A little Bear’s coming to town..
The BearPaw Deli Delany Wicklow
It’s 5pm on a Thursday and Claire is sitting in front of me in her gym clothes about to go to a 6pm gym session out in Kilcoole after being in work since 7am. Her long strawberry blonde hair draped down over her shoulders, big black eye lashes fluttering, bright eyed and bushy tailed. She hasn’t had a proper day off in over two months because she has been preparing the opening of her second gourmet deli cafe in under three years, a chain of her cafe in Delany, The Bear Paw. She’s a go-getter, she’s determined and she is making her goal a very fast paced reality, setting standards high for any young entrepreneur.
“I started hotel management in Cahil Bruagh street after secondary school but I never finished it, it always sounds terrible but I think I was short sighted when I was younger and always thought why would I go to college when I can be paid- so I used to work in a french place in Greystones from the age of 16 called Le Paysan, and as soon as I was finished school I started there.”
Claire was born and raised in Greystones and always had a passion for food. Her family was very food oriented in the sense that there was meal times every night, there was Sunday roast every Sunday, and these weren’t just meals to be eaten, these were occasions and routines to be kept and met. Meal times in the O Brien house were for spilling wine and tearing bread up so that you could scoop up the gravy.
While Claire was studying she took up a job in a gem of a deli named Le Paysan, in Greystones which is where The Happy Pear is now. She would work there over attending college because she saw the experience she was getting there more beneficial than what she was being taught. “When I was in college I would skip days and work there and then I would see my mums car driving up the main street and duck behind the deli counter, at that age I just thought fuck it, I am learning more here.”
Le Paysan is French for peasant food and that is exactly what they sold there, good old fashioned poor mans food made delicious. Claire worked here for the owner Thierry for over three years and fell in love with the industry. She loved the energy, the creativity and the pace, it made her feel alive.
Unfortunately Le Paysan eventually came to an end and was pulled apart to build something new. When they were taking construction down and pulling the plaster off the walls they came across a little piece of cement all of the employees had turned into a little memorabilia of emotions, transitions and passing comments which embodied their time in Le Paysan and one of these little spaces read the words ‘on this day, Claire O Brien decided to actually do a bit of fucking work,’ which had been written by the owner Thierry, “and I often think of this when I look at my business now, and the funny thing about Le Paysan was, I always worked hard, always!” Claire tells me this story with a funny sense of frustration over the debate.
At 21, Claire decided she wanted to go travelling, a plan very similar to mine; go off and try to figure it all out! Claire grew up in a very green and innocent Ireland, more specifically; Greystones. When I say green and innocent, I mean that it was a fruitful and organic place to be, running on the smiles of the people and the sound of whatever pennies came out of your pocket onto the kitchen table, it was a country that was pure and true and the word worry was only applied when your sheep had escaped from the field or you had missed your dart. childhood then consisted of playing ‘on the green,’ walking to Mrs Mooneys sweet shop, beach days where we got fired like lobster, Britas Bay if you could get a lift, working in the local shop, long summer nights in the garden, swing tennis in the garden, dogs barking without complains from neighbours, back doors always open, front doors possibly always open…lifts to your friends houses, kissing at the harbour…the memories of that Greystones are endless, it was old Ireland. It was a place that hadn’t yet been developed, destroyed or transitioned by drastic economic, social or political change.
While Claire was away gallivanting Asia, she was told about the recession through her Mother Mary, who also informed her about the lack of jobs and the rocket in property rent and buying. Claire poo-pooed it and kept living the traveler dream until the very last minute which was when she was coming off the plane and arriving in Dublin.
“I left Ireland on the 18th July 2007 and I came back exactly one year later and it was a different country. I left after that famous Irish summer of 57 consecutive days of rain, I’ll never forget it. And towards the end of the year my close friends were telling me not to come home and to wait a while, because the economic situation was getting bad, but I had a pre bought, unchangeable flight so that wasn’t an option. I thought they were exaggerating, but they weren’t.”
Claire came home to a very different Ireland, with very few job opportunities and certainly not any openings for a new business. “Before I came home I had friends and family telling me the country had gone to shit and things were terrible and I remember thinking yea whatever- when I was travelling I was telling all these girls in South America to go and work in Ireland because you get €15 an hour to waitress and then coming back here and having to join to dol.”
Claire was home two months fresh off the travelling boat, broke and unable to start what she truly wanted to start but at the same time, not fully ready. After getting basic unemployment government financial aid for two months Claire got a job in the Butlers Pantry where she worked for a couple of years until she got offered a new opportunity in Wicklow. She tells me how she had this very strong and clear notion that was coming from within her and slowly being accepted by herself in that she was back from travelling and didn’t want a 9-5 office job or something conventional like that.
At 26 Claire was asked to run a space that was vacant down in Fishers in Newtown Mount Kennedy, from there she began creating an idea of what she really wanted to build for herself one day; “I cut my teeth there and learnt a lot, It was never my business though, even thought I paid the rent, did all the orders, created the menu, I was still trading as a company brand which funnily enough now, is the same company name and number that runs Bear Paw today. The problem with Fishers was that I went in there with no investment so realistically I was just another girl behind the counter working for someone else, where as I should have been doing that for myself, for my own business I wanted my own place.”
After so long working with her best friend Amy who she’d started the cafe in Fishers with, she convinced her to be part of her mindset and future mission. Their attitude was that they were just back from travelling and had not working and been completely free, to then working hard at a cafe that wasn’t really theirs and making it such a success despite coming home to a depressing environment where there were no jobs to be found, that they were going to leave and make it on their own. They just thought fuck it, lets just go for it, and it was that free spirit they had gained from travelling that gave them the balls to go into a project that they perhaps weren’t ready for.
“What’s the worst that could happen, I thought to myself, So we got a €5,000 loan to buy pots and pans,” Claire tells me this with laughter.
“After a year, we parted ways. we didn’t see eye to eye and as best friends that had lived together and travelled together, that business was the thing that nearly broke us.
I blame myself a lot for this because I think I felt that I had the knowledge on the area of business and I wanted control of it all. She now works in web development and does very well and thankfully we are still best friends. But starting that business nearly destroyed us because we were two peas that weren’t heading for the same pod, I was always the foodie because I felt I had the experience in that area, in the cooking, in the tasting and in the visual picture. I went to Ballymaloe and has the passion for food, she didn’t, not on the same level anyway, she was more the business head. In reality, it was my dream, it wasn’t hers. I was scared and wanted her to do it with me. The truth is, you have to do these things on your own because then you have nobody to blame but yourself.”
After that, Claire finally opened up what is the stunning beautiful little pink cafe in Delany village Wicklow. Bear Paw is a collective of Claire’s personalities, it’s a deli, it’s a kitchen, it’s a catering business; it’s got mad wallpaper, delicious red coleslaws, fudge brownies and THE BEST Bakewell tart I have personally ever tired. “I hate things that are matched, I like things that are all mixed up, a bit like me, so I have crazy turquoise wallpaper and with tropical leaves on it and then I have a plain blank wall and then I have striped paper on the ceiling- which everyone is doing now but you heard it from me first.”
The image of Bear Paw was very important to Claire, in fact she had the wallpaper picked out before she even had a premises, as did she have the name. When I asked Claire where the name Bear Paw came from she told me a rather sweet story of how her Mother Mary gave her a necklace when she was younger.
The BearPaw offers traditional sambo favourites with fresh, modern trends
“Before I went travelling my mum had given me this necklace that she had got in Alaska when she was there with my dad a few years previously and it was this little bear paw. She was worried about me leaving for a year to go travelling and wanted me to wear this necklace to protect me and I thought “for god sake mother, I’m 21!”
It had one of these annoying chains that got caught in your hair all the time so after about a week I took it off and then when I found it again while in Asia I had it put on a string and I actually didn’t take it off for the whole year just because I didn’t want to loose it- She used to send me emails asking ‘hows the bear paw?’
Today the Bear Paw cafe is one of the best kept secrets in Wicklow, chucking out over 90 sandwiches a day let alone their coffee, salad and sweet treat traffic. They have endless selections of your favourite childhood sambos with a modern day zingy twist, salad boxes with a million different fresh dressings and sweet treats to make to cry all the way to 65.
IN FACT- It is my personal favourite home to the best Bakewell tart in the entire world. To me, a Bakewell tart has three defining layers. Begining with the crispy, crunchy crust, followed by the dense almond paste centre, finishing off with the sweet raspberry jam base. But there is something that sets Claire’s Bakewell apart from the others, like most of her foods. Perhaps it’s the fact that she has recreated a puff pastry to boarder her Bakewell, or maybe it’s down to the ways she’s perfected those layers, I am not completely sure but it’s worth a try.
It has character, it has charm and it has style that is delivered from the owner and staff straight into the food. Bear Paw is all your home cooked comfort foods rolled into one cute little box and isn’t something you want to miss, but then again, it’ll be hard to miss when the second deli opens up in Greystones this Tuesday at Theatre Lane!
******THAT’S RIGHT- START QUEING, BEAR PAW @ THEATRE LANE OPENS AUGUST 8TH*******