The Old Couch Cafe

The Start Story of The Old Couch Cafe

Entrepreneur: Damira Levacic and Przemek Muszynski

Local Enterprise Office Supports: Microfinance Ireland, Mentoring

Website: https://www.oldcouchcafe.com/

When chefs Damira Levacic and Przemek Muszynski had a vision to start a business in the heart of Waterford’s Cultural Quarter in 2020, they went about researching, planning and investing to bring their coffee shop to O’ Connell Street.

Opening the doors in early March the Old Couch Café soon created a buzz and fast became a favourite with locals and visitors.  However, Damira and Przemek, like most of the country had not anticipated the arrival of COVID-19 and when the lockdown was announced the doors of the Old Couch Café closed after just two weeks trading.

 The Old Couch Cafe1

An understandable blow to any business, but to a small business that was just two weeks old the consequences could have been devastating.  However, instead of hoping for the best and riding out the pandemic storm, Damira and Przemek used the lockdown as an opportunity to consolidate their product and plan for the future, which meant pivoting the business from a coffee shop to a quirky, modern restaurant serving teasing plates from locally sourced fresh produce.

“Undoubtedly the low point was the closing period, but the high point was actually every day that things got done. We started lockdown with a completely new plan and a set of goals we were determined to achieve.  So, every day had small victories to keep us going when some things went wrong.”

“The biggest challenge for us was reopening after the lockdown with a vastly different business model than our original one. We decided to move away from everything coffee shop related and do food that was more complicated and serious…proper restaurant food, as we like to call it.”

One aspect of where the business needed assistance was finance.  After closing in mid-March, Damira and Przemek were left with many of the financial commitments associated with opening a new business, but with no customers or revenue.

It was then that they approached Local Enterprise Office Waterford to apply for assistance that would enable them to not only sustain their business and their jobs but to get guidance about opening in a safe and measured way.

By applying for a Microfinance Ireland loan, Damira and Przemek were able to access finance with no interest rate or no repayments for 6 months.  Damira said, “It really was the shot in the arm we needed to continue with the restaurant.  While we had no paying customers, we were still faced with the costs of running a restaurant, such as paying suppliers, rent, and utilities.”

“The microfinance loan allowed us to not only to pay these bills and keep the lights on, but also helped us to purchase the necessary health and safety equipment to keep us, our staff and customers safe when we reopened.”

As their application was made through their Local Enterprise Office, Damira and Przemek were able to avail of an interest rate of 4.5% and they were also assigned an MFI mentor to guide them through the application process.

Now that we have emerged from lockdown and some facets of life are slowly returning to a new normal, the couples’ plans for the Old Couch Café are straightforward. 

“Our business agenda is to finish out the year with a positive balance, keep doing what we are doing, continue to build our customer base and keep our diners happy!  While we are aware that people might be less inclined to eat out or socialise in the next few months, we’re confident that we have created a warm, safe, unique dining experience that will keep our loyal customers coming back.”

The Old Couch Cafe2

For anyone thinking of starting a business, Damira advises not to think too big at first. “Keep it small, research and do things you feel comfortable doing and then you can grow. Because there are a lot of sacrifices along the way you need to be sure that what you are doing is what you love.  It will be stressful, and it will be tiring, but you’ll undertake the most rewarding journey of your life.”

There are exciting times ahead for young company.  Serving up delightful and tasty dishes from fresh local produce, housed in a funky and quirky setting, the Old Couch Café has in a short time, already earned a special place in the hearts and palates of Waterford diners.

 

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