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Why we owe a big thank you to chivalry and a sexy blue hair net!

Holly’s Café Kilkee.

"It was always sunny in my childhood memories, the excitement would build as we got the ferry across from Tralee and headed for our Summer Holidays in Kilkee. I couldn’t wait for my first “99”!”

It was never part of a grand plan to return later on in life and set up a café, but that is exactly what happened to Holly from Holly’s Café in Kilkee. Holly was set to go off to do a master’s in agriculture in Belfast, at one point when at the last minute she changed her mind and headed for Devon to study Pâtisserie at Ashburton Cookery school.

From the very beginning she was completely smitten, and fresh out of college headed straight to the Ritz Hotel in London for her first job. Starting at the top level she worked creating their world famous five star afternoon teas, as well as working in the Michelin Stared Ritz Restaurant. It was while working in this 80-90 hour a week extremely full-on environment that she learnt how to produce the quality and standards required to deliver the very best produce and service. Something that she was determined would stay with her wherever she went.

Another unexpected bonus of working at the Ritz was taking notice of a certain person who held the door open for her as she walked into the kitchen one day. Despite the very unsexy blue hair net crowned with a white chip shop hat, the chivalrous gentleman was not put off the charms of an Irish girl and she in turn was impressed by his manners. In a “closing door moment” their fate was sealed as Jonathan (known as Jon) and Holly managed to find time in their gruelling schedule to get to know one another better.

Jon was originally from Connecticut in the US, but thanks to his Aunt in London had been encourage to travel, train in Westminster Kingsway, and had also landed a much coveted job as a chef at the Ritz. After a few years of working in the pressured environment, Holly had enough and with no plan at all quit the job and returned to Ireland, shortly followed by Jon.

Their experience at the Ritz helped them both to walk into jobs at Adare Manor who were diligently working to get their first Michelin star. The entire culture, working conditions and experience was a great improvement for them both and as they settled into life in Ireland.

However, everything changed again when Covid hit and the Hotel closed. Jon stayed on creating 600 meals a day for meals on wheels throughout the pandemic while Holly was at home and had time to think about their future. Spending time with her family the idea of finding a place to run themselves began to form.

The ideal would be by the sea and the 5 star standards learnt at the Ritz was going to be integral to any future plans. Having already rejected opportunities in Adare, Tralee and Ardfert Holly was going for a meal in Naughtons one evening when she spotted the sign a few doors down that said “to let suitable for a café!”

After discussions with Jon and the family and (fortified by two bottles of wine!) the call was made to Patrick and Mary who had meticulously renovated the café premises and a date was set to visit the site. They arrived on a freezing cold miserable day for the viewing, Kilkee was closed for business and there was nothing open to even get a warm drink. Despite this the couple knew they had found the perfect place to open their Café.

As Covid continued, they were able to start on a takeaway only basis with the help and support of family and friends from their time at Adare. On their first day open there were queues around the block and they sold out in two hours!! A frantic all nighter in the kitchen to re-stock followed and they have been busy ever since.

As the local community rallied around to support the couple, they sealed the deal getting married in Doonaha Church followed by a reception at Trump Doonbeg. Moving to Kilkee has allowed the couple to develop strong working relationships with their staff and consequently, the café has become a hub for locals and visitors alike who appreciate the fact the café is now open 12 months of the year. In the summer they are open 7 days a week with the kitchen fully open 6 days.

It is no surprise that this is not the end of the plans for this enterprising couple, who plan to stay in Kilkee and develop their business further with a restaurant in the future. For now they are enjoying having a much healthier work life balance and being masters of their own destiny. “I have to go and meet the plumber, and do the blackboards now- from floristry to grouting and cleaning it’s nonstop when you are a business owner, but we wouldn’t have it any other way” says Holly as we wrap up the interview.

Everyone who enjoys visiting the café can thank Jon for his chivalry and the fact he was not put off by the blue hair net and white chip shop hat!

The Ritz’s loss is Kilkee’s gain.

Hollys Cafe 39, O'Curry Street Kilkee.

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