Eoin Pierce drops dollops of batter into 20 small wells on a sizzling buttery hotplate, and waits for two minutes as they hiss and bubble, before flipping them over and then piling them up on a cardboard tray.
“I saw that nobody was doing these here and I knew immediately that I had to do it myself,” says Pierce, through a white face mask.
These Dutch-style pancakes, known as poffertjes, are golden brown and soft and fluffy. They shimmer with the hot butter.
The kitchen smells like a Dutch Christmas market.
Cooking poffertjes had been a side hustle for Pierce. But like thousands of others across the city, he lost his full-time job due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March, the former bus tour guide threw himself full-time into his business cooking Dutch treats in a rented kitchen on Cabra Road in Phibsboro.
It’s a big career change. “But you’d be surprised what skills can be transferred from previous jobs,” he says.
An Unlikely Start
Pierce says he learned about poffertjes through online dating.
It hadn’t been going well, he says. “I met one girl online who said she was an antique dealer. She contacted me to say that she was stuck in Singapore and only needed €600 to get home.”
He had been ready to give up. Then he met his current partner, a Dutch woman, Frederika De Jong.
In 2018, Pierce was visiting De Jong when he stumbled on poffertjes at the famous Albert Cuyp Market in Amsterdam.
He sought out a cafe that specialised in them, asking the owner for advice on setting up something like this at home, says Pierce.
The owner’s top tip? Stop thinking and just do it, says Pierce.
In the kitchen, Pierce’s daughter Enya works around him as he flips the poffertjes.
“Dad is the salesman,” she says. Enya, like her Dad, is wearing a face mask and a cap with the Dutchess Foods logo on it.
Enya grabs Pierce and turns him around to show the writing on his t-shirt: “Served hot and delicious”.
“We had to get it printed on a t-shirt because he said it so much at the markets,” she says.
Getting into food markets can be a challenge if you are an outsider, Pierce says. “It’s a very very close-knit community.”
Some market owners won’t give you a space if there’s a similar stall already there. Others don’t give any reason, he says.
At markets, Pierce and his daughters, Enya and Aisling, gave out samples. But Pierce clocked a way to attract more attention.
He stood at his stall with an empty plate. People looked and wondered what had been there, he says.
“I told them, ‘You just missed them, they’re flying out today,’” he says. “Then I would walk them over to the stall and show them what they just missed.”
There have been blips, too. Like accidentally leaving the cash box at Bloom Festival after a hectic day.
“I had to convince the security to let us back in after everything was locked up,” he says.
Pierce loves thinking on his feet, he says. Past jobs didn’t allow for it as much.
Doing it for Himself
In the kitchen, Pierce and Enya have finished making the poffertjes. They’ve moved on to stroopwafels.
Pierce opens a waffle iron where the dough has been cooking for three minutes. He slices the pastry down the middle and spreads stroop, a cinnamon treacle, on the inside.
He presses the two halves of the stroopwafel together, coats one half in melted chocolate, and sprinkles it with whole nuts.
“There is something really satisfying about working for yourself,” Pierce says.
Pierce used to work as a hospital buyer, ordering equipment for nurses and doctors at the best price he could find. “It was the most stressful job ever.”
“I used to look at a gardener and think he is the luckiest man ever. He comes along, cuts the grass, and goes home with a job well done,” Pierce says.
Later, he worked as a tour bus driver. The job gave him confidence, he says.
He got great Tripadvisor reviews and company awards. “But I wasn’t getting anything for it. I was just getting this,” he says, leaning over and patting Enya on the back.
Dutchess Foods had launched in November 2018, so Pierce was juggling work as a tour guide with weekend markets.
On 13 March this year, he lost his job. “I must have been one of the first ones in the door to collect the Covid payment,” he says.
The patter and chat as a tour guide helped with his business now, he says. “Now when I talk to people or hand out my card, it’s all for myself.”
“I did it for years for someone else. Bloody right I’m going to do it for me now,” Pierce says.
At the height of the last lockdown, all the markets closed.
Pierce saw delivery cyclists and delivery drivers about town. He wanted to get his pastries into this market, he says.
Pierce found the space in Phibsboro. Now he is waiting for Dutchess Foods to be posted up on Just Eat.
“But there is a long waiting list,” he says. They have been waiting since March.
They still sell at Honest2Goodness Market in Glasnevin and Kilmacanogue Artisan Farmers’ Market but are trying to turn their attention to online.
Every day is different, Pierce says, “But that’s what I love about it.”