The rise of Kylemore from bakery to catering and beyond
From a childhood packing cakes to expanding the group into the UK, chief executive Brian Hogan has changed more than the name at Kylemore
Brian Hogan, chief executive of Kylemore Services Group (KSG) in the kitchen at Chartered Accountants Ireland on Pearse Street, Dublin, where his company provides catering services. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Brian Hogan started working at Kylemore at just 10 years old. Some 50 years later he is still there, having made the transition from packing cakes to running the company. “I wasn’t very good at school so I much preferred to be packing Christmas cakes and mince pies. I really wanted to leave school and go into the business but wasn’t allowed.”
His dislike of school stemmed from a hatred of sitting at a desk, something he tries to avoid to this day.
Founded in 1920 by his grandfather, KSG started as a dairy. The company changed to baking and confectionary when Hogan’s grandmother, spotting a gap in the market, decided to take advantage of the thousands of fans descending on Dublin for the all-Ireland final one Sunday. She baked some cakes, displayed them in the window and Kylemore bakery was born.
Hogan started full-time at the business in the 1970s after leaving college where he was studying commerce. In 1980 he became chief executive and nine years later, with seed capital from a property transaction and backing from AIB, he bought the company.
In 1987, Kylemore opened its cafe on O’Connell Street, with 14 more restaurants to follow. While some have since closed, the company now has 11 casual dining restaurants around Ireland, serving three million customers a year.
The bakery business on the other hand was not to be, being usurped by the advent of frozen and par-baked breads. Hogan ultimately decided to close it in 2002 with the loss of more than 300 jobs.
“Of the 300 people that we let go, every one of them had found a job as good or better by the time their four-week notice period was over. It was not easy telling them we were closing the bakery, though.”
With rents doubling in 2002-2003 in shopping centres and on main streets, Hogan decided to move into contract catering. “We opened a restaurant in the Pavilions Shopping Centre in Swords. It was 5,000sq ft and the rent was circa €100,000. Two years later we were quoted the same price to rent a small sandwich bar in Athlone. We went back to our guys and said, this is bonkers. We stopped signing leases, thankfully, at that time and decided to make the move into catering.”
The More with Food division of the company provides catering services to a range of clients including universities, hospitals, government departments, hotels and tech firms.
“We struggled to get chefs who were trained the way we wanted, so we set up our own training academy in our head office in Finglas. We are the only catering company to have our own Fetac-accredited training centre which we run for all our chefs, managers and baristas. We’ve just won a 2013 outstanding achievement award from the Irish Institute of Training and Development.”
Contract catering now accounts for 90 per cent of the business, resulting in Hogan changing the company’s name from Kylemore to KSG (Kylemore Services Group). That said, he is looking to move back towards restaurants.
“Part of the process of reinventing ourselves is that we have come up with three or four amazing retail concepts.
“We have a fresh handmade burger operation in Liffey Valley called Moo. We are going to change its name, but it’s trading really well, so we want to open it on the high street. We are actively looking for sites.