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Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the company in 2015.
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Pastry chef (27) establishes her own micro chocolate factory in rural Galway during lockdown

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, interviews Gráinne Mullins, owner of Grá Chocolates.

Growing up in Galway with “a love and respect for good food” sowed the seed for Gráinne Mullins’ career as a renowned pastry chef.

Setting foot in a commercial kitchen as a teenager only deepened her connection with food, and she began working part-time in the pastry division of five-star hotels.

She interrupted her science degree to move to France and spent two years working in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Aix-en-Provence.

“Cooking won out over science when I followed my heart,” the pastry chef (27) from Kilchreest, Co Galway, told That’s Farming,

She returned home to work in pastry in many of Ireland’s leading kitchens and won the prestigious 2019 Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year.

She told That’s Farming: “Channelling my skills, artistry and joy, I have learned from some of the country’s most talented chefs.”

“I am the current holder of the Eurotoques Young Chef of the Year title. However, I have come this far without any formal training as a chef! I started as a commis chef at the age of 16 and just worked my way up.”

Grá Chocolates

The Covid-19 pandemic struck, cancelling her plans, and as a result, she found herself back in Kilchreest. She embraced the turn of events and seized the opportunity to establish her own business, Grá Chocolates, in 2020.

Kilchreest, Co. Galway is now the home of Grá Chocolates, where she has since built her micro chocolate factory.

Grá Chocolates is a chocolate brand founded on “giving the best quality produce created into a mouthful of excitement”.

They follow the principles of sourcing locally and sustainably, based on their conviction that “great taste comes from the finest ingredients”.

Lockdown

“From idea stage to launch date, it was a total of three months. I took my research and business plan as a full-time job in the first lockdown.”

“In the first lockdown, I wanted to create something special for friends and family, so I made hand-painted Easter eggs to put a smile on each of their faces. So, I posted these on social media, and I could not believe the reaction.”

“I had made chocolates at many of the fine dining restaurants that I had worked in, and it was always one of my favourite jobs. I love to play with colours and fillings to create a truly unique chocolate.”

“Honestly, I would not have had the opportunity to focus my time on setting up a business if it was not for COVID-19. For the first time in my career, I had to spot and reassess what I was doing.”

“I had the time to make a business plan and do my research and development. I did many business courses to upskill myself and ensure that I was building my business in the most successful manner.”

Hand-painted chocolates and meaning behind the name

Each and every one of her chocolates are hand-painted. She uses the pastry knowledge that she gained over ten years of creating chocolates with “truly unique” fillings.

“I use the best of ingredients, and I love to use suppliers in Ireland that are creating something truly special.”

“Grá is the Irish word for love, and these chocolates epitomise love. Every element from the hand painting to the creation of flavours and even we undertake product sampling with love, care and attention.”

“My chocolates are given with love and, even more importantly, enjoyed with love. And of course, my name is Gráinne, and my nickname has always been Grá,” she laughed.

She explained that chocolate making is “quite complex”. It involved tempering chocolate and cocoa butter to ensure that it “is shiny and beautiful”.

“We also put so much attention into our fillings to make sure that they really and truly taste like the ingredients that they are inspired by. Our chocolate prices start at €25.”

“However, our products change all of the time as we use ingredients when they are in season and at their best.”

“Our Grá Chocolate Box is a staple and stays around all of the time. My favourite part is product development so having the opportunity to come up with new flavours and designs constantly is certainly the most fun part.”

Social media 

She cited social media channels and print media to create brand awareness as instrumental in Grá Chocolates’ success.

“We aim to tell our story through social media, and it is a way for us to be able to connect with our customers. We have lots of fun creating content for our social media channels.”

“The majority of our sales are online, and we found that most people wanted to send gifts to people that they had not seen due to the restrictions.”

“It was truly special for us to be able to be a small part of them sharing their love when they could not be together.”

ACORNS

Furthermore, partaking in ACORNS – a highly successful development initiative to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland – help her define her business plans.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has issued a call for applicants for ACORNS 7. ACORNS is funded under the department’s Rural Innovation and Development Fund.

The free initiative will run over six months from October 2021 to April 2022, with the deadline for applications at midnight on September 10th, 2021, as reported by That’s Farming.

There is no charge for those participating in ACORNS due to the DAFM’s support and the voluntary contribution of time by the lead entrepreneurs.

The chef said: “ACORNS has provided me with a support network of similarly minded women.”

“I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from these inspiring women and use them as a sounding board for when situations are tough.”

Increasing production

Now, her main focus is securing a location for Grá Chocolates to pave the way for increased production.

“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how quickly Grá Chocolates has grown. It is genuinely my dream come true.”

“It means there is a lot of work behind the scenes, but I love the challenge. I look forward to growing our team, and we will be hiring for more roles very soon.”

“We have created a lot of chocolates since launching. I would approximate that we have made 3 tonnes of chocolate so far.”

“With online business being more and more prevalent, it allows the opportunity to set up your business wherever may be more suitable.”

“For me, I had so many positives from setting up in a rural location, including space and lower set up costs. I would recommend it,” she concluded.

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

Read more success stories from ACORNS participants.

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