Aisling Tuck is an entrepreneur from Dublin and the founder of two brands paving the way in the plant-based food space. Starting her business from her parents’ kitchen at the age of just 21, things have grown exceptionally well since then and she is now one of the largest producers of vegan treats in Ireland. Here, Aisling shares more about her brand, passions and what’s next on the agenda.
Did you always want to be a baker/entrepreneur?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative. I got really into food when I went vegetarian when I was around 15. When I went vegan at age 18 I knew I wanted to start a food business. I saw a gap in the market as the vegan options available in 2014 were very lacking. I was working in a café in Dublin and used to make all their vegan goodies, and the owner Stephen of Tang suggested I begin wholesaling to other cafes. He was really the one who got me started on my journey and I’m very grateful. It grew Oh Happy Treats very organically for a couple of years when I was just baking from my family kitchen and doing farmers’ markets, a few wholesale orders and selling through social media.
In college, I studied… international commerce in UCD, but I dropped out on a whim on the first day of second year and went solo travelling in Asia and Australia. I’ve never had such a strong gut feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be somewhere, and looking back it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – it shaped me into the person I am today.
My most formative work experience was… I got a lot of hospitality experience working for Stephen in Yogism and Tang. He sat down with me when I started my business and helped me plan my costs. He also gave me feedback on our first wholesale products, how to approach cafes and what to charge.
My first real job was… I had an office job when I was 18, and absolutely dreaded work every day.
The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… as I mentioned above, I knew that office or corporate life wasn’t for me. I started my business pretty much straight straight after I came home from Australia, so I know if I hadn’t had a ‘normal job’ before that I might always be wondering ‘what if?’. I feel so lucky every day that I feel fulfilled and motivated to do what I do, because I know what it feels like not to have that. I think this perspective has also helped with how I treat my staff and the kind of working environment I do my best to provide for them.
A common misconception about what I do is… that the margins are really high on baked goods and the food industry in general… I wish it was that way! There are so many other costs involved other than ingredients and labour – rent, rates, electricity, marketing, packaging, delivery/distribution, VAT, waste, accounting fees… the list goes on! Very few businesses are charging way more than they need to, and for all the hard work that goes into running a food business, it has to be worthwhile.
My main responsibility in work is to… run the whole show!
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from?
One of my best friends Bec owns a vegan cafe – Kale & Coco – so I would go to her a lot for advice. She really gets me and all the problems we face as business owners.
The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… I think our recent Naked Bakes rebrand was pretty risky. Not everyone is going to like or get the naked Adam and Eve on our packaging! But I’m confident it’s what I needed to do to take the brand to the next level and make it stand out on the shop shelves.
I wake at… lately I’ve been waking up at 5.30am to go to a gym class at 6am. I find if I leave it til the evening I put it off. Plus I feel very energised and alert after, which is a nice way to start the day.
The first thing I do every morning is… scroll on my phone to be honest!
My morning routine is… gym in Un1t in Stillorgan, shower, grab a coffee in Bear Market, meditate, drive to work.
I can’t go to work without… my airpods. I’m almost always listening to something throughout the day whether it’s motivating music, an inspiring audiobook or a deep-focus playlist.
I travel to work by… car, usually accompanied by a podcast or a phone chat with my mum, a team member or one of my friends in Aus.
On an average workday I… it really varies. I usually try to time-block but by the days, so Monday is admin/HR, Tuesday is marketing and sales, Wednesday is finance, Thursday is product and Friday is growth. Within this, I’ll block up my time into 1-1s with team members from each area, have calls with external people, work on projects or solving issues/how to improve in that area.
I start my working day at… 8am, all going well.
The first thing I do at work is… check in with my team, make another coffee, check my emails and the orders and production plan for the day.
I usually spend the first portion of the day… having a 1-1 with a team member and getting stuck into one of our projects or tasks.
I break for lunch at… it really depends, but around 2pm usually and it’s almost always a desk lunch. I love Fiid meals because they’re so convenient and healthy. I have a stash of them in my desk drawer.
The most useful business tool I use every day is… Notion. We use it for everything! We recently started using Slack too. Communication is key.
I save time by… being a good delegator both with my team and outsourcing the things I’m not good at. I’d also have to say the do not disturb function is essential for focus and limiting distractions.
I rarely get through my working day without… at least 3 coffees!
The best part of my day is… getting to work with wonderful staff, suppliers and fellow businesses. Feeling like we are making a difference in people’s day whether it’s with their morning coffee break, home deliveries to someone sick or a busy family looking for a mess-free home baking activity!
The most challenging part of my day is… the feeling that I’m putting out fires every day. I’m sure other business owners can relate to that one!
I know it’s been a good day if… my team and customers are happy.
I usually end my day at… I’ll either leave before 5pm or around 6/7pm so I can miss rush hour, depending on the day and how busy I am or what I have planned for the evening.
I switch off from work by… hanging out with my housemates Saoirse and Meabh, watching a show or having dinner together. They’re the best for a chat.
Before I go to bed, I’ll… meditate. I started doing Transcendental Meditation this year and it’s been a game-changer for my focus, creativity and stress.
I often prepare for tomorrow by… laying my gym clothes out – it makes it so much easier for me not to make excuses or snooze my alarm in the morning.
After a long work week, I destress by… catching up on sleep. I have a nap every Saturday after getting home from cafe deliveries and it’s delightful.
Naked Bakes pop-up shop, London
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… getting our cookie dough listed in SuperValu. It’s always been my mission to make plant-based treats mainstream and accessible all over Ireland, so getting our products into the retailer was a monumental step towards achieving this. Also, recently we got into a pop-up store on London’s iconic Regent street. I flew over with my marketing executive Doireann. Sampling our cookies in the centre of London was a pretty landmark moment for us.
If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… if you can afford to, take a holiday first and completely switch off. It’s near impossible to do this as a business owner.
I’ve just finished working on… our Naked Bakes rebrand (woo!), our first-ever export to the UK and integrating a new bakery IT software.
At the moment I’m working on… we’ve just moved into a new office so I’ve been doing a fit-out, as well as trying to deal with rising costs and their effect on our business. We are also currently working on our corporate catering and gifting offering and have started planning our Christmas menu in Oh Happy Treats. It’s an exciting and busy time of year!