Susan Angley walks up to me the Boojum restaurant in the heart of Limerick city. With a beaming smile it’s clear she is proud of this place. And rightfully so. As a born and bred Limerick girl, she has found herself acting in the role of Area Manager for Republic of Ireland West at a time when Boojum’s new Limerick investment is proving to be a hit in her home town.
One could say that fate had a role to play in Susan’s Boojum journey.
Originally from Woodview in Limerick Susan studied social care in LIT. Her graduation came at the worst possible time. Ireland’s boom had ended and the HSE were forced to issue an embargo on the hiring of any new staff.
“I suppose at the time I could have explored other avenues, but my field of interest was specifically in residential care, an area where work was really difficult to find”, she tells me.
After spending some time working in the food industry in Limerick, it was matters of the heart that introduced Susan to the Boojum experience.
“My partner had found a job in Galway working for Oracle. I found myself commuting up and down from Limerick regularly. It was during these visits that I discovered Boojum for the first time.
“Every time I ate there I was blown away by the staff. The food was exceptional, but the staff consistently stood out for me”, Susan says.
“Boojum made me question and assess my own customer manner. The effect the Boojum staff had on my day every time I visited was so refreshing that I decided to write an email to Boojum telling them of my positive experience. A few weeks later I received an email thanking me for my feedback but thought nothing more of it”.
Eventually Susan decided that a Galway move might be best. Her plan was to use the new location as a means of re-starting her search for social care work when suddenly a job came up with Boojum. She applied and a few weeks later was called to interview.
“At the interview I was asked a question along the lines of ‘have you eaten here often?’. I told them of my experience and the fact that I had been inspired to send them an email. Suddenly there was silence at the other side of the interview desk”.
Susan’s email had been noted. So much so that it was circulated across the company.
“There were prizes given to staff; the email was pasted in staff areas around the country. Suddenly here I was interviewing for the role of General Manager for the very same store that had given me such a great experience”.
Susan got the job in November 2014. She received what she describes as ‘the most incredible 5-week training programme in Dublin’. Suddenly what had been a search for interim work began to become something more serious.
“My career path was taking a sudden but welcome turn”, she says. “My experience of Boojum in Galway not only made me believe in Boojum as a brand but also convinced me that I was on to something good. I suddenly found myself making the move to Galway”.
Susan’s clear passion for the Boojum brand is palpable. She keeps noting three traits as the catalyst for her life changing career move.
“Boojum is about honest, fresh food. It’s friendly. It’s chilled out”, she says. “Our commitment to freshness is second to none. This fresh ethos is why I’m working for the company”.
Boojum doesn’t use freezers. Doesn’t do microwaves. All staff learn about the food, how it is prepared and how the slightest deviation can affect the taste the company strives to maintain. The staff ethos is fostered from the top down.
“I have never worked anywhere like it before”, she notes. “Despite now being considered a big Irish food brand it still has that small family owned feel about it”, she says.
“You don’t find many places where the MD is open to sit and have a glass of wine with the parents of a staff member. David Maxwell is a real leader. I’d have no problem giving him a call if ever I needed advice or if something was concerning me. Equally David would have no problem taking that call. If you work for our team, at any level, you will feel part of the Boojum family”.
The Irish palate has undergone something of a sea change over the past decade. Gone are the days of the meat and two veg; bacon and cabbage approach to Irish eating habits. Susan puts this down to the fact that Irish people are more travelled than ever before.
“I can even see it in my own home over recent years where Mum and Dad would arrive home with shopping bags full of foodie bits that never were thought of when I was a kid. There’s a huge movement in Ireland when it comes to being open to trying new tastes or styles of food and dining experiences”, she adds.
“Look at Boojum. We don’t do the traditional ‘table for two’ style of dining. This is communal seating. This is a about a social dining experience”.
The Boojum story is remarkable. Since being founded by John and Karen Blisard in Belfast back just 10 years ago, the company now boasts 6 stores in Dublin, 5 restaurants in Dublin as well as more recent additions to Galway, Cork and now Limerick. In 2015 the brand was acquired by Andrew and David Maxwell supported by a private equity firm. So, what makes it work?
“Great food, great customer experience and word of mouth”, Susan immediately answers.
“I encourage people to just try it once. Once you set foot inside the door you will get it. We put a huge emphasis on hiring the right people. We have one simple rule – to work here you must be ‘sound’. After that we can train you in any role. The impression that the staff make on our customers is so important.”.
This emphasis on staff training shines through when you experience a Boojum restaurant. Last year the group came 11th in the Medium Sized Business category of the Great Places to Work awards last year. This year Boojum are entering the awards again. The growth of the company has been such that they have now been promoted to the Large Workplace category.
“We promote individuality and even eclectic eccentricity in our staff”, Susan tells me.
“Our team are constantly looking a what makes Boojum a great place to work and to identify areas where we can consistently improve. If we can achieve a sense of contentment in the workplace then that immediately is reflected in the customer experience”.
The Boojum menu is small but is designed to allow our customers to design a meal to suit their own personal taste. For some, the first visit to Boojum might be slightly daunting. You are presented with a 4-step menu. A slick preparation operation will walk you through the steps and suddenly you find yourself at a pay point with a freshly prepared meal ready to go.
“Our staff are trained to recognise a repeat customer who knows the ropes of Boojum. Equally a new customer will be guided through the process to ensure the experience is a rewarding one. If you are not sure – just ask us for a taste”, Susan says.
The new Limerick store is in many ways a sign of the wheel turning full circle for Susan Angley. When she left Limerick to start working for Boojum the city was coming to the end of its year as National City of Culture in 2014. So has she noticed a change in the city?
“Since coming back to help with Boojum Limerick set-up I can certainly see a resurgence of life in the city centre. What has struck me the most is the fact that I realised just how proud I am of my home town. With that comes huge pride in being part of the team who are bringing Boojum to my home town”, Susan says.
The Boojum team have been particularly touched by the welcome they have received in Limerick. In the lead up to our opening some of the head office team were based in Limerick for a few days.
“One evening we were getting a taxi through town”, Susan tells me. “When the taxi driver realised we were there to open a new restaurant, he waved the fare. That simply wouldn’t happen anywhere else”.
Boojum has developed a huge student fan base in Belfast, Dublin, Galway and Cork. Since opening in Limerick this key demographic of the Boojum clientele has proved to be loyal.
Susan notes that with so many choices now out there in the Limerick food market they have worked very hard to attract students into the city centre.
“As we develop customer loyalty with these students we also hope that other city centre business benefit from this new footfall. There are students who attend UL for four years and only ever experience Limerick city late at night when they hit the popular clubs. The Boojum presence has the potential to be a key student attraction”, she adds.
Having also been part of the team who opened the Boojum restaurant in Cork last year, Susan confirms that the reaction to the new Limerick restaurant has taken the company by surprise. To the point that they company had to transfer extra staff from other stores to help meet the demand.
“I am so proud that we have been given such a welcome and really look forward to playing my part here in the coming years. I can see myself moving back to Limerick by the end of the year, so in a sense, my love affair with Boojum has brought me home!”