Brothers in arms . . . or pistols at dawn? What’s life like for brothers who work together in the food business?
Bernard and Barry Broderick. Photograph: Alan Betson
Conor and Marc Bereen. Photograph: Alan Betson
David, Darragh and Stephen Flynn. Photograph: Alan Betson
What is it about brothers in food? Once you start looking they’re everywhere. Why is chef Oliver Dunne wearing a smart shirt and welcoming people into Cleaver East, his new Dublin restaurant, I wondered last week? But of course he isn’t. He’s busy in the kitchen. The front-of-house man is his younger brother Graham, who gave up two weeks’ summer holidays from their Malahide restaurant to give his big brother a dig-out.
Widen out the lens and the world’s best restaurant, Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca is run by three brothers. There are the Magnetti brothers, Sean, Marco and Paolo, who run an Italian food business in Galway. In north Dublin, Keoghs’ Crisps is run by brothers Tom and Ross, with their cousin Derek. And the biggest Irish brotherhood of food (although they don’t work together) is Food Minister Simon Coveney in one corner and his brother Patrick who heads food giant Greencore in the other.
So how do boys who grow up together become men who work together in food? I look at my three sons and wonder how all that rivalry over who’s older, taller or faster will pan out in later life. Can you put family history and hierarchy behind you to become equal partners in a tough business?
Comedy fights between brothers are all part of the biscuit and bar makers Broderick Brothers’ marketing campaign. “I’m a lot younger than Barry, ” Bernard Broderick lobs in at the start of our interview as he explains how the business began to evolve more than 10 years ago. “See where the maturity sets in,” Barry responds. “I’m saying nothing.”
As kids, the brothers smashed biscuits in their mother Ina’s kitchen in Dublin’s Terenure for the cheesecake bases and other cakes she made to sell to cafes. With a nudge from their parents, they decided to take over the business together, after college. More than a decade on they have more than 40 employees, with a fifth of their market in the UK. Last year they supplied 50,000 bars to the London Olympics.
There are pros and cons of working together, they say. One good aspect is that arguments do not lead to walkouts. But the sibling relationship has taken some hammering into shape to turn it into a business partnership. “You have to stand back sometimes,” Bernard says, “and ask: ‘Am I disagreeing with him because we’re brothers or is it more fundamental?’ So over the years we have had to make it more and more objective. Sometimes we bring other people in to have alternative voices, and then we make up our minds.”
Talking to Stephen Flynn, who runs The Happy Pear cafe and food shop in Greystones, Co Wicklow with his twin David, you get the impression there is not two but one mind at work. The 33-year-old twins grew up constantly together, sitting together at school, and always at the other’s side, until they went to different colleges. “It was like a divorce. If you’re a twin and you’re separated you go around for the first while saying ‘Jaysus, where are they?’ ” Stephen says. College was followed by a more dramatic separation when Stephen went to Canada and David became a golf pro in South Africa. They discovered, in spooky twin fashion, that each had decided independent of the other to become a vegetarian on exactly the same day.