An Interview with Derek Keatley – Urban Mess

Claire Sweeney
Author Claire Sweeney
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We had the privilege and pleasure of asking former architect Derek Keatley (middle), co-owner of East Point Village’s Urban Mess, about his new business and life as a new father.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Delusion of Grandeur.

Haha! What’s the story behind Urban Mess and how did you get involved?

Since the Economic Crash a few years back, I questioned the fragility of architecture – having failed to make a career of it in Ireland. So I went to Australia where I applied to over 1000 firms all of which said No. Australia was going through a recession of their own at the time. After 8 months I came home burnt out and broke and decided that I would be more in control of my work and income from then on. I was fixed on owning my own business at that point but I hadn’t really figured it out what it would be.

I started out with a few ideas for my home town Howth. I saw two donkeys for sale in Cork for €200 and I though that the main beach in Howth would be perfect for Donkey rides ( So popular in any seaside town), but with the care and maintenance on two donkeys I soon moved on to the next idea – Zorbs! I bought two in Wicklow, hired a Large inflatable ramp and sought permission to have them at a mini carnival in Howth one weekend. Last minute I rented a Small Merry-Go-Round too and I set that up beside the Zorbs. The day was a flop and the only thing that made money was the Merry-Go-Round which just about covered all the over heads.

I worked as a Waiter in the Brass Monkey Howth working 5 days a week and on my days off I worked in Damsen Diner on South William Street. I saved all my tips knowing that a business opportunity would eventually come up and I would have money to fund it.

One day in the Brass Monkey my neighbour rang me. He said he had a proposal and would I be interested in seeing it? It was a vacant catering unit down in East Point Business Park and the rest is history.

Where did the name come from?

It was probably the only aspect that my business partners and I could not decide on. Our WhatsApp group went on for days throwing out random restaurant names: “ Wok Pot”, “Wok Box”, “Pot Bowl Box”, “Canteen”, “Noodle Bag”, “Urban Pot”, “ City Mess” – in the end it was the only name that hadn’t been taken by “www” and we all just went with the one name that none of us really had a problem with. We had more pressing work to concentrate on.

What’s your role?


I come in at 6.30, I check emails seeing what catering gigs have to be organised, where we have to deliver Fruit Boxes and Sandwich Boxes that day/week.

Anyone in Catering will tell you expect the unexpected, so I try not to plan my day too much knowing that something unsuspected will come up that will have to be sorted; out of soya milk, a last minute order for a company, some staff member cant come in – the usual.

I mainly manage the staff and oversee what they need to get the job done.

Did your architecture degree help you in business?

Definitely – I design all our branding, leaflets, loyalty cards, menus, and any piece of promotional material that we need – which is often. It’s great that I don’t need to contact a designer to make small changes to what ever we need. I even did all the artwork for the walls in restaurant. I designed the interior and layout of the restaurant as well. Architecture was all about sorting out a brief with its own problem and pull it off in a beautiful way – it’s the same with catering.

Did you always want to be a restauranteur as a kid?

No I wanted to own a Comic/Cartoon Company like Marvel Comics or Disney – I still do and will one day.

Although there is some buzz working in restaurants and catering.

Food Example from Online Ordering

Did you deal with negative people when you were starting off ?

You don’t have to start a business to deal with negative people. I feel there are people that try to project their own self doubt onto you. It takes no balls to be negative, that’s why its easy! If you are starting something ambitious and you see a way to do it you’ll hear a lot of negativity from the doubters. I think it’s a defence mechanism for them not to feel inadequate.

It s nothing to worry about, you just pick and choose your topics of conversation about the project and filter the amount of information you give them. Then just press on.

What does your average day consist of now? Are you in the kitchen at all?

Only when I want a sandwich. I try to stay out of the chefs’ way. They are all very experienced to work on their own, although last Friday when were very busy I jumped on the fryers to make sure the restaurant had enough chips.

6am – Get up shower and grab some fruit to eat on the drive in.

6.30 – Arrive and start on my “To-Do List”, answer emails, get whatever delivery or catering needs to be organised that day.

11am – I then like to commit to the floor and start putting the Menu up and get the place ready.

12am till 2pm – Lunch shift, busy busy busy!

2pm – Grab something to eat and chill

2.20pm – Collect crockery from deliveries, ave some sort of meeting, emails, go to Musgrave’s and constantly organise the stock room – my secret obsession.

Online Food Ordering Menu Item

Congrats on your newborn son, has he changed your perspective?

Unbelievably so, his life is my responsibility now. The bills for his upbringing depend on what I do or don’t do.

I changed my lifestyle. I was working in restaurants working all night coming in at 2am so I decided to create a more structure life so I could have weekends off with him, to bring him for walks, go to the playground etc.

Owning a business is as much about enhancing your own life as it is about making money.

Being so busy would you order take-aways much?

Yea, Camille Thai was the last one. I prefer starters to mains especially in restaurants. They always seem more adventurous.

Online Ordering Takeaway

What does it take to be successful when starting your own restaurant?

I’m not a success yet, but you just have to go for it. So many people are just full of talk. Only pay attention to those that are actually doing it.

Who are your main influences?

My father – I get my work ethic from him.

Tony Robbins – he’s a solution for everything.

What book would you recommend the most to friends?

Rich Dad/Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosaki.

What advice would you give yourself at 15?

Read Rich Dad/Poor Dad.

Is there anything you’d do differently when starting the business?

I definitely would have been more open to more different types of catering. We do Farmers Markets, Pop up Canteen in Offices, Sandwiches Box Deliveries and Event Catering – none of which I would have thought we would be doing before we opened. It all evolved in ways I couldn’t even imagine.

Thanks Derek and best of luck in the future!

Check out Urban Mess for more information or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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