A packed house at the Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill in Drogheda

If you live in Ireland, the only news you’ve been hearing about for the last few weeks is that the country is on the verge of collapse and that it’s covered in snow. From the way some people talk, you should be packing your bags and fleeing Ireland right about now. Just be sure you don’t slip on all that black ice while you’re getting the hell outta Dodge.

While I’m not arguing that Ireland is in some serious financial trouble, the onslaught of negative commentary on the subject is down-right exhausting. What people are overlooking is that in spite of it all, there are little glimmers of hope all around and perhaps it’s more productive to highlight the positive instead of jumping on the bad news bandwagon. To put it simply: it makes more sense to focus on what you want, not what you fear.

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Everything you need for cake baking and decorating at Cake Couture in Drogheda

In Drogheda, a town that is frequently featured in the news as hard hit by the recession, there are new and old businesses thriving despite it all. Cake Couture, a baking supply and decorating shop, was opened in August by local Aoife Collins. On the surface, opening a niche business selling higher-priced, specialty items (usually the type of goods that are first to be sacrificed by consumers during a recession) seems like an incredibly risky move. But the risk has paid off. According to store employee Grace Clark, business is brisk.

“Before we opened you had to go to Dublin, Cork or Limerick to find the type of items we sell,” said Clark. “We have people coming down from Dundalk and Newry and even as far as Clare who up until we opened were getting these items from England. They all tell us ‘Thank God you’re here, I don’t have to travel so far to get what I need!’ It’s great feedback.”

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The shop also offers 6-week sugar crafting classes that are so popular they’re booked up until May 2011. At the moment Cake Couture sells a limited number of personalized cakes but will be expanding to install a kitchen on site, which will allow the shop to offer more cakes for occasions like weddings, birthdays and hen/stag events.

Another new business enjoying a good deal of success is Traders, a coffee café on Laurence Street. The small and cozy café sells gourmet coffee drinks, handmade sandwiches, hot soup and a variety of baked goods like biscuits, scones and tarts. Owners Eoin Holmes and Niamh Fagen came to the table with no restaurant or food business experience, but what they did bring was a passion for coffee and a determination to succeed. Again, a chancy business during trying financial times, but Holmes cites the recession as the reason why his business is doing so well. Say what?

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Traders Coffee Shop in Drogheda offers fresh-made food and gourmet coffee

“What we had to do was work and rework and rework our numbers, business plan and focus of operation because we had to work the pitch to a very fine point in order to secure a loan. Had we tried to do this 3-4 years ago, we might have been a bit lazier with that, but what the recession forced us to do was get it right,” says Holmes. “We couldn’t just slap something together.”

Part of getting it right involved months of honing into what people want and what they’re willing to pay when it comes to food. “When Irish people are abroad they have the most simple food, in most cases local, peasant fare like a piece of great cheese on a beautiful French baguette, and they say, ‘Why can’t we get food like this at home?’ We have that food here in Ireland but the problem has been getting it to market. So we did the research and we found amazing Glebe Brethan cheese by Tiernan’s in Dunleer and fantastic soup from Soup Dragon in Dublin and the best coffee from Ariosa Coffee Roasting Co. in Ashbourne. We were prepared to go outside of Ireland if we needed to, but we didn’t,” says Holmes.

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As a regular at Traders myself, I can say the place is bustling and that the locals have really taken to the café. Business is so good that Holmes and his partner are currently researching a second and possibly even third location.

It seems that with a little elbow grease, a lot of research and an amazing product, new businesses still have a chance at success – despite the odds. Give people what they want: quality and great service, whether it’s good food or a niche product that’s currently hard to find, and they will come. Other businesses in Drogheda are proving this theory as well, and while they are not new they are showing all the naysayers by exhibiting long-term success. D’Vine, a popular Italian restaurant, recently moved from a tiny location in a Drogheda alleyway to a space three-times the size of its original spot and the place is still packed most nights. The Eastern Seaboard, a fantastic bistro offering a variety freshly-made fare, is so busy it’s nearly impossible to get a booking for a Friday or Saturday less than two weeks in advance. On a recent visit to the Eastern Seaboard, I overheard a man in the packed dining room exclaim, “What recession? You certainly don’t feel it in here!”

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Holmes has this piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting a business in these difficult (but not impossible) times: “Get your entire concept down into one line and into a very easily understood concept for somebody else. Know exactly what it is you’re going to be doing. Avoid the spork. Is it a fork or a spoon? No one knows. Therefore, it won’t sell!”