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Driving a truck or cooking a meal for twenty people is often a bit too daunting for most people, but for couple Deirdre Dunne and Bryce Odgers, they were completely unfazed by setting up a restaurant in a double decker bus.
Even though the idea is very unusual, for Deirdre and Bryce, it was actually somewhat of a natural progression from what they had been working as previously. For five years, they worked as tour guides in Australia and Africa, with Bryce driving these huge trucks, while Deirdre cooked the food, so when they returned to Ireland six years ago, it was not long before they bought a bus on eBay.
Now the bus is so well known on the summer festival circuit that it shines out like a beacon for people who want healthy, home cooked food and it also gives them a nice dry spot to eat if it's raining.
Deirdre and Bryce first tested the bus out in Mahon, Cork where they set the cafe up for a couple of months doing basic lunch food, to see how people reacted to it. They then started taking the bus to Garrettstown beach, where they found it was very popular, as diners could come in out of the wind and enjoy their meal without getting sand in their food or watching their napkins blow away into the water.
They started out with a basic menu and now they have a great selection of steak ciabattas, falafels, curry and chilli and they even make their own lemonade with ginger, to rehydrate people and settle their stomachs. They are hoping to develop their own real hot chocolate and also a thai beef salad for this summer.
Bryce said that when people see the name of the bus, 'Eco Bus Cafe', they often challenge them on how eco friendly the bus really is. For instance, the bus is run on waste vegetable oil, which is something which gleaned a lot of interest from people and it also uses solar energy for power.
"As well as that, all of the cleaning products we use are eco friendly, and we grow our own herbs and make our own humous, but are hoping to extend that and we use local and organic produce in the food, which uses the least amount of energy to get to us in terms of transport and fuel costs. We get our beef from Hanley's or Deirdre's brother's farm in Offaly and it means that we are bringing local and fresh food to about ten festivals around the country a year," Bryce explained.
Deirdre said that at festivals, many of the food stalls sell just one particular food, but with the Eco Bus Cafe, there is a good chance that most people will find something they like on the menu, "Our menu has a bit of everything and we often find that over a weekend, people will come up four times because they want to try out the other dishes," Deirdre said.
Bryce said that they aim for smaller festivals, as they find that word about the food seems to spread quicker, whereas with bigger festivals like Oxegen, or something like it, people might not find the cafe until Sunday because the site is so big. Adding, "it is all about establishing a name and reputation for good food, so that people will seek us out at the festivals," Bryce said.
In terms of changing trends, Bryce said that they have noticed that people are buying less from them, particularly if there is a parent at the beach with their kids, before they would have bought three portions of chips, but now they share one.
Deirdre added that while they are doing the same amount of festivals as before with the same volume of people there, these people now have less of a budget to spend on food. "In general, we find that they don't cut down on beer, but will bring their own food or eat less," she said.
Deirdre and Bryce also have a little two year old girl Bree and they said that last year, they brought an au pair on the festival circuit, but as the cafe is very seasonal, it doesn't really interfere with their lives. Deirdre explained that before they had Bree, they would use the winter months to go on cycling or sightseeing trips, but now she picks up work giving art classes when they are not out with the cafe.
They said that over the next few years, as Bree gets older, they may look at gradually pulling out of festivals and look towards setting up their own permanent cafe or restaurant. They also do catering for private functions, weddings and events and that is something they may expand on.