An Interview with Shane Ryan – FEED

Claire Sweeney
Author Claire Sweeney
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FEED is a new kind of food business – a healthy lunch delivery service with a conscience. For every FEED that you order, they donate one meal to a child in the developing world through their charity partner Mary’s Meals.

Hi Shane, give us a quick elevator pitch for FEED.

At FEED the focus is on wholesome, natural ingredients rather than particular diets or lifestyles. We make really really tasty lunches that happen to be incredibly good for you.

We want the people to start reclaiming their lunch break. Instead of endless queuing for mediocre food, have a FEED delivered to your door and spend your lunch hour doing something that you love.

What’s the story and inspiration behind FEED and how did you come to be involved?

I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial so I learned very soon after finishing university that the traditional route of working wasn’t for me. In terms of the concept for FEED it developed organically over time but the core idea around healthy food came about when I started to make some dietary adjustments of my own. I was working in a very demanding job in the Middle East (90+ hours a week) and saw with the simple addition of wholesome natural ingredients how much better I felt, looked and performed.

When I moved back to Ireland I couldn’t find somewhere that did really interesting lunch options that were nutritious and represented good value. I found that many places have enormous menus with hundreds of options which stresses me out so I always end up with the same dish. With FEED I’ve paired back the menu to five simple but fun dishes, one per day. If you order FEED every day you get that variety with the security that you’re eating something of superior quality with a lot of thought put into it.

I’ve always been passionate about giving back and acknowledging how fortunate we are to live here in Ireland. I remember when I was about 11, instead of asking for toys for myself, I wrote to Santa Claus asking him to give my gifts to a child that had none instead. Having a strong social mission from the beginning was one thing I worked hard to maintain when developing the concept for FEED and after meeting with the team at Mary’s Meals I knew it was the perfect partnership. They feed over 1 million children a day in schools across the developing world and for every FEED ordered, we donate one meal.

Where would you like to be in 3 years?

I’m having a lot of fun with FEED and would really like to develop the brand further. 3 years is a long way down the road for a business in it’s infancy right now so I’m concentrating on making sure there is a solid foundation of quality and integrity from which to build in the future when the time is right.

Is this your first business?

This is my very first business so I’m doing everything for the first time – what a rollercoaster.

Any lessons learned so far for startups?

It’s a hard path to head down alone so if I was to do it all again from the beginning I would have taken on a partner from the beginning. I’m still doing everything at FEED myself and I am proud of how far I’ve taken it on my own but I think it would have been a much easier process with someone else involved.

Biggest lessons: Ask for help and actually listen! I’ve learned that most entrepreneurs are more than happy to speak with you and offer advice and assistance in whatever way they can and often their insights are invaluable. Also don’t squander money at the beginning – use the lean canvas as your bible. There will definitely be a million better things to spend money on down the road so keep things tight at the beginning. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

Have you experienced much negativity with regards to starting your own business?

I would say none at all. For the most part people are generally really supportive of people taking the risk and trying to build something from scratch. My mates gave me a hard time at the beginning with a late night grilling over some beers in London but they just wanted to make sure I was prepared and had thought everything through. The consensus at the end was positive which was great as they’re a hard bunch of lads to win over!

What does your average day consist of now?

I’m up early (or late depending on how you look at it). Most days I’m up around 4.30AM to pick up the day’s ingredients at Smithfield Market and in the kitchen at 6.30AM. Delivery starts at 10.30AM and I’m usually back at the FEED HQ in Drumcondra by 1PM for my own lunch before spending the rest of the day ticking things off my never ending list. I try to get 40 mins in the gym in the late afternoon before dinner but I’m working normally right up until 9PM at night. It’s a long day but I love every second of it and the people I get to meet make it worth it.

What is your favourite dish to make and why?

My favourite dish to make is F#5 from the current FEED menu. It’s so simple and fresh but really filling with incredible flavour and texture combinations from fennel, orange, walnuts, barley and blueberries.

What was your last take-away?

I have a soft spot for Perfect Pizza and will order it probably once a week – it’s real Italian pizza made by an Italian chef here in Dublin and is the closest thing to the real deal I’ve had so far outside of Milan. Neon on Camden Street is another one I’m a big fan of. I took a Dutch friend there last weekend and he was really impressed with the quality of the ingredients and the concept so don’t be surprised to see a Neon pop up in Amsterdam in the not so distant future! :-)

How many times on average would you order take away per month?

About 4 times.

What would be your perfect food day in Dublin?

I’m a big brunch fan so anything that revolves around that is a winner in my book. For me food is a real social thing so if the atmosphere and people I’m with are great then it’s half way to being perfect in my eyes. I eat out quite a bit since I’m in the kitchen with FEED every day and prefer to try new places unless somewhere is flawless. There are so many incredible restaurants in Dublin right now; it’s a really exciting time for the industry. Long may the trend continue.

Who are your influences?

A big food influence for me is Yotam Ottolenghi – the way he mixes flavours and textures with influences from so many different cuisines is nothing short of artistic. Another influence of mine is my uncle Brendan O’Connor, a fellow alumnus of Shannon College of Hotel Management and ridiculously successful restauranteur and businessman in the US – with the help of his legend of a wife Claire he’s built an American institution and instilled really solid business values in me from a very young age. If I can achieve even a fraction of the success that this pair have amassed over the lifetime of their careers then I’d be very proud.

What book would you recommend the most to friends?

I’m a big reader but always recommend Tuesday’s With Morrie by Mitch Albom. Everytime I read it I learn something new.

What one piece of advice would you give yourself at 15?

Stop being an ass and allow people to like you, it will make things a lot easier.

Where can we follow you and find out about your projects?

The best way would be to follow FEED on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; and you can contact me directly on [email protected]

Thanks Shane!

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