Lolly Strahan is the founder and managing director of Dublin-based café chain Lolly and Cooks. On Friday 19th October, she'll be sharing her top tips for a successful business at an exclusive event in The Marker (tickets available here). But first, the entrepreneur sat down to talk us through her journey to success (as well as advice for anyone who hopes to set up their own business).
How did the idea of Lolly and Cooks come about?
"I love food, it’s obviously one of my greatest passions, but I also really love good design (in terms of the things that bring food to the people); such as branding, packaging, print, etc. I often felt it was a shame when fantastic, independent cafes were forgotten because they had little or no identity. So, Lolly and Cooks was born from my want of a brand that's as memorable as the food."
What is your favourite part of your business?
"Feeding people is so rewarding. I find the challenge to delight people with food so exciting. My favourite place to be is in our production kitchens; tasting and brainstorming new ideas with the team. It’s always insanely busy and the team there are like a big family."
What element do you find the most challenging in your business?
"There are so many! I find HR particularly challenging. As Lolly and Cooks grew, so did the number of employees. HR is extremely important and time-consuming. There is also a huge amount to learn in terms of employment law."
In times of crisis, who is your go-to person and how important are they to you?
"My go-to person is my production manager, Cassie. Together, we somehow manage to solve most emergencies. She is vital to me, and she is one of those employees you wonder how you were lucky enough to find."
Ten years on, you have five café locations and a successful catering business; how did you learn the art of delegation, especially when the business is so close to home?
"I think the art of delegation is one of the most difficult things to achieve, especially for young start-ups. When you are starting out, without any investment, it’s impossible to hire experienced staff who you can really trust with complex tasks. It’s really only been the past couple of years that I’ve felt my company is in safe hands without me being there, and that’s due to finally reaching a point where we had grown enough to afford key management individuals."
When you hire someone, what do you look for?
"I mostly go with my gut when recruiting. Skills and experience are of course essential; however, we engage directly with hundreds of customers daily, so the warmth (or lack thereof) when interviewing potential employees really does have an effect on my judgement."
How do you manage your work/life balance?
"The balance now seems positively seamless compared to a few years ago! I work Monday to Friday (and only at the weekend if there is an event that demands my attention). I avoid taking work calls outside of business hours, except in emergencies. Five years ago, I couldn’t afford additional staff and would work nights and weekends; my daughter would come with me and sleep in kitchen corners. When she was a new-born, she used to sleep in the kitchen dry-store on a box of peanuts!"
What advice would you give someone looking to set up their own business?
"Go for it! Take as much advice as you possibly can from any of your friends, family members and colleagues who have any expertise they can contribute. Ultimately you will make all the decisions, but it’s good to be armed with as much information as you can manage before taking the plunge."
In a couple of lines, what is the most valuable lesson you have learned in the past ten years of Lolly and Cooks?
"I’ve learned the importance and the joy of building a happy workforce in each location, without whom Lolly and Cooks would not operate. It has taken a very long time, and for the first time in 10 years of business, I feel privileged to be working alongside such hard-working, loyal, efficient individuals – most of whom have grown with me and the business through much of the last decade."
Lolly Strahan will be joining Marie Hunt and Sinead Cassidy at our IMAGE Networking Breakfast on Friday 19th October. To come along, meet like-minded women, and get a goodie bag, book your ticket here.