‘Trends are very fickle and it doesn’t take much to spark something and change the face of an entire town’
Grow Café owner Matthew Loftus believes he’s part of a ‘growing’ trend in Ballaghaderreen, which has seen a number of young entrepreneurs set up businesses in the town in recent weeks.
The 28-year-old’s new vegan café is one of five new ventures in the town including a reopened hotel, GRG Sports, the newly-expanded Computers 4 U, and the neuromuscular therapy clinic, Enhanced Motion.
“Ballaghaderreen has been hit economically in the last few years and there has been a good deal of pessimism around the town. A lot of young people have left the town too for work or college.
“Recently though my gut instinct about the town has changed and I’ve found this nice place which works for me and made me really want to bring this idea to ‘Ballagh’.
“I signed the lease in July and about two weeks later I saw that Enhanced Motion had opened up and that GRG Sports had put their office in the town. I knew then that I wasn’t alone. In the space of a month three relatively young businesspeople had arrived.
“Trends are very fickle and it doesn’t take much to spark something and change the face of an entire town,” he said.
Grow’s offering is entirely vegan, with great coffee thrown in. Since its proper opening in September, Matthew has been delighted with the response locally.
A career as a café owner wasn’t always on the cards for Matthew, who hails from Cloonaghmore, about halfway between Gorthaganny and Loughglynn.
“After attending secondary school in Ballaghaderreen, I graduated with a Civil Engineering degree from NUIG in 2014. But by then I was fairly sure I didn’t want to be an engineer all my life.
“After graduation I went to San Francisco with two of my best mates from college where we worked for a year,” he said.
After gaining experience in engineering, however, Matthew felt it wasn’t “the right fit” and so he decided to try a different path.
“I wanted to do more of the stuff I enjoyed for a while, to be honest. I went and joined a theatre group, for example, because I just wanted to give it a try.
“It was around this time that I accidently stumbled into vegetarianism. I just started cooking without meat and dairy and it forced me to think outside the box”.
Suddenly the “clouds parted” and he came up with the idea of opening a café in Galway, and while that dream failed to materialise, it led to an Instagram page and appearances at various community events including Boyle Farmer’s Market.
“I presumed at the beginning that vegan food wouldn’t sell in Co. Roscommon, but the Boyle market showed me that it could. For two years I toured with my travelling kitchen known as the ‘Grow truck’ and at one stage I was going to open a café in Castlerea,” he said.
Matthew speaks very highly of his time in his ‘Grow truck’ in Castlerea and has high praise for Benny O’Connell of Benny’s Deli and The Hub fame, as well as for Benny’s daughter Anne Marie, who both supported the young chef in his endeavours.
After a short break, Matthew decided Ballaghaderreen would be the right venue for a bricks and mortar premises and he has enlisted the help of his sister Elizabeth and newest staff member, Gerda.
He has found his feet quickly and can see a bright future both for Grow Café and the wider business community of Ballaghaderreen.
“I speak to a number of local businesspeople who remember when this town was ‘wedged’ with people on Fair Days. I don’t see why it can’t be like that again some day. We even have the beginnings of a ‘Food Quarter’ here!”
Ballaghaderreen certainly appears to be on the crest of a new trend and it is young entrepreneurs like Matthew who have taken a chance in an effort to spark it. The hope now is that others will follow in his footsteps so that the local economy can continue to ‘Grow’ in 2021 and beyond.