‘Too much faith is put in the multinationals to keep us afloat’

Inside Track: Jason Colbert, co-founder, Bitesize

Jason Colbert of ‘Bitesize’. Cork City. Pics: Emma Jervis

Jason Colbert of ‘Bitesize’. Cork City. Pics: Emma Jervis

 

Gourmet canapé company, Bitesize, was set up by Jason Colbert and Lynda O’Riordan in 2005. It is based in Midleton in east Cork, where it employs 12 people.

What is special about your business? We make delicious pieces of edible art!

What sets your business apart in your sector? We specialise in canapés whereas other catering companies just offer them as part of their menus. As a result, what we offer is quite unusual and made with the best of local products such as Ballycotton Bay salmon and Ardsallagh goat’s cheese. We produce handmade canapés both savoury and sweet for all types of occasion from corporate events to a birthday party in someone’s home.

What has been your biggest challenge? Staying focused. I have a tendency to be a bit impatient and want to race ahead with different ideas. I have learned that sometimes it’s what you don’t do that’s more important than what you do and learn to say no.

What has been your biggest success? Coming out the other side of this recession without having to let anyone go and without cutting wages. Caterers are a luxury and one of the first things to go in corporate budgets. It was like the lights were just turned off. As a result a lot of caterers were chasing a small number of jobs and some were cutting costs and quality to get the work. We never did this and were very conscious of not damaging our reputation for quality food and service. I think this has stood to us now. It is our reputation that keeps us in business.

What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? Sounds like stating the obvious, but try to do something you enjoy because you are going to spend every waking moment and most of your nights thinking about it. With a bit of luck, your partner will have an interest too because they are going to have to listen to you going on about it a lot.

Who do you admire most in business and why? Tony Ryan for having the tenacity to stick with the idea of a no frills airline (Ryanair) even when it was losing money and Michael O’Leary for sticking to the formula with a vengeance and turning it into what it is today.

What two things could the Government do now to help SMEs in the current environment? Sort out the ridiculous VAT rates on food. For example, a caramel crispy square has a higher VAT rate than a chocolate brownie because there are Mars Bars in it even though the brownie has more chocolate content. Then if I heat the brownie to serve to a customer, it takes on another VAT rate again!

Also cut the red tape involved in opening a business. It has taken us a year to open a small cafe with the planning process taking up most of it. There are great small businesses in this country. They should be surrounded by the right people at the start to help them and given the resources to succeed. They are the backbone of the country. Too much faith is put in the multinationals to keep us afloat.

In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs currently? We have been fortunate in that we have been able to fund our own expansion without bank loans.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? Not surrounding ourselves with the right people at the start. You can’t and don’t know it all.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? Trying to get the list you wrote the night before done. You never get to the end so learn to prioritise and delegate.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it? Very hard to know at the moment as we are opening a cafe and will be supplying SuperValu with a range of frozen canapés soon. Both will hopefully add value to the business. Maybe next year I would be in a better position to answer that question.

In conversation with Olive Keogh

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