'There is nothing certain but the uncertain'

I talk a lot about how being a runner prepares me for running my own business.

However, as the temperature gage on my Honda Civic hit 24 degrees the other week, I realised that what prepared me most for starting my own business was being on the Transplant waiting list for 3 1/2 years. How does this correlate you ask? One word, uncertainty.

Every day on the Transplant list is uncertain.  I had to learn to live life, even though the background soundtrack on loop was, will I get the call today. I learned to accept that nothing I could do could control whether or not that call came, I had to stop waiting, and I had to continue doing. I had to watch other people prosper and not be resentful. I had to accept that sometimes the call came but that it just wasn't the right time for me. I had to readjust my life plans and accept that life is what you get, not necessarily what you want, or think you want. And finally, I learned the true meaning of gratitude when the call did come.

It's hard for me to explain the transformation which occurred in my innermost being on the list but I do know is that without this time, I would never have opened Kaffe O.

If you cannot cope with not knowing what each day brings, seeing your sales figures fluctuate with the weather, seeing your customers try out the latest new place, phone calls out of the blue at random hours of the day with the most random issues, figuring out what the VAT man is owed, finding another piece of kit broken which you're going to have to get fixed, staff leaving out of the blue, a huge community event happening which you knew nothing about but which all your customers are at...then don't even contemplate the small business owner route.

Whilst thankfully the majority of the population will never have to wait on the Transplant list,  I think the most important question a person should ask themselves before they take the self employment route is....can I embrace uncertainty? If the answer isn't a definitive yes, then probably best to go back to your desk on Monday morning or you will be miserable most, if not all of the time.

Within the last two weeks I've taken steps to try and regain my composure to help me deal with all the uncertainty the self employment world has to offer. It's crazy to think I dealt with the uncertainty of whether or not I would get a call to say that an organ was available better than the effect of a mini heat wave in May on sales.

So I'm trying to regain some perspective and control by attending a mindfulness class, making time to do some running in the mountains and being much more social with family and friends.

A very wise man said to me we all get two lives. The second life starts when you realise you only have one. So by all means follow your dreams, but be prepared, really prepared that there is nothing certain, but uncertainty.

Oh and PS- If you believe in Organ Donation- then here’s the link to become an organ donor- and don’t forget to tell your loved ones your wishes. I will never be able to truly express my gratitude that two families did this for me.



The second child- born January 2016, Botanic Avenue, Belfast

When I finished my first marathon in 2011, my overwhelming feeling was relief. No exuberance, just relief, thank god I do not have to run one more step.  I met one of my best friends straight after and I remember hugging her, barely hanging on and whispering never ever again, am I putting myself through that. 

Fast forward a couple of years and I'm lining up to start the Mourneway marathon to run 26.2 miles through the Mournes. You see your brain has an amazing way of making you trivialise past pain and suffering.

This is the only logical reason I can think of as to why, 18 months after opening Kaffe O on the Ormeau Road, I'm standing in Botanic Avenue opening the second shop.

You see once you decide to do a marathon; you tell anyone and everyone who will listen about the harsh winter training, the amount of carbs/fats/sugars you're eating, the lost toe nails (sorry non runners), the great runs, the awful runs and the PBs gained in shorter distances along the way. You see once it's out there, you can't go back and for me this was always part of my motivation.  I know, I know, this is purely my ego talking.

Like the second marathon, the second Kaffe O came about more by chance and opportunity than any grand plan to spread the Nordic coffee story.

Opening the first Kaffe O was the hardest thing I've ever done- during the first few months I can safely say there were numerous times daily I wished I had never even set foot in Copenhagen. The first year of Kaffe O went in three parts...one part horrendous, second part bearable and at the end of the third part a bit of boredom started to creep in.

One of the things I struggle with most in life is restlessness. Now I don't know if I was born with it, but what I do know is that after my second kidney transplant in 2007 at times it has become all consuming. I wonder will the day ever come where I feel content. I say I long for contentment, but maybe this is just another thing I want to achieve, before looking for the next.

So, much like marathon training, before you know it, you're in to something you can’t back out of and the reality of being responsible for two premises, two sets of rent, rates, bills and employees is pushed to the back of your mind while you focus on getting through the last hard miles and just getting the place up and running.

The Mourneway marathon is a lonely marathon. I will never forget about mile 15 I was met by a friend with a bag of jelly babies and some water, and I wept uncontrollably when I saw my first familiar face. 

I have an amazing husband,  family, friends, customers and employees supporting me in the Botanic venture, but it's lonely at times too, very lonely. At the minute I feel I'm about mile 22 in the race, most of the race is behind me, but the finish line seems an eternity away. There have been a few tears along the way too and the pain and suffering associated with opening the first shop is still present, I've just done more training second time round and can cope with it better. 

The one thing I have learned most from the opening the first shop is that nothing comes easy. I genuinely believe that being a runner really does help me drive Kaffe O. You see, I'm never happy, I always see room for improvement, I criticise my performance constantly, I'm always looking at new ideas and plans which may just help me improve and more than anything else, I know that if I want to succeed the only way to do so, is by pure hard work. Tell me a runner that doesn't fit that description.

I'll not lie, I'm tired, I'm really tired but then who at mile 22 of a marathon isn't. The race is really only just starting....

Ps- comes visit us at 73 Botanic Ave...


Advisor: 'a person who gives advice in a particular field'...apparently

Yes, yes we know Orla, you were once a lawyer... Yet 17 years, studying/ practicing law and I still felt uncomfortable with the title “legal advisor".

The term advisor infers such an air of importance and knowledge, that it still makes me feel a little anxious. As a legal advisor I tended not to think too hard about the outcomes of the advise I gave, to do so would have only ended up with more sleepless nights with the words "Orla said it would be ok" ringing in my ears and there were enough of them already.

However, it would appear that perhaps I attach an air of importance to the term advisor which isn't actually reflected in other areas where it is bandied about with no qualifications to back it up.

And yes, I am taking about trip advisor. And no , this isn't going to be a blog ranting about trip advisor, but merely my observations as someone very new to the hospitality industry that has been exposed to this for the first time- so ok, a little bit of ranting...

First of all, I am so unbelievably grateful that no such a thing existed for lawyers. I mean were there times, I missed deadlines, was a little too sharp with a client, and hid in my office as there was so much crap going on in my real life that I couldn't face socialising with the masses, 100% yes. I think I was a good lawyer 99% of the time, but there is always a 1%- I was human.

Thankfully in one of those 1% days there wasn't someone lurking in the distance waiting to pounce and pronounce to the world all my minor or major faults.

Those who work in the hospitality industry are afforded no such grace and neither are they afforded a lawyers salary. Yet, wannabe food writers, reviewers, journos, bloggers are waiting to pounce with a desire to share their views with the world. Now don't get me wrong- freedom of speech is sacred and should be upheld at every possible opportunity, but with it too comes responsibility and accountability- neither of which I see on this so called advisor platform.

To be clear- we genuinely value negative feedback and have we had some complaints in the last year- absolutely! We have had personal conversations, emails and private messages where people have aired their concerns and guess what we did...tried to resolve them. So the batch of stale muffins were binned, the off almond milk thrown out,  the people whom we forgot your order or your soup was a bit cold , we apologised and probably gave you some freebies.

So before you become trigger happy in the hope that the Guardian may just be trawling the net for some untapped talent...ask yourself this;

Have you ever had one of those days where life is just a little crap, you didn't get a wink of sleep, you have a really horrible piece of work on your to do list, a dead line you know you're not going to make and an event to go to after work which you want to go to as much as the dentist for a root canal and well you are just not your normal sweetness and light self with one of your clients/customers. Would you prefer that someone mentioned this to your boss personally who could deal with it there and then, or posted it on line for them to pick up out of the blue on another day when the sweetness and light has returned?

I made a newbie mistake of responding at the start to a couple of reviews, asking for them to contact me so I could help rectify the situation and guess what neither did, which tells me they actually care less about their issue being resolved than telling the world- so in one fail swoop...

1- to the gentleman who had too much mayo on his sandwich- here’s a tip. Tell your server, as you know what they might just do....make you another one.

2- to the non fan of the cheap looking modern decor- I will be sure to pass on your comments to Hay, Fransden, Broste Copenhagen and Excel.

3- to the lady whose coffee order was forgotten, was apologised to umpteen times, got a coffee free and who doubts she will be back- please don't, I am not sure there is a surgeon in the country who could sew together the hole bitten through my tongue.

4- Finally, to the gentleman who thinks we are a little pretentious for the Ormeau Road- we will of course start planing to relocate to a more “salubrious” part of the city. Suggestions welcome.

As Frank said...It was a very good year...

So according to my to-do list, this blog is a week late, but there is a very very good reason. Not procrastination, nothing to say (some wish...) or being busy running a coffee shop and online retail business. Nope for the first time in 12 years I've indulged in what my husband calls the best Sunday of the year. Teachers holidays...which started last Sunday in this house.

Whilst this may be his favourite day of the year, for me and all non teaching spouses, this was my worst Sunday of the year. I admit it; I was not a nice teacher’s wife in the summer. When you can basically count your holiday entitlement on your fingers and toes, the prospect of your other half having two months off brought out my inner demon.

For the previous 12 years, this took the form of endless to do lists, making as much noise as possible as I got ready and left the house at 7am, early morning texts and then phone calls..."are you up yet?" and inwardly cursing myself for not having made the same career choice, even though I know I wouldn’t have had the patience for the profession.

So whilst himself may not be happy that I have invaded his two months of peace and quiet, I intend as much as I possibly can to indulge in some of the perks of teachers holidays this year.

I have 12 years to make up for...

Since the last instalment- we have also had a little celebration of our first birthday at the end of June. Plying people with Carlsberg and espresso martinis (what else?!)- we welcomed in the start of year two at the Kaffe and with it- a few thank yous...

1- our amazing regulars- you make Kaffe O what it is and we have genuinely made some great friends over the year.

2- the amazing Kaffe O team- you guys have literally kept me alive in the past year and the Kaffe would be nothing without you.

3- my amazing (and extremely patient) family and friends- for carrying me through the highs and lows

4- my amazing graphic designer ( part time counsellor, advisor, IT and sound system expert) Paul McNally Design- for putting up with me for the past year

5- and finally my amazing husband- I promise not to steal your summer holidays this year.

Keep on running...


Warning before you continue...I'm indulging in a little, ok a lot of self pity.

You see it's a beautiful Sunday and at this time normally(11am), I have completed my recovery run, followed it with a yoga class and am indulging in contentment knowing that my weeks training has come to an end. I then potter around the kitchen listening to Cerys Matthews on Six Music, tasting new coffees and making my favourite meal of the week, Sunday brunch along with some snacks from Deliciously Ella to see me through training next week.


This weeks brunch. Huevos rancheros. Black Beans. Mashed avocado.

This weeks brunch. Huevos rancheros. Black Beans. Mashed avocado.

This weeks coffee. French Press.

This weeks coffee. French Press.

This Sunday, I'm currently sitting on my iPad with my foot in a stupid blue boot doing crazy Google searches trying to find miracle answers to help me heal quicker ( ginger and turmeric by the way appears to be my answer...)

The Blue boot...

The Blue boot...

Normally my week consists of 5 running sessions (fartlek, track x2, tempo & recovery-), 2 strength and conditioning sessions and 2-3 yoga classes.  The prospect of a week without this routine leaves me seriously bored but even more, anxious and unsettled.

However, it has got me thinking- I think anyone who decides to open their own business should take up running- it will prepare them well.


1 I've been working my ass (literally) off since January training for the British Transplant Games and things were all on track to peak at the end of July- when pop, my plantar fascia has other plans.

It sometimes feels that when everything is going swimmingly in the café, then pop, a key team member resigns, the coffee grinder breaks, the supplier has delivered the wrong cups or the toilet flusher packs in (always on a weekend may I add too).

2- Running is a lonely sport- yes you compete against others but really it is just you and your watch- tell me a runner who wins a race without being pushed is as happy as one who gets a PB and gets beaten. A Park Run PB makes every runners weekend.

Running your own business is much, much lonelier than I thought it would be. Whilst you have all the friends and business mentors in the world to offer you advice, at the end of the day it's you, just you that has to make the call. I never thought I'd say it but I miss the mindless office banter on whatever rubbish reality TV is happening, because when you sit at your desk for 6 hours on your own, you don't get much conversation out of Lauren Laverne (though you do get cracking tunes)

3- Whilst I may have a clinical diagnosis to back it up- I think a lot of runners also suffer from symptoms of OCD.

I have run laps of Shaws Bridge car park to make sure I hit exactly the 16 miles I had planned to do that morning.

I have told fibs to friends about not being able to meet them on a Monday night -don't they know Monday is fartlek night with the club?

I have worn the same pants in all my track races as the ones I set my Transplant Games World records  in, in 2011 in Gothenburg  (not pretty).

I have played with low carbs, high carbs, no refined sugar, high fat, you name it and followed it religiously, to see if it improves my performance.

I think if you own a business you have to let your OCD tendencies shine through. Every minute detail is important and consistency is vital. It’s so important, no matter what business you have that when your customers come to you, they know exactly what they are going to get. I realised this early on when we thought we would try and shake things up a little, a little too often.

WTG South Africa- yep wearing those pants...

WTG South Africa- yep wearing those pants...

4- To achieve any of your running goals, you have to be disciplined, crazy disciplined. You have to train when you don't want to, not go out when you do want to and generally put everything else in to second place.

When Kaffe O opened everything else was relegated to second place- family, friends and of course running. Being a runner prepared me for giving one hundred percent physical and mental focus to the shop- at the expense of course of my running.

One of the major milestones for me was my first training session back with my club after opening. It took months but running along the tow path with my club mates, was one of the first times I felt, maybe, just maybe it was all worth it.

It's coming up to our first anniversary, and everyone says you must be so happy and proud with what you have achieved. The honest answer, is that just like when I compete on the track and perform how I've been hoping and training for, I'm relieved, just relieved.

And like any runner when they achieve their goal, after a brief binge on pizza and beer, the itch starts and it’s what's next....


The 12 weeks of new business

So I wrote this blog three months after opening Kaffe O- and yes it has taken me another nine months to actually get it out there. I was going to amend it, update it etc but you know what, I decided to leave as is because it reminds me just how far things have moved on and how relieved I am, that it is not this time nine months ago!

August 2014

This is my first ever blog, so please bear with me, I am new to all this. Though I am loving the fact that I don’t have to proof read this numerous times in case there is a lurking grammar mistake that my former colleagues will recoil at in horror- because for the first time ever I don’t have to pretend that I care if there are any misfortunate grammar faux pas going on- and yep that’s probably one right there.

The most common thing people said to me in the first few weeks of Kaffe O- was “ you’re living the dream”- I can’t tell you how much I wanted to do an Eddie Murphy and trade places with anyone, just anyone at the other side of the counter- so as this is week 12- my twelve weeks of starting my own business kind of look like this:

  1.  It’s 3pm and you realise that you haven’t eaten anything, drank anything or even been to the bathroom that day.
  2. It’s asking everyone and anyone in the business, “ it gets easier, right?” and then secretly dying inside with the unanimous “no”.
  3. It’s going to bed at 2am and getting up at 5 because you have forgotten to place an order with suppliers and Ground hog day begins again.
  4. It’s running out of coffee on day three because you know what, being a passionate coffee drinking lawyer does not prepare you for the kilos of coffee that you go through in a day.
  5. It’s meeting your best friends for a 15 minute dinner out and being a crumbling mess because you feel so out of your depth, hoping that they will make it all go away but knowing that there is nowhere to hide.
  6. It’s being told that you have run out of blue roll and being so tired that you have no idea how you are going to solve this major catastrophe.
  7. Its threatening to arrive at the City Council with your local counsellor if your bins aren’t emptied, knowing that (1) you have no clue who your local councillor is and (2) no idea where the right office is.
  8. It’s falling while trail running, spending a few hours in A&E and then being chauffeured to the shop in a pain med induced state. It’s going back in the next day and the next one, because there is no such thing as sick leave.
  9. It’s getting a whole day off and really knowing how Charlie felt when he won the golden ticket.
  10. It’s the feeling of pure joy when the weather is perfect, the grinder is behaving itself and the extraction rate of the espresso is bang on 24 seconds.
  11. It’s hearing amazing feedback from your customers on how they love the coffee just as much as you and even better seeing them say this on facebook, twitter and instagram.
  12. It’s seeing the same people coming in everyday for their daily fix and stepping back at week 12 and realising that you made something, you really made something.