The Ugly Mug, Tralee

Text by Georgina Downes, Tralee Chamber Alliance

Photography by Johanna Simon, Tralee Chamber Alliance

Nestled beside the Post Office on Edward Street  sits The Ugly Mug, a cosy, hip little coffee shop with a real artisan vibe. The name is ironic because there is nothing ugly about this space. Inside, an array of colourful, attractive murals adorn the walls, the work of local artist Kieran Hurlihy.  Unexpected items are reclaimed and reimagined; a suitcase serves as a table, coffee bean sacks serve as art. Even the compostable, take-away cups are things of beauty. The place has all the hallmarks of a labour of love, specifically David Leonard’s love of coffee.

David is a young businessman who would most likely balk at that description. His dress-style is grown-up-casual; hoody, well-cut jeans, with citrus-orange trainers completing the look confidently. He never wanted to be an entrepreneur yet here he is with two businesses under his belt employing 14 people (he also owns The Glass House). When he decided to open a café, he had no catering experience, just a desire to produce good food and a great cup of coffee. But he did his research, trained as a barista, travelled the world, gathering ideas from Hawaii to Vancouver, where coffee culture is king, then home to Kerry where he took the plunge.

“Tralee is easy to live in. I moved back after five years working construction in New Zealand. I like the pace of life here, the people, the beaches. I didn’t want to be stuck in traffic every day so I decided to set up business myself. So far it’s been a success and I really enjoy it.”

Everything in The Ugly Mug is made from scratch. Their eggs come from Ardfert, their meat is sourced locally. All the baking for both premises is done in-house at The Glass House and soups and salads are made fresh every day. Morning coffee and lunch are their busy times. And what is the biggest seller?

“Muffins and energy balls.”

Speaking of balls, David played senior football with Austin Stacks for years. Has that experience informed his business acumen?

“I’d say so, definitely. Sport is fantastic. It’s good for everything, both physical and mental health.” David is 37 now and father to two children, aged two and six months, but still plays for the C team. They won a cup last month, he informs me, smiling broadly.

David’s father, Tom, interrupts proceedings. They squabble affectionately about some shopping errand or other then Tom turns to me, throwing his eyes up to heaven, but clearly  very proud of his son.  David sits down again saying his Dad loves popping in.  In fact, this café is entirely a family affair; David’s partner, Lucie Hanrahan, does the books, his mother Eileen bakes apple tarts and his uncle helped make most of the furniture.

The Glass House, located in Centrepoint, is a short walk away. This bright, airy space continues the artisan vibe but is less rustic, more contemporary, with its bold geometric patterns and eclectic mix of artwork on the walls.  But the excellent quality, fresh-food philosophy remains the same. Customers come especially for the Eggs Benedict and Smoothie Bowls.

David would be entitled to rest on his laurels at this stage but no, he tells me expansion is certainly something on his horizon. He’s mentioned Dingle more than once in the course of our interview so I ask if it’s somewhere he’d like to do business.

“Absolutely. I love Dingle. There is always something happening there, a great energy. Someday, I’d like to open a café there.”

David is softly spoken and very laid back for a man with so much going on. So does any of this daunt you at all, I ask.

“I blew up buildings in New Zealand.  That’s scary. This work is easy by comparison.” He laughs.

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