In a car park near the Killary Coastal Path, 200 meters down a small road just beside the Killary Fjord, a steady stream of hungry walkers, cyclists, and foodies are patiently awaiting a homemade feast.
Against a breathtaking backdrop of sweeping mountains and ancient waters, an unassuming food truck is swiftly turning out hearty fare – but it's anything but fast food. This is Misunderstood Heron, a container-turned-foodie mecca located in one of the most beautiful settings the West of Ireland has to offer.
"People couldn't understand why we would want to start a food business out here," co-founder Kimberley Young says. "This was and is a remote place. No one could see what we did." Just what she and her husband Reinaldo Secco recognised was an opportunity.
"I was in university in Dublin at the time but I'm from Leenane originally. When I would visit home there was nowhere to get a good coffee. I could see there was a gap in the market for local, tasty, different food and specialty coffees. We decided to bring something unique to this beautiful setting," Young says.
With no formal training, she and Secco set about converting and renovating a 12 x 7-foot trailer which they bought second-hand in 2017.
"We called in our friends to set it up and kit it out, and just went for it. Reinaldo is from Chile, and we both come from families where dinner is the main meal of the day. We had travelled a lot and picked up on different flavours. Food trucks are so busy now, but that wasn't the culture then. They were usually associated with fast food, so when we told people we were going to serve real, homemade fare, they didn't quite get it. We trusted our gut, and got going."
We have truly found ourselves in the midst of an outdoor eating explosion
Slowly, the couple's humble eatery gained traction. "Social media has been one of the biggest things for us," Young admits.
"I have a background in digital marketing which has really helped. Very slowly the business picked up, word spread and we began to grow. We graduated to a 20-foot shipping container and have made ourselves a destination food point within Connemara with our original philosophy - fresh, locally sourced food that's never conventional."
That never conventional menu is what has kept visitors coming back for seconds. On a typical day at Misunderstood Heron's hatch, you might sample Killary Fjord mussels served with homemade brown bread, roast aubergine on toast with burnt lemon, hummus, charred chilli salsa and dukkah alongside one of their famed slow-cooked shoulder of pork, bacon, and chorizo pasties. All of which are best washed down with a specialty coffee and topped off with a sweet treat.
The queues that have formed both this and last summer have been an unexpected joy for the team of eight who now man the pit stop.
"I can still remember the excitement of waiting for the next person to come when we started," Young laughs. "We thought we were busy then, but we weren't! The location is spectacular, but of course, over the last year, it has become even more popular as people couldn't travel. You could say it was the right time and the right place for us. We have truly found ourselves in the midst of an outdoor eating explosion."
With that surge has come the need for Young to keep up with the growing team and output. For her and Secco, one point of sale (POS) system has been a game-changer both on a daily basis and on a grander scale.
"We tried lots of other POS systems and were let down," she explains. "We don't have a landline or hardwired Wifi out here so that has always been a challenge, and in terms of costs, we found other systems were really expensive despite their poor customer service. Then we found Square and haven't looked back."
Square is an all-in-one easy payment system that facilitates everything from secure credit card processing and point of sale solutions to setting up a free online store, all made affordable for businesses of every size.
"We use Square as our POS, put our menu on the interface, and use it for cash and card payments," Young explains. "For financial and sales reporting it's been amazing. We have used it to shape the business because it gives us the information we need to make educated decisions. For example, when it comes to opening hours, we may not think we are busy at a certain time but we can see via the reporting that it's actually a good time for us, and can shift the staff around to facilitate that."
What sealed the deal for Young though is the customer service. "We were let down so many times before. It's so nice to be able to chat with someone who knows your business. I know Square is a big company, but the service is personal. It has made my life so much easier."
I know Square is a big company, but the service is personal. It has made my life so much easier
Easier, perhaps, but a quieter life doesn't seem to be on the horizon for the Misunderstood Heron team.
"Before, our customers would have been international. Now it's a lot more local and a lot of older people who would have previously thought food trucks were substandard, and who now have really come on board. Nothing used to happen here in the wintertime, and businesses would be closed until the summer season, but within the last year, things have changed," Young says.
So will our outdoor love affair continue when indoor dining and socialising resume fully? "Will we be as busy? I'm not sure. But that's the nature of the beast. I think Irish people have realised our weather isn't so bad, we don't have to be cooped up waiting for that elusive sunny day. Whatever unfolds, we'll be here."