A Kitchen Experiment Spreads from Dublin 8 across the City and Beyond

With bleached hair and a bushy moustache, Harry Colley sits with the sleeves of his turquoise floral shirt rolled up, in conversation last Thursday.

“I have been cheffing for 10 years and I have been with Fumbally for the last five of them, nearly,” he says.

Anytime he’s finished speaking, his sentences end with either a smile or a laugh.

Colley is in the Fumbally Stables, in the Liberties. This is a creative space for people to develop ideas, often associated with food.

He spent his formative years as a chef here, in Fumbally Café, which is now the birthplace of his own food endeavour, Harry’s Nut Butter.

“I had thought nothing of it. I never thought of commercialising a food product before,” says Colley pointing over his shoulder to a stack of jars.

Peanuts are blended to make the butter base of this creation. Then flavours like paprika, chilli and garlic are added along with sunflower, olive and sesame oil.

Like many food business ventures, this product started as a happy accident. The Fumbally Café is a place where culinary experiments are encouraged, he says.

Nut butter was one of them.

“We started putting it into jars and laid it out on the tables [of the café],” he says.

Fumbally owner Luca D’Alfonso noticed that the nut butter jars were often empty so he encouraged Colley to start selling his recipe. Harry’s Nut Butter may have started as a café table spread but just last Wednesday Colley made 800 jars to ship nationally.

Making Nut Butter

Back in December 2019, Colley was still just selling his nut butter from the Fumbally food market every Saturday, before going on holidays for a month and a half.

Since returning just three weeks before lockdown Colley has been navigating his new business in a new landscape.

Back in the Fumbally Stables, fairy lights hang behind Colley. This space is rented by people like Colley, to pursue food ventures.

The walls are a mix of exposed red brick and white plaster. Long wooden beams line the ceiling of the room where the nut butter is made, jarred and shipped.

It’s a large room. Long wooden tables run down the middle of it as various people work on food ventures of their own.

Two women from Scéal Bakery work away in the background. They rent the same space two days a week.

“We have a machine that has just arrived from Taiwan which turns peanuts into peanut butter,” says Colley. “Then I add spices to that, mix it and jar it.”

The peanuts are sourced from Argentina while the paprika is shipped from Turkey.

“There’s no preservatives,” he says. “No scary shit like that.”

New World, Same Nut Butter

One obstacle Colley now faces is trying to introduce Harry’s Nut Butter to potential buyers.

This might involve standing in a supermarket to hand out tasters and talk to new customers, he says.

“But that is all totally gone now,” says Colley.

Though this unexplored territory had certain setbacks, Colley was surprised by the support he has received from the public during this time as a new business owner.

“For something like this it has been great. It’s had a really really good start into the world,” he says.

Much of the support he is receiving comes from local, independent shops, says Colley.

“Which is part of the same group that I belong to as well,” he says.

During Covid-19, there has been an incredible amount of goodwill, he says. “People have become more conscious than ever as to where they spend their money and there has been a ‘shop local’ push.”

This week, the nut butter is being sold in 100 shops, he says.

Organic Growth

But how do you market a new product while a country is in lockdown?

“Instagram did it for us,” says Colley.

People were just taking loads of pictures of the label, he says. People would then tag the nut butter on Instagram during the lockdown which helped spread the name around.

The design, made by graphic designer Sarah Moloney, is a reference to Mr Tayto, who also holds his own packet of crisps on the front of the packet, says Colley.

“It has been other people doing the heavy lifting for me,” says Colley.

A Welcome Transition

Colley finds that he is hardly spending any time in the kitchen so that he can keep up with the demand of his nut butter.

“They are totally different jobs,” says Colley.

Working as a chef means early mornings cooking breakfast and straight into preparing lunchtime soups and salads all under a tight time constraint.

“You’re run off your feet, it’s really really physical,” he says.

This transition from the kitchen to the nut butter came just in time for Colley, he says.

“I have rheumatoid arthritis, which I got diagnosed with last year; that gets aggravated by stress,” he says.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes Colley’s joints to become painful and can cause his hands to swell in stressful situations such as working in a kitchen, he says.

Now his mind is focused on experimenting with new flavours of nut butter in his kitchen.

“I’m trying to, on that small scale again, come up with stuff that is delicious,” he says as he finishes his coffee.

“One thing you get in Fumbally is free rein. There’s no head chef. You’re nurtured by the owners to like, do well and make stuff that tastes really good,” he says.

Trial, error and getting feedback from friends is how Colley plans on finding his next flavour.

“It’s not that it hasn’t been challenging, it’s just that it has been enjoyable,” says Colley.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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