Oksana Shadrina and Miceál O’Hurley founded Fantastic Flavours Ice Cream Parlour during the economic downturn after the Celtic Tiger and built their brand and reputation, and nurtured their award-winning success, one day at a time.
Tell us about founding Fantastic Flavours Ice Cream Parlour?
Miceál: In the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger many people lost everything, including me. Recognising a gap in the market for high-quality, handmade, artisan ice-cream served in an authentic ice-cream parlour, we decided to turn my hobby of more than 30 years into a business. Voila, Fantastic Flavours was born.
Oksana: Actually, it wasn’t as easy as ‘voila’. Banks weren’t lending. To start a business from scratch we had to navigate significant regulatory issues, access specialised equipment in a market where it was not available, learn about importing machinery, dealing with supply chains, securing intellectual property rights to our logos and brand, and comply with intricate human resource laws, tax schemes, as well as dealing with State bodies who don’t always understand small businesses.
Miceál: She’s right. I married her because she is much smarter than me. There are significant challenges in starting a business even before the doors are opened and the daily risk and reward cycle begins. We started with just €500, which we used to buy a second-hand freezer and enough supplies for one day and then we reinvested every day. Without support from the banking sector, there was no choice.
We persisted and thank God, we have been met with success. In only our second year we were finalists in the Irish Times/Irish Restaurant Awards Best Artisan Food Producers. After that we went on to win the Food Awards Ireland 2017 Dessert Outlet of the Year, as well as being nominated in The Cork Business Awards for Best in Customer Service, all along with numerous great reviews from food critics in all the major publications.
Did you have backgrounds in retail food operations?
Oksana: I was a Trainer and Human Resources Specialist with Vodafone Ukraine. Miceál’s background was in politics and the non-profit sector. We both had significant experience in customer service and training. Building on Miceál’s long-time hobby of making ice-cream, it made sense to create a business around something in which we had both significant experience and where there was a void in the market.
To what do you attribute your success?
Miceál: It all starts with the 30 plus years of developing my homemade, artisanal ice-cream recipes and using top-quality ingredients to produce our More Than 42 Flavours of Fantastic Flavours Ice Cream. Matching that with consistently great service and a fresh dining experience is essential. Engaging our customers with our unique table-top board games, allowing them to help make ice-cream during our Artisan Ice Cream Apprentice Classes and our reputation for friendliness all stands us apart from any experience most of our customers have had. Great food, good service and an enjoyable outing are great elements for success in the food industry.
Oksana: I would also add that surrounding yourself with great people is incredibly important. I’m lucky in that I have that with my husband, Miceál and I’d like to think he has that in me. We are also very careful about who we hire to ensure that they embrace our training programme. We want to ensure our customers get the consistent service and enjoyable experience we have worked so hard to deliver since our founding.
What else do you do beside the More Than 42 Flavours of handmade, artisan ice-cream?
Oksana: We aren’t a one-trick-pony. We are just as careful about all of our menu items as we are our handmade, artisan ice-cream. Our New York baked cheesecakes and other desserts are very popular. We also serve a variety of sandwiches, pizza, crepes and other foods and drinks. Our specialty coffees are also very popular.
You’ve gained a reputation as a small business with the corporate ethics of a big business. Can you tell us more about that?
Miceál: When you have more than 5,000 people who follow you on social media, you can use it for more than just selling ice-cream. Oksana and I share a strong social justice ethic and have, from time to time, used Fantastic Flavours to champion good causes. We campaigned for the release of Oleg Sentsov, who was illegally imprisoned by Russia after their 2014 invasion of Ukraine and whom the EU just gave its highest humanitarian prize – the Sakharov Award.
We support local clubs and charities, especially the Youghal Lifeboats (RNLI), who do heroic work saving lives at sea. Last year we began championing an eco-friendly restaurant policy of reduce, recycle and reuse, which includes compostable coffee cups, recyclable goods and working towards the reduction of single-use plastics in our industry. We feel a responsibility to hand our children and their children a better world than the one we inherited.
My good wife, Oksana, received a Proclamation from the United States Congress citing her humanitarian, charitable and volunteer works and she was nominated as One of Ireland’s 100 Most Inspiring Women.
Oksana: We are very proud of our business. We work very hard. We may never be as rich as Bill and Melinda Gates, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make some difference in the world every single day. Its part of who we are and our customers appreciate that we give back to the community.
What role has social media and communications played in developing your business?
Oksana: Miceál realised early-on that social media could be a powerful tool in building our business. He put to work the skills and knowledge he gained in political campaigns and helped build our brand in an attractive, real-time and cost-effective way.
Miceál: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other tools have allowed us to reach our local and potential audiences effectively. Because of the contrary nature of social media, there is a real need to navigate its use judiciously and effectively. Working with the media is an art as much as a skill.
We have also partnered with great people and the reviews from food critics, feature stories, radio interviews and television appearances have been great for business. Getting to tell our story on People & Perspectives on ABC television in the United States and seeing it and other programmes live online afterwards has driven business and helped our customers feel they know us.
Oksana: People like to do business with people they know, so with a business situated in a tourist destination, it has helped people feel like they are friends even before they walk through our doors. That dynamic also encourages us to get to know them, which has brought us friends from around the globe and that too helps build our social media presence.
What is next for Fantastic Flavours Ice Cream Parlour?
Miceál: We were approached by a company interested in buying our brand, recipes and identity in an attempt to mimic the drinks industry practice of large corporations masquerading as artisan producers. Oksana and I thought if we were that attractive, we ought to consider growing our business ourselves. We are currently working with franchise consultants to take our business into markets from North America to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We have great ice-cream, incredible training and standards and a concept that works the world over. We are excited and so are the people with whom we are speaking.
Oksana: While we are looking at franchising, we will continue to commit ourselves to serving the best handmade, artisan ice-cream and delivering it with the great customer service upon which we have built our business. That, and ensuring we make time for our 20-month-old baby, Bláithnaid, and another new baby we are expecting in January.
Fantastic Flavours Ice Cream Parlour
74 North Main Street, Youghal, Cork
086 107 0017