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Woodstock Cafe: ‘The Government has not made it easy for the restaurant trade’

From VAT hikes to fighting for staff, the restaurant’s co-owner Angela Ruttledge explains the many challenges facing small family businesses

Angela Ruttledge: ‘In terms of working with family, it can bring out the child in you, and sometimes there’s a lack of barriers.’

Angela Ruttledge: ‘In terms of working with family, it can bring out the child in you, and sometimes there’s a lack of barriers.’

 

Sisters Angela Ruttledge and Michelle Moloughney, and Michelle’s husband Liam, co-own Woodstock Cafe in Phibsborough, a restaurant that has been in operation since 1993.

It was first opened by the girls’ mother 26 years ago but has been brought to the next level by the sisters in recent years. Ruttledge joined the restaurant 10 years ago.

She explains some of the challenges faced by small, family-run businesses.

“When my mum first opened the business, there was no culture of eating out in Ireland. It was about fulfilling a need – feeding lunch to people in the workplace. In the last 25 years we have become so good at hospitality in this country and eating out. Back then, there was no website, payroll system, no social media. In a way, it has become more difficult as there are more things to do.

“My sister and her husband left professional careers so they could have more flexibility to bring up their kids, and have a better work-life balance. Ten years ago, they convinced me to join them. Since then, it has gotten harder and harder – firstly there was the recession, and now there is never enough staff to keep up with your hopes and ambitions for expansion. It’s a very difficult industry to work in and very little cream anymore, you have to fight for stuff.

“In terms of working with family, it can bring out the child in you, and sometimes there’s a lack of barriers. We vent but you get straight on to the next point. I am the meat in sandwich between husband and wife as well as sister and sister. But then you are so much more loyal to each other than you might be to an employer. Family comes first, and the job will get done.

“Succession planning is not something we have thought about. All Michelle’s children have worked in the restaurant and some like it more than others. It’s invaluable experience for them.

“The Government has not made it easy for the restaurant trade. They are constantly pushing the button on things that are going to make it more difficult for small businesses to survive, like the VAT rate of 13.5 per cent – our turnover is not elastic enough to take that, so we are absorbing it at a time when there are huge wage inflations. Also, trying to find staff – chefs and kitchen porters – is very difficult. More needs to be done to help small family businesses,” Ruttledge says.