Grían cafe is abuzz with people chatting and music playing as the sun pours in through gigantic windows.
A man dressed in combats and a yellow high-viz jacket finishes his breakfast, sinks the last of his tea, and leaves. At a table outside, three young women are drinking juices and soft drinks.
Ann-Marie Ward and Chantelle Farrell are both having the breakfast brioche. “When I came in and saw parmesan fries on the menu, I was like, whoah, thank God,” says Farrell.
She ordered the breakfast brioche today, she says, because it’s delicious and she especially likes the sauce on the beans.
The brioche is priced at €10 and consists of succulent sausages, salty rashers and beans, all between two slices of soft bread with two fried eggs served on top. It comes with a mixed salad.
“It’s absolutely stunning the food is,” says Ward. “At first, I thought it was a bit posh for Ballymun,” she says, laughing.
Grían has swirly designs on the top of the coffee, a funky twist on some traditional dishes, and turquoise-coloured sofas.
“It worked out from day one,” says Udo Wittmann, the owner, who is an executive chef by trade. “We opened the door and we were full.”
Wittmann carefully designed the menu to appeal to the whole community, he says, and it worked, drawing local residents, students, office staff and construction workers.
“It’s a good mix of people,” he says. “When you put it all together, it’s a really good business.”
The launch in early May was so successful that after a week he remodelled the kitchen, adding grills and hot plates, and put in more tables to meet demand, he says.
A bright idea
Wittmann, who hails from Germany, used to work as an executive chef for the Chawke Group, a pub chain that includes Searsons, the Dropping Well and the Bank.
Designing menus for pubs, he learned that the key to satisfying a range of customers is flexibility, he says.
“In a pub, you would have a similar approach, you have the guys coming in for a few pints, you have families and you have special events,” he says.
He took advice from the owner, Charlie Chawke, he says, on how to cater to such a diverse customer base. “Give people what they want,” he says.
He opened the original Grían outlet, which is on Sundrive Road in Kimmage, in late 2021. Grían is Irish for sun and that premises is a real sun trap, he says.
That name works well in Ballymun too, because the premises gets loads of sunlight through gigantic south-facing windows along the front of the building.
That cafe sits beside the Aspen student accommodation and opposite the Ballymun plaza.
Sitting on a comfy couch inside the cafe, Wittmann says he found out the premises was available because he does catering for events including some for the students next door in Aspen.
He needed a place with more kitchen space. He makes food here in Ballymun for the Kimmage outlet and for the catering business, he says.
He was a bit worried because the previous food businesses on the premises hadn’t taken off. “Can we create enough turnover to make it sustainable?” he says.
From the beginning he was determined to build a business that appealed to the entire community, he says.
“People like the idea of having a nice, neat coffee shop,” he says. “Especially in an underdeveloped area like Ballymun because there is little else available.”
The concept is simple. High-quality food at a reasonable price point, he says.
What’s on the menu?
While the breakfast brioche costs €10, main courses, such as spaghetti bolognese or a burger with chips and salad, are priced between €14 and €16.
The meat is all Irish and the bread is all from the Baker Street Bakery, says Wittmann.
The breakfast brioche is by far the most popular item on the menu, he says. “I didn’t want to do a normal breakfast, I wanted to do something different,” he says. “It’s a take on a full Irish but it’s stacked up like a burger.”
He has lots more new ideas. This week, he plans to launch a few more menu items, he says – including new burgers and a Mexican dish.
His focus is getting on top of the lunchtime rush, he says, so he’s going to launch a variety of ready-made rolls that customers can buy with soup or chips for €10.
He hopes to do themes, too. Like a Mexican week or a Thai week, he says. “That’s the ideas that we have at the moment.”
He is currently growing the variety of cakes and pastries on offer too, which are priced at €3 and €3.50, according to the writing on the glass casing.
At around 2pm each day, Wittmann lists those cakes that he thinks won’t sell on Good to Go, he says. The app helps businesses to sell products at cost price and minimise waste.
Lots of people want the cakes at a discount, hoping to get the bargain.
“It’s such a limited availability that people are talking about it,” he says. “It creates a bit of buzz, reduces the waste and you know you’re not losing money.”
Ward and Farrell, the customers, live nearby. Before Grían opened, they would often go to Charlestown just to go for food, says Farrell.
It is really convenient to have somewhere high-quality right in Ballymun, she says.
Some other cafes in Ballymun didn’t survive because the food wasn’t good enough quality, say both women. But they don’t expect Grían to run into that problem, they say.
“Anyone who comes here is bound to come back,” says Farrell.