Can one woman really make sober sexy by launching a late-night European-style alcohol-free cafe?
AFTER the excesses of Christmas, the traditional 'dry January' is now well underway -- but many a good intention is ruined when an innocent catch-up with a friend, unintentionally leads to a 'sociable drink', which invariably leads to another.
The country is awash with pubs and restaurants but there are very few options available to people who want to get together in the evening without alcohol being in the picture. Our European counterparts are well used to the concept of meeting friends for a coffee in the evening and Ireland is beginning to catch on to the idea with Accents Coffee and Tea Lounge on Stephen Street Lower becoming a popular haunt for Dubliners.
Opened in April 2011, the cafe offers non-alcoholic refreshments throughout the day and evening but is combined with the relaxed atmosphere of a local pub.
Proprietor Anna Louise Young is from Hampshire in the UK and spent many years travelling the world before deciding to make Ireland her home. She quickly realised that although she loved our capital city, the continental-style of watching the world go by over a hot chocolate or refreshing cup of tea was missing from our social scene, so she decided to open her own venue.
"I left England when I was 18 and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands, Australia, Asia and Peru," says the 32-year-old. "I moved to Dublin eight years ago and immediately fell in love with the city. However, I really missed being able to get a coffee in the evening.
"I am very sociable and have a really healthy attitude towards alcohol -- I drink in moderation and I love my wine. However, I don't want it every night and I want the choice of nice, alcohol-free venues.
"I think, as a capital city, we have a responsibility to provide choice, especially when it comes to such an important issue as alcohol abuse, which is acknowledged as a problem in Ireland, but not addressed in such a simplistic manner.
"So I thought a sober pub in Dublin would be a great alternative to the hundreds of pubs and restaurants that shape the city. In our modern life, we all work different hours, we socialise during the week just as much as during the weekends and we are enjoying our coffee more and more -- I was confident that giving this choice would be welcomed."
The concept of Accents is that of a cafe with the same cosy feel as a pub. There is a sofa or bean bag for everyone where you can relax and unwind. It's like having your own 'local' where you can meet up with friends or bump into people you know and stay for a chat, knowing that you are not in an alcoholic environment.
Anna has worked hard to create an ambience which is a home from home.
"So far, the lounge has been really well received by the public," she says. "The atmosphere of a venue is really important. We like to drink beer in a quintessential pub, wine in a wine bar and coffee or tea in a cafe.
"They all have their own unique character and buzz which fits the occasion. For a cafe, you want to hug the mug, curl your feet up on a sofa and have a good gossip with your friends. This is what I have created -- a place where people can socialise when they don't want to stay home, but don't have the inclination to drink alcohol, or sit in a wooden pub drinking a badly made coffee, if it is even served after 6pm."
From the moment she came up with the idea in 2009 and the intervening two years it took to get the business off the ground, Anna dedicated all her energy into putting her plans into action.
"I spent a year-and-a-half saving, researching and building a business plan whilst working full time on the recruitment team for Google," she said. "I was able to achieve a small business loan from AIB, so then it was a matter of securing the property and negotiating a lease. I read a lot and networked with other business owners, so, in theory, I felt like I knew what I was getting myself into.
"Emotionally, I had my fiance Eoin Kierans' [a senior support engineer for SAP from Bray who Anna met through a mutual friend] unconditional support along with my family and friends. And I absolutely needed for people to believe in my concept and my ability to pull it off. My dad helped me with renovating the entire place and creating what was in my mind. He came over from the UK to help me and we worked together for a lovely two months -- my dad claims it was the best job he has ever done in his over 40 years as a professional carpenter and builder."
Despite having never worked in the restaurant industry before and having little or no experience as a business owner, she did everything she could to learn the tricks of the trade before opening the doors to the public but, ironically, with all her enthusiasm and motivation, she couldn't get a job herself in a cafe in Dublin.
Anna is revelling in her new role. "I am an extremely hands-on owner -- I am a barista and the host, working as part of the team of eight," she says.
"Although Eoin is very proud of me and the business, the rewards are currently selfish -- I have the satisfaction of creating something from nothing, having control over my career and seeing my dream grow.
"As a couple, I have less time and money and gained a lot of emotional baggage, but Eoin has happily adjusted to this without question.
"I am absolutely aware that I couldn't have done this without him. The fact that we have such a strong, easy relationship, meant I could put all my energy into the business. I couldn't imagine having such exhausting days at work and then going home to personal problems.
"But a year-and-a-half into the business, I am putting an emphasis back on my personal life -- Eoin, my friends and family and that little one called me -- I will always be involved in the business and have aspirations to seeing it grow in Ireland, with the sentiment of making sober sexy and providing a nice alternative to pubs.
"And I would like to master the balance of owning a business and being a mother -- so I have plenty of challenges left."
>Accents Coffee & Tea Lounge, 23 Stephen Street Lower, is open from Monday to Friday: 10am to 11pm, Saturday from 10.30am to 11pm and Sunday from 12.30pm to 10pm. Visit www.accents-lounge.com or call 01 416 0040