BComm '01, MBS '02
Their travels around the world 10 years ago inspired radical lifestyle changes and a passion for food that resulted in identical twins Stephen (BComm 01, MBS 02) and David Flynn setting up a family business focused very firmly around the idea of healthy eating and sustainable communities.
About Stephen Flynn
When they left college, Stephen and David, who also did a business degree, decided to assert their independence from each other and went travelling their separate ways. “Dave went to South Africa to be a golfer, in theory, and I went off to Vancouver. I spent the next couple of years travelling around Canada and America and living in France, and he spent quite a while living in Central and South America.”
It was a time, says Stephen, that their ideas and lifestyles changed dramatically. They went from dreaming of being millionaires by the age of 30 to dreaming of how they could make the world a happier, healthier place. Or, as the twins explained when they addressed Tedx Liffey a couple of years ago: “We left as disillusioned meat heads, rugby-playing, women-absolute-chasing jocks. We came back long-haired, vegetarian, organic, rabbit-food munching, trinket-wearing, herbal tea-drinking hippies.”
“When we went away we were really into the alternative stuff,” he says. “I was living in spiritual communities, hanging out with the hippies, anything I could find that was alternative. I wanted to explore that aspect of life, just to find out where my norm was, where my balance was. Along the journey I found out that I have a huge passion for food and healthy food, organic farming and trying to bring people together and build more community. So me and Dave came back and decided to set up a fruit and veg shop.”
Stephen approached the local greengrocer in Greystones and asked if he could buy the shop. “He said everything’s for sale at the right price. We worked out a deal and off we went.” The twins borrowed money from their family and started the business – The Happy Pear – without any real plan.
“We got a red Hiace and we’d get up at 4.30am and go into the fruit market every morning and we were traders. We started with no real idea but just a huge passion for what we were doing. It was a bit raw and reckless at the start, but you find your way.
“When we started first what we really wanted to get into was local, organic stuff, to try to encourage people to eat healthier. And that’s still our thing today. We started with the fruit and veg shop and most of our customers were grannies. We felt you can’t really get a food revolution going with the grannies, so we had to think of ideas for getting younger people into the shop. We started having music out the front of the shop and then we started selling smoothies. This was back when smoothies were really cool.”
In 2006, the premises next door came up for sale. “So we borrowed more money. We knocked down the wall between the two of them and slowly but surely we got a kitchen set up and then got a cafe going. Then we opened the restaurant upstairs, which the cafe services. From there, we started getting into music festivals.
“Neither of us had any experience running a restaurant but we had a huge passion for it and found a great chef and she became our main chef. We weren’t going to sell coffee and sweets or cake, because ‘sweets were bad’. We were hugely idealistic, but eventually we realised you have to sell coffee and you have to sell cake. It’s a huge part of our business!”
Around three years ago, the twins’ younger brother Darragh came on board and set up up a sprout farm, growing wheatgrass and sprouts. Darragh now distributes his wheatgrass and sprouts and The Happy Pear’s pesto to around 50 different shops in Dublin. “He wants to get more into farming so hopefully, further down the line, we can grow a lot of our veg, sell it in the shop and use it in the restaurant and also distribute around Dublin.”
Another facet of the business, which Stephen believes “is our golden goose but it just hasn’t started laying the golden eggs yet” is online. “One aspect of that has been building an online shop,” says Stephen. “We’re pretty much selling online what we sell in the shop. That’s pretty much breaking even and it’s good fun messing around with it and understanding how online business works.
“But for around two-and-a-half years we’ve been running a healthy eating course, helping people lower their cholesterol through diet alone. That’s really popular. The Irish Times did a big article on it so we had people from all over the country wanting to do the course. We couldn’t run enough courses because we had day jobs too running the shop. So we built an online course. It’s video-based and it’s pretty cool and we’re starting to get people from all over the world signing up for it. And once you’ve built the content and the course people just pay to subscribe to it. It’s now starting to pay for itself.
“It’s great fun learning – getting into farming at one end and into digital e-commerce at the other end is great fun, and trying to do all the food things in between.”
The business remains focused on healthy eating and contributing positively to society, says Stephen. “No one would debate that everyone should eat healthier, more local and more vegetables. It’s the core of why we started the business. That’s the foundation on which everything hangs. It has to be a business and it has to make economic sense. If you can find an aspect that’s more popular that others, great, as long as it’s living to the same principles, it’s trying to make things happier and healthier and add value to society as opposed to subtract.”
The business has continued to grow throughout the recession. “It’s maybe only 5pc to 10pc a year, but it’s slowly increasing.
The twins’ attitude to the business has changed somewhat over the years, says Stephen. “Initially we were totally idealistic, but it’s good to do your numbers first and have a degree and a business plan. It doesn’t have to be 100pc accurate. Generally we’ll do everything on gut instinct but you’ll still have a look at the numbers and make sure they all add up and make sense on paper.
“We’ve always been idealistic so we always follow our stupid ideas, right until they’re proven wrong, even though 10 people will tell you they’re going to be wrong and it’s like, I have to try this out for myself. We’ve learnt over the years to be less idealistic and more pragmatic. Ideals are great, but they have to work in the real world.”
Working with family is “brilliant”, he says. “We grew up together and did everything together. Working together is fantastic. We both met our partners around the same time. Dave’s wife is Australian, mine’s Polish. Both had little daughters at the same time and they’re both pregnant again. It’s great, wonderful.
“We get on fantastic. You can keep each other in check really well. When things are good you’ve someone to share it with and when things are bad, you’ve half the problem. That’s our greatest asset.”