The Gallery Cafe in Gort takes us a long way from high volume manufacturing! Sarah Harty, owner of this Co. Galway restaurant, exemplifies lean practice in many ways e.g. sourcing from local suppliers, good teamwork, innovative use of space and giving back to the community. And the proof of the pudding – a customer review score of 4.5 on Trip Advisor. Her story is an inspiration to anyone wishing to implement lean business.
Over fifteen years ago, a young woman, Sarah Harty from County Meath, fell in love with the small town of Gort in south Galway. In 2005, Sarah opened The Gallery Cafe, a place she soon turned into a hub for her local community. Although she didn’t have any experience in running a business, especially one dealing with catering, it didn’t stop her from following her gut and seeing it through with passion. Her initial business idea was simple – paint pictures and serve customers.
One of the first important decisions Sarah took though was finding the right location, which would ultimately lead to a great lean management structure.
The original cafe in Gort was closed down after only a few years in business due to fire regulations, so she moved up further in the town. Although this new premise was great, she learned a lot about what she didn’t want in business. Sarah realised that a larger venue and bigger staff can bring unwanted stresses that her business model ultimately didn’t need.
As luck would have it, within a few years Sarah was able to buy the original location for a great price and refurbished the entire building. This is where it gets interesting. Her basement floor is now made up of a kitchen, bathroom, and an 18-foot well which attracts many a tourist. The ground floor is where her cafe, restaurant, and art galley is located which also acts as a monthly music venue for local artists. The first floor of the building hosts yoga classes and kids meditation with Life Drawing Workshops taking place there in the winter months, and on the top floor is where Sarah now lives.
Sarah’s food is simple and seasonal. She sources everything locally from her butcher next door to her Uncle who provides berries. Even the crockery they use is sourced locally with a team bonding exercise every year with the staff making their own plates and cups together with local ceramics maker Michael Kennedy.
Instead of creating something for her community, she did her research to see what the locals wanted and then met their needs. For Sarah, a successful business is built on great staff and a happy kitchen. Gort has a significant Brazilian community. So instead of filling a kitchen with stressed chefs throwing pots and pans, stamping their feet and ponding their fists, she filled her kitchen with a bunch of happy local Brazilian ladies who bring a great energy to the place.
Although, Sarah’s initial plan was to paint pictures and serve customers, she soon realised that this wasn’t going to be a reality and that it was more beneficial for all to use the gallery as a hub to showcase 22 artists from the area every year. This again, made the community the focal point of her business.
Sarah now employs 12 full-time staff and through hard work, proper planning and practical decisions – her business is now thriving. As she simply puts it “If you support your local community, they will support you.”
See the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXxmQeqDxF0&t=20s
© Bernie Rushe, BSc, CPIM, Dip SA, MSc, Black Belt