By Aidan Coyle
Just over two weeks ago, the restaurant Circa in Terenure won a Michelin Bib Gourmand award recognising a high quality dining experience at an affordable price. The restaurant only opened its doors in March but while its rise has been rapid, the journey to get there has been far from straightforward.
The restaurant is co-owned by head chef Gareth Naughton, general manager Ross Duffy and wholesale manager Emmet Murphy. The three friends have a wealth of experience working in pubs and restaurants and had always dreamed of setting up their own place.
Ross said: “I met Gareth working in 3FE Coffee in Grand Canal Dock. Myself and Gareth just got on like a house on fire. We understood each other and how each other worked. I looked after the floor and he looked after the kitchen. Then we ended up living together and we always said if we got the chance we’d open up somewhere.”
When Emmet Murphy agreed to join, the trio was complete. Ross said: “Emmet, our other co-owner, I’ve known since I was a kid. He worked in Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street as the accounts manager looking after all premium wines and spirits.
“He took me for a little lunch and he was kind of like ‘Jeez I’d love to do something one day’ so I kind of looped him in on it. I said look you can do the back end stuff, all the wines and beer. I’ll look after the front, I’ll run it and then Gareth would run the kitchen.
“We just kind of said look, if we ever got a chance, we’d chase it. I suppose the hardest part was just kind of getting the place,” said Ross.
The men finally got the keys to their restaurant last November but there were problems right from the start.
“Basically all of our money ran out cause of how long it took us. We painted the place ourselves. We couldn’t afford to get the professionals to do it. We probably should have,”said Gareth.
“It would have taken a professional like three to four days. It took us 3 weeks. We just couldn’t do it. It looks like such an easy job but it wasn’t. Like corners inside there, you’d be surprised how long that takes to paint,” said Gareth.
“I’m never doing it again,” Ross added.
“I’d love to be able to say that’s grand, I’ll spend €5,000 on designer curtains. We have to think about everything we do. Our rent, our staff and our bills”Ross Duffy: Circa general manager and co-owner
Money continues to be an issue for Circa but it’s an issue the owners are managing to navigate.
“Financially, we’re not backed by money men. Financial constraints are still a major issue for us,” said Ross. “I’d love to be able to say that’s grand, I’ll spend €5,000 on designer curtains. We have to think about everything we do. Our rent, our staff and our bills. That’s always our worry. That’s the priority every week.”
Gareth added: “We even have to discuss if we want to pay €50. That’s the biggest difference between us and a lot of places.”
However, despite the pressures and financial constraints, Ross and Gareth always believed the effort they put in would pay off. Ross said: “We work very, very hard. Gareth is here all hours of the morning and all hours of the evening the same as myself and Emmet as well. When you’ve got a chef like Gareth in the kitchen and he’s delivering, then people kind of hear about it anyway.”
Head chef Gareth is relishing the freedom to design and control the menu. The menu is modern Irish and showcases local ingredients.
He said: “I had a very clear vision on the food. I knew what I wanted in the sense of I didn’t want it to be pretentious and fussy. We wanted it to be casual enough but sophisticated as well. I didn’t expect Michelin level but we wanted it to be that standard but without the fuss really. That was important to me because I hate fussy restaurants.”
The passion Ross and Gareth have for the restaurant is evident in everything they do. This is their dream job and they are loving every minute of it.
Gareth said: “I view a restaurant as entertainment as in going to the cinema, going to the theatre or going to a gig. You’re parting with your money for the night so it has to be an experience at some level. That’s how I view it.
“Want to come in and sit at the bar and have a glass of wine? Perfect. Want to come in and have ten courses and go home? Perfect”Gareth Naughton: Circa Head Chef
“It’s important to give people some kind of experience to get them coming back. That’s the most important thing. We’re not in town. For someone to travel all the way over here, that could be quite out of their way. So give them a reason to travel. You know, nothing worse than them saying ‘that was mediocre, I’m not going back there’,” said Gareth.
With the restaurant now bustling with business, both Gareth and Ross are in agreement about the importance of looking after everyone who comes in the door.
“That was a big thing for me from day one,” said Gareth. “Want to come in and sit at the bar and have a glass of wine? Perfect. Want to come in and have ten courses and go home? Perfect. Whatever you want to do, we’re here to accommodate you. We want to be homely, we want to be welcoming.”