It’s almost six years since self-taught chocolate creator extraordinaire Niamh O’Reilly first started experimenting at her home kitchen making nutritious but delicious bars free from ingredients such as grains, dairy and refined sugar. After initially “stumbling into making chocolates” Niamh, with the help of her partner in life and business Mark Stewart, threw herself into making Hungry Crow a success story. Today, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Hungry Crow has come to roost at a new height in the village of The Pike (on the Skibbereen to Clonakilty road), where it not only produces onsite, but also sells its delicious and decadent creations to the passing public.
Niamh credits the NeighbourFood initiative with helping to drive the business forward through the challenges of a pandemic, a ‘do or die’ scenario for so many small enterprises. Suddenly Hungry Crow’s customer base expanded at a pace almost difficult to keep up with. Niamh and Mark found themselves working around the clock and learning fast, as the business adapted and prospered with its new-found recognition. “It was such a strange time,” says Niamh. “We could have stopped or paused but I had to keep working for my sanity!
“Covid also forced us to look at our packaging or rather lack of it,” she shares. The chocolates, which had been sold mostly loose in the past, in line with Hungry Crow’s ethical and sustainable ethos, are now packaged in compostable containers made almost entirely from recycled cocoa husk – nearly good enough to eat too!
By Christmas 2021, the business had outgrown its small kitchen unit in Lisavaird so the search began for a suitable premises. The Hurley family’s old shop building had been renovated and was available for lease at The Pike, so the move was closer to home than expected. With the help of some funding from LEO and a few private investors on board, Niamh and Mark got to work at customising the space to suit their needs, which included a functional and air-conditioned kitchen; and Hungry Crow opened at its new location at The Pike in August 2021. There is one other person working full-time with them now and more help is needed in the kitchen.
Although working just as hard today as when she first started the business, Niamh is now beginning to reap the rewards of her efforts, as the Hungry Crow brand spreads its wings. Anyone who wanders into this magical little chocolate shop in The Pike, if not knocked out first by the alluring, almost hypnotic, scent of ethically-sourced chocolate, will be blown away by the edible works of art on display in this chocolate lover’s heaven… also serving up local Red Strand Coffee and of course hot chocolate.
Sample the boozy truffles if you dare or lose yourself in a decadent date stuffed with anything from tahini to Turkish delight or try Niamh’s favourite, the Amazeballs, a simple but winning combination of dates, sea salt and filtered water. All of the colourings are vegetable-based and the only sweeteners used are coconut blossom sugar, West Cork honey, dates or xylitol made from the bark of the beech tree. “It’s real food,” shrugs Niamh, “no nasties added”.
The creator in Niamh is always thinking ahead to the next recipe. She has just finished putting the final touches on her own caramel and butterscotch-filled sweets, both intense, rich flavours that melt in the mouth.
With Easter just around the corner, her head is already filled with vegetable colourings and moulds.
I love the process, the moulds, the tempering, the recipes and I still get really excited by all the possibilities,” shares Niamh. “I wake up regularly and pinch myself.”
Growing the business but keeping its roots sustainable is very important to Niamh. With so much wasteful packaging generated at Easter time, this year Hungry Crow eggs will be sold loose, plucked from baskets by customers happy to support a greener local brand.
As well as at The Pike, Hungry Crow chocolates are sold at West Cork markets and in a number of local retail outlets. For more information go to www.hungry crow.ie
Local support for their new premises has been incredible and Niamh and Mark would like to thank everyone who has helped Hungry Crow settle into its nest at The Pike.