Stirring account: Coffee company founder recalls 'enormous' risk of starting up
ONE MORE THING:Java Republic founder David McKernan has given a stirring account of the coffee company’s 13-year history and future direction at a breakfast briefing organised by children’s charity Plan Ireland.
McKernan was working for Bewley’s in 1999 and “stuck in a rut” when he decided to strike out on his own and set up a new, ethical coffee brand with its own roastery.
“I didn’t know what I was taking on,” was his honest answer to a question about its formation. He originally thought it would take €300,000 to get Java up and running but was soon advised that €800,000 would be required.
“I didn’t realise the risk was so enormous,” he said. “It was stupid really.”
Hard work, a smattering of luck and the support of Bank of Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have enabled Java to reach a level where it is profitable and turning over about €8 million a year wholesale.
Its cafe in Ballycoolin also has annual revenues of nearly €1 million a year. Its weak spot has been
retail, where McKernan admits it has struggled to make a breakthrough.
The plan now is to take the company to the next level and ramp up profitability. The board has been beefed up with former Greencore boss David Dilger recruited as its non-executive chairman and Stephen Twaddell, former president of Kellogg’s European division, becoming a director.
McKernan also has an eye on exports and hopes to take his coffee and tea to new markets. An Bord Bia is preparing research for the company and McKernan hopes to take it to the UK, “London in particular”.
In the meantime, trading in Ireland is up about 14 per cent this year. “Coffee sales in Ireland are good. There’s lots of new business.”
McKernan was asked if he would consider selling the business. “We’ve had four good offers over the years for the business,” was his frank reply. “I’ve no interest in that. I could have made a few quid [in the boom] but I probably would have gone and bought three houses in Malahide and Bank of Ireland shares.”