The Happy Pear, David and Stephen Flynn, are back with a new book and a new outlook on life. They chat with Janice Butler about how lockdown gave them a new perspective on their business.
While their plant-based yoga at sunrise lifestyle may not be to everyone's taste, there’s no denying that the Happy Pear, David and Stephen Flynn, have stayed dedicated to the cause for over a decade. That cause is a pretty simple one: to encourage us all to eat more vegetables.
Known for their upbeat attitude, the occasional handstand and early morning swims in Greystones, whatever the weather, the twins are aware that their lifestyle is regarded as a bit different by many, but it doesn’t stop them spreading their message.
"I think, initially, if people don’t know us, they see us as these happy silly lads, or they might use more derogatory terms than that but if they have the time to talk to us or engage with us they’ll realise it’s not about being vegan, it’s literally about eating slightly better so you’ll be healthier. Our message the whole way along has not been to make people vegan or vegetarian, but just to eat more veg," says Stephen.
The Happy Pear’s new book, Vegan Cooking for Everyone, is a meaty read (excuse the pun), a far more detailed and varied book than anything they’ve published before, offering over 200 recipes but also endless variations to adapt them.
"This is the book that we’d write to teach our kids how to cook and one that underpins all our 15 years of cooking. We took a totally different slant on it than the previous books; this is all about inter-changing different ingredients and really understanding the component in a dish and where the different flavours come from", says David.
Like everyone they’ve struggled during the lockdown, especially with their cafés temporarily closing in Greystones and Dublin Airport and the permanent closure of their Clondalkin location, which opened in the round tower interpretative centre there in 2017. This was a tough blow to bear.
"We’ve been seeing for a year now strong losses coming out of it and running a business, that’s just not sustainable. It's a huge loss in terms of the team we had, the community was great, it was a wonderful project to be part of. You’re always sad to close the doors but we are aware that for a business to be sustainable it has to be at least paying its way, which it wasn’t doing," says Stephen.
Having been in business for over 16 years, they admit that this was a big learning curve for them.
"Every day is still a school day business-wise. We’re still learning so much and making mistakes all the time," says David, with Stephen adding; "It’s things like Clondalkin closing or maybe it’s turning 40, but we’re now looking at what’s enough and what’s true success and happiness; maybe it’s not being as big as we initially wanted, maybe it’s being better at what we do."
The last few years have been hectic for Stephen and David, as they went from having a small fruit and veg shop in Greystones to running a company, being part of Jamie Oliver’s food channel, with food production deals with supermarkets here and in the UK. They feel the last few months have given them a chance to take stock and re-evaluate what they do and where they’re going.
"We’ve tried to make the best of the difficult situation we’ve all been in the last few months. It was a wonderful opportunity to slow down and re-establish values and just question why we do everything and how: as a business, we can do less to generate more but enjoy the process more," says Stephen
"We were able to really look at what parts of the business we want to focus on and how we want to set up our family life. Do we want to travel as much any more?" adds David.
The balance between them works well, with David admitting that Stephen is the better cook: "He’s much more creative, he’s really moved by it and it’s a good outlet for him."
"But Dave’s a better writer," interjects Stephen.
They’re competitive with each other but they admit it’s lessened as they’ve gotten older. "Being an identical twin, you’re literally born competing for your mother’s love and attention, so it’s in our very DNA. We thrived on it when we were younger; it used to be quite brutal," laughs Stephen. "Now we very much realise when we work together it’s better when we encourage each other's strengths."
As parents (Stephen has three children and David has two), they don’t force a vegan diet on their children. They remark that they cook vegan meals at home but are happy for their children to make their own choices when they’re with their friends or in David’s case, when his children are with their mum.
"With my own kids, myself and my kid’s mother have been separated for six years, so we parent in different houses. When they’re with me they definitely eat a vegan diet but when they’re elsewhere it’s not forced on them," he says.
"We want them to be kids and be happy," adds Stephen, "so when they’re out and about they get stuck in with whatever’s going. They can then make up their own minds when they’re older."