“The timing couldn’t have been worse,” says Michelin-starred chef Enda McEvoy, about the opening of his new venture, Éan – and no, it hasn’t been easy – but the pandemic has also given him and his team a chance to test the waters – not to mention a stress test for climate change.
At what stage did you come up with the plan for this new venture?
“We have been loosely on the lookout for a second premises for a while now,” McEvoy says. “We thought it would be good to diversify and have a business that would complement Loam, but have a lower price point. We had lined up another premises, which we had planned on being a bakery/cafe last year, but it fell through at the last minute. That was ultimately good timing, as Feargal Hynes approached us about taking over the restaurant premises attached to the Mick Lally Theatre. We saw the potential immediately – it is a beautiful old stone building in the heart of the city. We signed the lease at the end of February, so the timing couldn’t have been worse!”
What was the motivation behind launching something new?
“We had been on the lookout for a space for a complementary business for a while now, and had wanted to have a bakery element in it. When the space beside the Druid Theatre came up, it just seemed a great opportunity and a great association with a solid Galway brand. The timing probably isn’t perfect, but when is? The reception so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and the Galway community have been so supportive.”
What is the inspiration behind the menu at Éan?
“We wanted a casual space where you could come in the morning and pick up a well-made croissant or cinnamon bun and a great coffee, and a stonking cheese toastie for lunch, with great bread and quality cheese and pickles, and come back in the evening for a glass of wine or an aperitif, and maybe a plate of charcuterie or something a little more substantial, like a simple grilled fish, some shellfish – like a bar you discover while on holidays in Italy or Spain, and you keep going back to because it’s so fun and tasty.”
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your businesses?
“For Éan, it has been an opportunity to open softly in a very strange and uncertain landscape. It’s given us a chance to test the waters with a takeaway model, which has been useful, but with regards to Loam, we have been closed outright for five months over the last year. It’s been difficult, and the uncertainty is exhausting, really.”
Do you think we will see lasting changes in the industry following the impact of the pandemic?
“Of course. In the short term, there will be changes on many levels. Businesses will suffer, be more risk averse. It really depends on what support will be available for operators next spring. This year has forced many businesses to examine themselves and to see what they are capable of, when it comes down to it. I think it will make some people leave the industry permanently, and also, there will be opportunities for a new generation of chefs/FOH people to take the risk and jump in with two feet and start their own business, taking a punt with fresh vigour.”
Are there any positives to take from it?
“Sure. Hopefully, it will be a wake-up call to policymakers and the government, to see how fragile our global food system actually is. It’s like a stress test for the planet in the face of climate change – an opportunity to make up for mistakes made in the last 50 years or so with regards to how our food is produced, and build back better.”
How did you spend the lockdown?
“We home-schooled four kids, did a bit of fishing, cooked together, dug the garden, swam in the sea, read loads, stressed about the future, and pretended not to stress about the future,” he laughs. “We used the opportunity to hang out together, really. We’ll never have it again. It was great in many ways.”
What will happen next for Loam?
“When we get the chance to open Loam, we will. We had a good summer this year, when we could open – we have a good few regulars who we would be lost without. This year was going to be a bumper year, with Galway 2020 and all, but hey-ho, that’s life. Next year is another year.” Any predictions for the industry over the next six months to a year? “Yup, the next six months are going to be tough, and unexpected things are bound to happen, but sure, we’ll be grand, I expect. Speculation is pointless, really. Brexit will be tough, winter will be tough, the economic fallout will be tough, but people will still need to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and the like, and we will be here for them.”