We’re getting ready to get going,” says John Edward Joyce of The Mustard Seed (in Ballingarry, Co Limerick). “We have all our big jobs done. Just a few small bits to take care of now.”
John Edward has been with The Mustard Seed since 1992. He took on ownership of the country house in 2016 and continues to provide guests with comfortable rooms, a hearty breakfast and – thanks to head chef Angel Pirev – an eclectic and inventive dinner menu that makes the most of the produce found in the locality.
He says they will adhere to all Government guidelines with reopening; offering overnight stays with dinner first and then welcoming back dinner guests, when allowed.
“There won’t be too many changes from last year [when we were allowed to operate],” he explains. “But it’s still feeling fresh and new. That’s the exciting thing about catering – the trade changes but you have people who work and grow with you, there’s always a change and your guests always bring something new along.”
John Edward employs approximately 20 people at The Mustard Seed. He says it’s great to be able to reopen as small country hotels provide a much-needed boost to the local economy.
“We’re starting to book up now,” he smiles. “The phone is ringing all the time. There’s still availability and we’re looking forward to opening the restaurant to all our local friends. We’ve just done up some rooms and we’ve redone the kitchen. We have our team back and it’s just great. The loss of jobs was the worst part of lockdown.”
1 Why did you choose a career in hospitality? I started [years ago] with a summer job in Clifden at Foyles Hotel. I continued working in the industry throughout college and when I started working at The Mustard Seed that clenched it.
2 What message would you most like to get across to your clientele as you prepare to reopen?
I would like my guests to always take care to enjoy themselves, because their enjoyment is our enjoyment, too.
3 Did you always see yourself working in hospitality when you were younger? I actually studied business in GMIT Galway with a slightly different plan in mind. That said, I had always worked in hospitality and [during college] always hung with the hotel and catering school students. I should have known.
4 What was your first experience of high level hospitality? My first job [in Clifden]. Everybody there was offered hospitality – from the delivery people to the employees, to (obviously) the guests. Luckily, it opened my eyes to hospitality.
5 Staying at The Mustard Seed is both a comfortable and luxurious experience. Is it difficult to strike that balance? Not particularly as we go with what we want it to be. Our approach to hospitality is natural, not contrived.
6 How important is the food offering at The Mustard Seed?
It’s vital! It makes the day, or the stay, of our guests.
7 Are there different approaches to dinner service as opposed to breakfast? To us, both are equally important. Dinner is more of a celebration, while breakfast is more of an easing into the day. Breakfast needs calm.
8 In a building with as much history as The Mustard Seed, how much maintenance is required each year? Maintenance here is constant, but it’s a positive thing – the house always thanks you for it. This house has stood the test of time and deserves it.
9 What does your ideal weekend getaway in Ireland look like? Plenty of relaxation, fresh air and a nice bed. A fun dinner with wine. In an order of sorts!
10 Excluding the last 18 months during COVID, do you get much of a chance to go on holidays yourself in a normal year? I go on a holiday once a year, thankfully. I also take a stolen day here and there – off to the wilds of Coolacloy [Co Galway]!
When we were allowed to open last year, the support of our guests was fantastic
11 When the pandemic hit, did you need to develop a survival plan? We all needed a plan for survival, but for us it was a ‘plan’ and not a plan. It never really came to pass until we knew we couldn’t open. There was a fear of not being able to do things how we love to and how it would all work. Thank God it did work in the end.
12 How has the pandemic affected the future of Irish hospitality, in your opinion? Hopefully it will help us all see the value of it and maintain it, as it was removed from us [this past year].
13 How can holidaymakers support Irish as society gradually reopens? Just as they did last year.
Go out and enjoy. When we were allowed to open last year, the support of our guests was fantastic.
14 What are your own plans for reopening The Mustard Seed? According to current guidelines, on 2 June we will open with overnight say and dinner. Luckily, we are made for social distancing – the house has comfortable, airy spaces and high ceilings. The old house is doing us a lot of favours from a safe distance point of view. We are very excited.
15 I see many restaurants and hospitality businesses looking for staff with reopening on the horizon. Do you think staffing will be an issue going forward? If so, what’s the best approach in solving it? It will be a problem due to the severity of the successive lockdowns on our industry. I think the solution is to provide lots of encouragement and support. We all have to see the value in the hard work done [by hospitality workers], whether as colleagues, employers or guests and patrons. It is an important job and not everyone can do it.
16 How did you spend your time during lockdown while The Mustard Seed was closed? My time was spent very easily. The Mustard Seed is an old house – it needs companionship. The phone was answered and emails replied to. There were still lots of jobs to do – always preparing for a day when the door can open. I would walk Knockfierna every day. I’m a country child – never idle and never bored.
17 Have you taken any positive experiences from lockdown and the pandemic? Stick with the plan and it will all work out. And don’t be going ahead of yourself, as Angel (our head chef) once advised me.
18 What advice would you give someone looking to open a B&B or a small hospitality business? Just go for it. Enjoy it. It will not always be a smooth run, but you will get out what you put in. You have to love it. Financially, beware – it’s not what it seems.
19 What are some of your hopes and plans for the future? To continue doing what I am doing and enjoy it. To continue to make things nicer for our guests and ourselves.
20 Finally – if you knew you were about to have the final meal of your life, what would you choose to eat? There would have to be scallops. Irish beef, potatoes (in some capacity). Some Irish cheese and rhubarb.