We had the good fortune of connecting with Bronagh Conlon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bronagh, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I grew up in Armagh City and when leaving St Catherine’s College like many 18 year olds, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I narrowed it down to catering college or studying nursing and managed to get accepted to both. To decide I flipped a coin and ended up choosing nursing. I really enjoyed my nursing career but there was still a part of me that wanted to get involved in the food industry.
I established the Real Irish Food Company in 1997 making jam and marmalade. Two years later we had our own purpose-built factory in the Drogheda area. I was involved with that company for nearly 14 years, building it from an idea into a fully-fledged business before selling it to the Jacob Fruitfield Food Group. It was a great experience because I learned a lot on the job.
I would always have an eye on emerging trends in the food and drinks industry and I identified the growth of the premium spirits category early on. I knew it was something I’d be interested in. We launched Listoke Distillery including Ireland’s very first Gin School in 2016. Since then we’ve built an award-winning range of premium gin products including Listoke 1777, Listoke Barnstorm, Listoke Cacao & Raspberry and Listoke Sloe. We have also created an exciting new Wise Owl Whiskey. Listoke has won various global awards in recent years and we’ve expanded to the USA, Russia, China and throughout Europe- it’s also available from SuperValu and Dunnes Stores. It’s been great to have all the family involved now that the children are grown-up. It is truly a family business and we all bring different strengths and unique (sometimes mad!) ideas to the table.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Where to start! Listoke Distillery has been my best professional adventure so far. It has not been an easy road, but we have worked extremely hard to get it to where it is today. I have always been motivated and enthusiastic about my work in food & drink, and I pride myself on that. However the most important thing is not to give up during the hard times. Anyone with a small or new business will know, nothing is ever easy and there are always bumps in the road. To keep your head and shoulders up and to keep moving forward can be the most difficult part of that – but to do so is the bravest thing an entrepreneur can do.
My mantra has always been “What’s for you won’t go past you”. This ensures that if something goes wrong, or we don’t get a new buyer etc, that we don’t let our disappointment get the better of us. If it didn’t work out, that’s ok. Something better will come along – and I haven’t been wrong so far!
Our Listoke Distillery & Gin School is our pride and joy. We always work to the highest standard and our products are the same. We have super premium products at premium prices! Along with our gin range, we recently added Wise Owl Whiskey to our portfolio. We want to keep growing and keep our product moving to all corners of the world. Whenever anyone picks up a bottle of our gin or whiskey we do a little happy dance! That purchase leads to bigger orders and larger contracts – and it means that our dream of a family distillery business is thriving!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I think this shoutout definitely has to go to my family! Not only are they always supportive, but they truly back me in every way. Even before Listoke Gin, for my other businesses we would brainstorm ideas for products, branding, strategic plans and ultimately the selling of the company/shares.
However now that support is so much more as we work together too! My husband, Sean, is our master distiller. He retired from his public service job after 32 years and learned how to make gin from not having any previous experience. Not only is he our Director of Operations, but he is my rock and my forever supporter, we make a great team! The third member of the Listoke Team is Sarah, my eldest daughter and Director of Sales. Sarah worked in sales and promotions since she was 15 and joined the family business in 2019. Sarah describes herself as being my right hand woman, and I would honestly be lost without her. My other two children, Oisin and Grainne, have both worked for the company at different times, but as shareholders they remain part of all major decisions. Our kitchen table conversations never get boring!
Being a woman in business is not always easy. To succeed you need support, love, encouragement and sometimes a stern talking to in order to make it work – and I am so grateful that my family are with me every step of the way for all of it.
Linkedin: Listoke Distillery & Gin School
Facebook: Listoke Distillery & Gin School