Dublin's buzzing food scene was one of the hot topics up for discussion at the Le Cool Dublin Yellow Stage during OFFSET 2014.

The discerningly picked local ingredients for the Building a Food Brand discussion included Leo Molloy of Dublin restaurants Dillinger’s, 777 and The Butcher Grill; Mr & Mrs Stevens, the husband and wife creative team who do a deadly lunch sideline in the form of A Killer Sandwich; Colin Harmon, the man behind 3FE Coffee; and Aoife McElwain and Mark Duggan of Forkful.tv, whose culinary and visual skills combine to such notable effect on their recipe video blog of the same name.

Butchers Grill

Over the course of an entertaining hour, each of them spoke about how they’d established their brand (or, in Molloy's case, brands); how they go about maintaining what those brands stand for; and how they all, in their own ways, rely on social media to spread the word (and pictures) about what they’re currently up to.

 

Anyone familiar with 777’s hip interior will appreciate that the brief when designing this contemporary Mexican restaurant was “no cacti, no sombreros”, and while owner John Farrell has managed to bring a distinct aesthetic to each of his venues to date, the notion of expanding them further into sister venues is one that potentially appeals. As Molloy reasoned, people eat in their restaurants because they enjoy the food and the environments, not necessarily the people behind them.

 

In his opinion, anything’s possible for a restaurant’s brand, as long as the relationship between it and its diners can be maintained.

777


Harmon’s views on that topic would appear to contrast slightly. Although he’s proud of the brand that he’s built, especially from a visual point of view (he reckons that some of his customers frequent his café “just to visit the logo”), he also claims no interest in expanding 3FE into a Starbucks-style mega-chain, preferring instead to maximise what he’s got on Grand Canal Street and, through barista training and his recently established roastery, to do his bit to support Ireland’s burgeoning coffee culture.
(NB this was a timely talk ahead of the recent Irish Times article on just that very culture!)


This led to the question of the afternoon – “are sandwiches the new coffee?” – and unsurprisingly, Mr & Mrs Stevens replied in the affirmative. Admirably uncompromising (they don’t do requests or variations), their Twitter-based sandwich venture is going from strength to strength, and for them, their branding is all about the product; with no physical shopfront to speak of, the packaging and ethos of A Killer Sandwich are just as important as the sandwiches themselves. When you collect your Killer Sandwich on a Friday, you’re essentially picking up “a micro restaurant in a bag”.

Killer Sandwich


It seems to be a unique concept, certainly in Ireland at least, but one that is resonating with both a local audience and also gaining international interest; they’ve had both requests for sandwiches from people coming to Dublin on holidays, and enquiries from a guy in Philly on setting up a Killer Salads equivalent!

They take obvious pride in helping Dublin to forge its own food identity and sounded caution re: the risks of magpie-ing ideas from other markets, especially New York, when aiming to cater to a local Irish audience. (Although I’m not so sceptical as they are that a dedicated mac’n’cheese joint wouldn’t go down well over here!)


Forkful’s brand building is somewhat different from their fellow panellists, in that they’re establishing an aesthetic ethos rather than a food or beverage product, but they’re just as focused on what they want to achieve with it.

Their aim is to create delicious recipes from local Irish produce and portray the making of said recipes as a moving sequence of beautifully shot food stills, with no hint of a presenter to distract from the real star of the show (nothing more than hands are ever seen in shot).

The results are gorgeous, mellow and hypnotic, and a welcome relief from the morass of TV “personality” cooking shows. In discussing their development of Forkful from concept to reality, Mark had some sound advice for all creative minds, food-based ones or otherwise:

Don’t sit on your ideas and wait for some other f***er to do it.

Mark Duggan, Forkful


One of the hour’s final discussions revolved around the brands’ use of social media. Understandably, Twitter’s at the heart of what A Killer Sandwich is about, and Mr & Mrs Stevens used it in an extremely tactical way when they started – they gave sandwiches out to people who they knew would tweet and retweet about it, and word spread from there.

Harmon is also a fan of Twitter – while he believes advertising works, he also knows it’s expensive, whereas he can control his social media output for nothing; an attractive prospect for an independent brand. Again in contrast to Molloy’s POV, he also feels that Twitter allows him to communicate the person behind 3FE as much as the coffee and café themselves; the way he sees it, when there’s a human connection there, it makes the emotional ties between brand and customers all the more stronger.


Molloy himself felt that the social media platform which he’s concentrating most on is Instagram, and the way he described it, it makes perfect sense: people like looking at pictures of food, so why not show them the food you’re serving in your restaurants?

It’s a simple tactic, and as proceedings wound to a close, I considered that he had it absolutely right: for a food brand more than any other, the way to your audience’s heart is through their stomachs, and as they’re so fond of saying on Masterchef, we all eat with our eyes. I left the Yellow Stage sated for inspiration, but hungrier than ever for a second lunch.

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