Home-grown and imported
talent make a successful blend in Kenmare, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
Sunday November 14 2010
Kenmare is one of those
towns that we all love to visit. It has great restaurants, pubs, hotels and
B&Bs, a great atmosphere, and a diverse population, not just of local
people, but of those who came to visit or work and who have integrated and made
this colourful town their home.
Christine and Alain Bras
run the most gorgeous shop called Vanilla Grape in Henry Street, selling, among
other items, specialist wines and a range of greeting cards. Vanilla Grape may
be the name over the door but, according to Christine, it will always be known
locally as Eugene's.
Christine and Alain, who is
from Toulouse in France, opened the business six years ago after the premises had
been closed for 16 years. Christine was born and reared in this building when
it was a grocery shop run by her aunt, Joan O'Sullivan.
Christine's parents had
seven children, of which Christine was the youngest, and but a month old when
her mother died. She was looked after then by her father's sister Joan and her
husband Eugene O'Sullivan, and brought up with their family.
The shop, Christine
explains, was always known as Eugene's, and it was where all the kids of her
generation went to get their sweets. The postman wouldn't know where to go down
here as there are so many O'Sullivans. Everyone has a nickname, as there could
be 10 John or Patrick O'Sullivan's. So they couldn't open the Vanilla Grape
without having the nostalgic "Eugene's" over the door as well.
Christine and Alain met in
2002. Alain had worked in Sheen Falls as a sommelier. He has a distinguished
pedigree in the wine and restaurant business, including lecturing with the Wine
They wanted to do something
in retail; a pastry-cum-wine shop was the original idea, but they were very
disappointed with the high rents. They eventually found a premises, but it had
to be restored so Christine's brother let them into their mother's shop to
re-open it on a temporary basis. The reaction locally was so great, and it
worked so well, that Christine's brother suggested they stay on there.
Vanilla Grape has wines
that would be very much obscure appellations not normally seen in supermarkets.
Alain says people come to them looking for wines to go with food, maybe as a
present. Their wines therefore are mainly European.
They also have Cuban
cigars, which they are buying in conjunction with a well known purveyor, and
they have Cafe de Cuba Cubita Cuban coffee. Alain says that even though he
loves French and Italian coffees, once you taste Cuban, you find it very hard
to go back.
Vanilla Grape also stocks
the wonderful Lorge chocolate range, which is made locally in Kenmare.
Christine's speciality is
her huge range of beautiful and individual greeting cards.
Customers can also buy
online, and also learn all about wine at Alain's School of Wine; see
Manuela Goeb came from
Heidelberg in Germany on a visit to Ireland many years ago and fell in love
with the place, eventually making it her home.
Like many others, she was
attracted by the green and the fact that it is more relaxed here than Germany.
"I came here as a
long- distance cyclist when I was young for three weeks. I had always heard it
was a flat country, but I could have shot the person who told me that when I
arrived here!" Manuela says with a laugh.
Manuela was originally a
nurse by profession. She opened a bakery in Kenmare, doing all the German
sourdough breads, spelt breads, wheat and gluten free.
This was then extended to
become a vegetarian coffee shop, The Breadcrumb, where she and her team produce
delicious healthy options for lunch each day. The coffee shop does gluten-free
soups; delicious pancakes; and lovely, fresh healthy salads, incorporating
perhaps beetroot, carrots and beans; and other vegetarian dishes.
There is a big modern
refectory-style table down the middle of the cafe which Manuela calls her
"communication table". People come in and sit down and get talking to
other people, she says.
Manuela has just taken over
the brand and production of Noodle House pasta, based in Sligo, and which has
made quite a name for itself in the last number of years.
She also plans to vacuum-
pack fresh pasta, she says. "That is why I have no time for a private
life!" she laughs.
Did I hear her say she came
for a more relaxed life? This woman is a power house! See www.thebreadcrumb.com
Not once, in talking to
these hardworking, busy and successful people, did I hear the word