Written by Melanie May
From humble beginnings in his mam’s kitchen dishing up dinners to his mates, to delivering hundreds of meals a week, Eoin Sheehan’s meal prep business Country Munch has gone from strength to strength. Now, the TV cook and entrepreneur says the sky’s the limit.
We caught up with Eoin for a chat about all things business, food and cooking on live TV.
Was there anything that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I always thought I was going to be a professional rugby player! I loved the sport, dedicated a lot of my life to it and as a youngster that was the only goal I had. When I lost +25kg over a season (when I went to college and started to train and eat healthier) I soon realised I wasn’t fit for the sport anymore, and injuries could have put me out of work so I hung up the boots and put on the apron!
Take us through your cooking journey from your family farm to cooking in University, to setting up Country Munch.
I’ve always been surrounded by good food. Growing up on a farm means I had fresh vegetables, beef, milk, etc., accessible from the farm itself — so I have always know what high-quality produce is. I would always watch cooking shows on TV (Jamie Oliver, MasterChef etc) from a young age and just started to become familiar with dishes, ingredients, etc. It wasn’t until college that I began to actually practice and learn about cooking. I have and always will enjoy cooking for others more than myself, so my favourite scenario is to have a house of guests/friends and prepare dinner for them. There’s a huge amount of satisfaction and joy in that for me (once it goes down well of course)!
What is your favourite thing to cook for yourself?
It depends on the time of the year or my mood — but Italian is always close to my heart so a good hearty pasta ragu with a nice glass of red wine is a solid meal. Other days my sweet tooth may be at play so a good red velvet cake or carrot cake would scratch that itch.
Who or what was the inspiration behind the Country Munch ethos?
The good food I grew up with inspired the Country Munch ethos: simple, healthy and wholesome. My grandmother was a huge inspiration for the way I cook and eat today. Living to be 92 years of age, the healthiest and happiest woman I knew, she was pretty much self-sufficient from the farm. Beef from the cows, milk from the cows, potatoes and veg from her garden. Never worried about calories, carbs or the time she ate. Just good honest food. I think we have lost this amongst the ‘Fad Diet’ craze over the last 20 years.
Tell us a bit about what Country Munch is and does?
Country Munch was pretty much accidentally started when I was in 1st year of college (studying to be a chemical & biochemical engineer)! I would prep meals for myself to have in college throughout the week and around my rugby training. A friend came to me and asked if I would prep he’s meals for him as he worked 12-hour shifts and hated cooking (he also offered me 10 euro per meal… So I said yes)! More friends came along enquiring and social media played a big role in spreading the word. Eventually, it got to a stage where I was doing 60-80 meals a week, dancing around Mam in the kitchen. As of last year, Country Munch was producing 500-700 meals a week, distributing to several outlets and teams across Munster.
I loved cooking and the business element of it. I was always entrepreneurially inclined growing up, constantly building things and trying to find ways of making some money on the side. Engineering didn’t scratch that itch — but the food business did, so I committed myself to it fully and thankfully ended up on the right side.
Country Munch wouldn’t be where it is without the staff, mentors, advisors, family and friends who helped from day 1. I may have started it, but it has grown the way it has down to the support and work from everyone involved. I’m forever grateful for that.
How did you juggle all your commitments — work, university, family, social life?
Unfortunately, I have not cracked that code yet! I have always been pretty disciplined, and a creature of routine and habit (being involved in sport growing up helped this I think). I tend to immerse myself into something and become ‘obsessed’ with it to a degree.
I would say that being organised and preplanning is so important. Knowing what needs to be done in work and having a schedule and plan in place will make life 10 times more efficient. I do my best to balance it all but often fail — which is normal. Having burnt out once before, I’m now aware of the warning signs. My body will show me when I’m ‘in too deep’. I can then pull the reigns back a bit, delegate a little more responsibility elsewhere or just take time to relax and get myself back to a good state of mind. It’s something you have to always work on and is as important as anything else in our day to day roles. If I don’t work efficiently, then nothing that I’m involved with will.
You seem very focused and determined. Any top business tips that you have picked up along the way?
I started doing what I was doing because I enjoyed it. I did 50+ demos and presentations at the beginning for free to get experience, and to this day I would still do what I do for free. I truly do love the work that I get to do. I think this helps with determination and focus. I’ve set huge goals and expectations for myself, so that’s what I work towards and hopefully make a positive impact on the world from the work that I do. I always have so much fun — that’s what keeps bringing me back!
Being able to see growth and development is the easiest way to be determined and motivated. Starting out when that isn’t as evident — that’s when you just need to back yourself and trust the process.
Have clear goals and a very clear vision of what you want and expect of yourself. Then just spend your days chasing that.
What have been the biggest challenges you have had to face?
I never studied to be a chef or a business owner. I learned from every mistake I’ve made, and I have made plenty! There are lots of challenges when you are scaling a business — from increasing staff, production facilities, cashflow management and using your time as efficiently as possible. We have taken on contracts in the past that we had no right to take and suffered the consequences when we realised we couldn’t facilitate them, but we learned from them and continued to find our feet.
Can you let us in on the secret to your success?
I think it depends on your definition of success. I have friends who own multimillion businesses with 100+ staff and I have friends who own small trade business with one employee — themselves. Both are successful, and both are happy with where they are in life.
Success for me is being in a place where you enjoy your work, have a good quality of life and live a life that makes you content — what that looks like is subjective.
What makes Country Munch unique?
We have always stuck to our brand and our day one ethos: Simple, Healthy Wholesome Food. No short cuts or gimmicks. We gathered an audience and customer base that respect and avail of this.
How do you produce your meals, any secret ingredients or methods?
We produce fresh and daily. We opt for a low volume and regular production to ensure our meals are as fresh as possible on the day of delivery. No secrets — just good wholesome food made from scratch. No short cuts.
How do you choose your suppliers?
Ireland has some amazing producers and suppliers. If we can’t make it ourselves in-house, we do our very best to support local business and collaborate as much as possible. So long as it’s fresh and a high quality we love it.
Where do you get your creative inspiration for your recipes?
Everywhere! I try and travel quite a bit, so I’ll take inspiration from different parts of the world and cuisine that I’ve been able to experience. Other than that it’s from friends, family and social media! I listen to feedback, ask what people want to see and work on what will best benefit those who watch and taste the food.
What was the effect of the pandemic on your business? What were some of the positives as well as the struggles/hurdles?
The pandemic has been a very strange one for us. Obviously, it has had a devastating effect on the restaurant and hospitality sector, and many of our stock-points and sports teams were forced to close reducing our output. On the contrary, our online store and home delivery option became an essential service for many homes in need of food especially those in quarantine or at high risk. We thankfully have managed to stay open and in operation, and hopefully have been of benefit to the community.
For myself, my own brand as chef ‘Eoin Sheehan’ became incredibly busy. Before COVID, I would travel the country doing corporate cooking demos and festivals, etc., however now it has all moved to Zoom. I have access to any office in the world and have been incredibly fortunate to continue to give these demos to workplaces around the country.
What is your favourite part of what you do and why?
I love the media element of my job. I have always been the ‘performer’ from a young age, so public speaking and presenting came naturally to me after years of messing around and creating content online. The Live TV role on the Six O’Clock show gives me a kick and rush like nothing else. You’re broadcasted to the nation and there is no room for error when it’s live. To continue to grow in that space is the goal.
You seem like a natural on TV.
It’s by far the most enjoyable thing I get to do, it’s a dream come true. I have always been the loud and outgoing one — from speech and drama as a young child, performing dance routines in school shows are just anything that puts me in a place to entertain. YouTube was an amazing outlet for me, and I believe the consistent videos on YouTube helped me find my voice and get comfortable on camera. Little did I know three years later I’d be doing it on the TV but I credit a lot of the Youtube videos for being comfortable and most importantly not caring about what people may think of you.
Which chefs have had the most influence on you?
I’m just as much a performer as I am a chef in my opinion. I’ve always made it clear that I am not the best chef in the world — by any means. My strong-suit is my communication and presenting skills — which is why I think the socials, TV stuff and corporate demos have proven to be the main outlets for me. Watching the likes of Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, Gennaro Contaldo, Gino D’Acampo, etc., who are just as many personalities and styles helped me a lot from a young age. Anyone can cook — it’s the ability to showcase it in a fun and easy to consume manner is the key.
Tell us about your most favourite meal or most memorable food experience.
It’s very hard to pinpoint a favourite but I did come to the realisation a long time ago that a lot of my fondest memories have an element of food involved. Like the ketchup and mustard on American hot dogs when we used to visit my uncle in Kentucky when I was a child.
What food trends are you seeing in Ireland today, and which are you most excited by?
There is a fantastic food culture growing in Ireland. We are more adventurous than ever and have a huge love for local produce. We have some of the best quality products in the world from our beef, dairy, etc., so it’s important to not only appreciate them but the producers in Ireland both big and small.
How has Country Munch evolved since you first started?
I never expected it to be anything more than some pocket money for a night out on Thursday in college! It continues to grow with opportunities arising consistently to further grow the brand. I’ve been lucky to build a good customer base that has stuck with us as we’ve grown.
How is it all going for you so far?
I have been very fortunate with everything that has happened to date. I love what I do, and it makes a positive impact on people. Whether its entertainment or a recipe to try for the family at home. Once I’m having fun and it’s having a positive impact, I’m content. Lots more planned, however.
What does the future hold for Country Munch?
Nothing is for certain, especially in our current climate. We have been working on some amazing opportunities that we hope to roll out this year along with some exciting collaborations. As great and exciting as the future can be, we’re only as good as our last meal served. Brick by brick we build the empire.
What’s next for you?
I love my job and my life. I realise how fortunate I am to say that and have worked for years to get here. I plan on being an International TV chef and personality and to be an influential figure in that space. With that growth comes lots of business opportunities and avenues opening to me which is always very exciting and keeps me motivated. Ultimately, once I am happy in what I do and having a positive impact in some regard then I’m living a fulfilling life. The sky’s the limit.
What tips would you give to someone who wants to start up their own food business in Ireland?
- Test the market and do the research. Get out and get people’s feedback on the product – what they do and don’t like, if they would buy it, how much they would pay etc, etc. Market research is so important for the product.
- To quote a friend of mine: “Brands – Systems – People” The three things that are so important. Know what your brand will be and the vision you have for it. Build the systems that will facilitate it and then surround yourself with the right people that will help it grow.
- Start small. Selling five dinners a week is better than not selling anything. Don’t expect to have it figured out straight away (I’m four years in and I still haven’t!) Take it slow and reflect often.
- Build trust with your audience. Your audience and customers are the most important factor. Be transparent and listen to them.
Finally, how can people get their hands on your delicious meals?
Order from www.countrymunch.com