note in it because he knew I was really into baking,” Evie adds. “Regardless of what our interests have been, he has always been so incredibly encouraging of just us finding our own path.”

In short

• Father’s Day is on Sunday, 16 June

• In Ireland, there are 173,000 family businesses

• Collectively, Irish family businesses employ nearly a million people - that’s more than the State and foreign businesses combined

• Approximately seven out of ten Irish businesses are family owned

• Considered essential for regional development, family businesses keep people living and working in rural Ireland.

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