It’s not often that Jimmy Allen seems stuck for words. Indeed, as a Kerry man living just a few miles over the Cork border in Ballyvourney, you’d need your wits – and a quick tongue – about you at the best of times.

But at one stage of our interview, the plumber-turned-pudding maker becomes visibly emotional as he gathers himself to recall one extraordinary example of goodwill that helped the De Róiste brand get off the ground.

“I was told to call into Tom Myers (Myers Food Machinery) in Mitchelstown ... what a legend,” he smiles.

“I went into Tom on a very wet Tuesday evening, and I gave him the hand and said: ‘Tom, Jimmy Allen from Ballyvourney, we need to have a chat. Before we start, we have no money. I’m looking for a chopping bowl, a mincer, a vacuum packer, a clipper and a cooker’.

“And Tom said: ‘I don’t know you from Adam, but I’ll take a chance on you’. And we put a payment plan in place and within 12 months Tom was paid in full.

“He could have told us no; and if he told me no, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

But then, you’d imagine it’s hard to turn down Jimmy Allen, such is his raw passion for the business that he and his wife Maura run with their three sons Declan (25), Cathal (23) and Daithí (19). For example, when they wanted Musgraves to give their black and white pudding central billing, Jimmy and Cathal drove to every SuperValu in Munster and got a letter from 63 different store managers saying they would put their products on the shelf. No surprise then that in August they launched in SuperValu and Centra stores nationwide, with sales up 40% since.

“We’re not going to take no for an answer,” says Jimmy, as we meet in Siopa De Róiste – perhaps best known to drivers as the bright pink shop in Ballyvourney on the Cork-Kerry road, run by his wife’s family for the last 15 years.

Family links

Jimmy first met Maura when he was 16 and she was 14, when he crossed the border to come to secondary school: “And we’ve been together since,” he beams.

A mechanical fitter by trade, Jimmy ran a heating and plumbing business that employed 20 people at the height of the Celtic Tiger, but took a “hammering” between bad debt and defaulters when the crash came in 2008.

“Everything was pressure and strain,” says Jimmy. “But we muddled through it. We’re a family, right?”

At that time, their eldest son, Declan, was studying journalism, but after three years decided it was not for him. However, Declan had previously worked with his uncle, Seanie ,at the butcher counter in Siopa De Róiste, where one of their specialities was making black pudding to a recipe passed down by his great-grandmother, Elsie, and saw an opportunity to make it for a wider market.

Jimmy told him to draw up a business plan and go to the banks with it, though he suspected that they would not back him.

“I knew what the banks were going to say to him,” he acknowledges. “But he needed to hear that himself, because it doesn’t come free.”

In the meantime, however, Jimmy had met with Udarás na Gaeltachta, who agreed to come on board with support for a premises and an employment grant.

And with no more than €1,000 start-up capital begged and borrowed between them, they took their traditional pudding – made with 100% Irish pork and bacon sourced from Staunton’s in Timoleague, onions from Bandon, Flahavan’s oatmeal and natural herbs and spices – to local shops and hotels.

“They paid us up front,” says Jimmy. “We went in the door with 20 puddings and they paid for 20 puddings. That kept us going.”

One of the first retailers to come on board was Eugene Scally of Scally’s SuperValu in Clonakilty, which opened many doors to other stores and, in turn, to the SuperValu Food Academy programme.

At this stage, Cathal, who had been studying arts, joined to go on the road to do in-store tastings and spread the word to grow sales in the absence of a marketing budget.

“If you tell your story, people will appreciate the hard work that goes into it, they will appreciate that it’s all local food, all local produce,” Cathal says. “That goes a long way.”

Growing interest

Indeed, as well as SuperValu, De Róiste black and white pudding is now available in selected Dunnes Stores and independents, and has central billing with the BWG group (which includes Spar, Mace and Londis stores).

There has also been interest from other Irish stores as well as the UK, which the family hopes to act on when they move from their current factory to a larger premises at Christmas.

Further plans include going into pork and bacon wholesaling, and developing a gluten-free range.

“We’ve grown from zero and we cleared €320,000 last year in turnover. This year we’re going to be turning over half a million, but we work for nothing,” says Jimmy.

“Everyone is on minimum wage. This is the long-term picture. By the end of this year, start of next year, we’ll be making money for the first time in three years. And in fairness to the three lads, they understand that and they know it’s for them.”

And with Declan running the factory, Cathal driving sales and now Daithí on everything from in-store tastings to labelling, Jimmy and Maura hope they have done enough to provide a viable future for their family and that the De Róiste brand will continue to grow.

“The beauty of this is these boys are directors because this is for them,” he says. “I don’t want to be a stranger to my grandchildren and that is the driving force behind it.

“The lads cringe when I say that and I can understand why they do. But I know friends of mine whose grandchildren are in Australia and they’ve never seen them. That’s not going to happen to me.”

We don’t doubt it.

For further information, call 026-45680 or follow @DeRoistePudding on Twitter.