Yummy Cafe

By Georgina Downes

Every morning, as I pass Yummy’s in Dominick Street, I stare wistfully through the window at the glowing stove, the twinkling lights, the cakes on the counter top and all I want to do is grab a table, order coffee and watch the world go by. I can’t because I’m usually rushing for work. Except today I’m interviewing Emer Tobin, manager and co-founder of Yummy’s Market Café, so I can.
I begin by asking what inspired her to open the iconic café with the yellow bike outside?

“I know how hard it can be ordering lunch or just trying to enjoy a coffee when you have small kids. Tralee needed a child-friendly place to eat and I think if you want something badly enough, you have to do it yourself. I decided I’m not opening just another café, I’m opening something different.”

There are literally hundreds of parents in Tralee delighted you made that decision. Are you surprised so many customers come in here with kids?

“I’m more surprised at the number of customers who come in and don’t have kids!” Emer laughs. “Most of our regulars are older. The play-area is a tough spot to maintain. Our insurance almost doubled last year because of it but it’s important to our customers and it’s part of our philosophy.”

We’re sitting at one of the rustic tables shooting the breeze, enjoying the 80/90s playlist, courtesy of Spotify. The Only Way is Up by Yazz thumps out in the background. I think it’s a cover version, Emer thinks it’s the original. Not one to be satisfied with loose ends, she jumps up to check the sound-system for a definitive answer but no joy; 80’s compilation is all we get.

The hospitality business is notoriously hit and miss, so I ask Emer what’s the secret to Yummy’s success. She doesn’t know exactly but says her loyal and dedicated team of 12 staff are an integral part of it and she’s constantly grateful to them. I’m guessing her flawless attention to detail might also have a lot to do with it. Lots of nice little touches adorn the place, including a sign that gently encourages folk to get off their phones and talk to each other IRL.

As we chat, I realise Emer’s the sort of person you wouldn’t mind being stuck on a desert island with because in no time at all she’d have fashioned a raft out of drift-wood, for sure. And it would look great too. Mother of four, ranging from 8 to 19; successful entrepreneur, barista, canny decorator, and partner to Ken, Emer is clearly a woman who gets things done. But in a low-key way; she is quietly spoken, doesn’t do social media and she’s a card-carrying home bird at heart. This explains Yummy’s cosy, welcoming atmosphere while the unusual interior rocks an industrial-chic/retro style vibe. The overall effect of her innovative design concepts is a very pleasing, unique space.

“The décor is a result of a small budget. We had to improvise and recycle and reuse. Scaffolding boards make up a lot of the furniture. I got a few pieces form local antique shops and The Men’s Shed in Castleisland were great.”

The place is a little bit hipster too, thanks to the reformist baby-changing facilities, mounted on old bicycles, in the Ladies and Gents toilets. “That was something I insisted on, unisex baby-changing. It makes life easier for everyone.”

A couple begin to make their way to the door but before they leave, they wish Emer the best of luck with her dancing.  She shakes her head in mild protest.

What’s this?

“I’m doing Strictly,” she says as though she can’t believe it. (Mr and Mrs Strictly at the Tralee Musical Society). “I was roped in,” she laughs,. “Ken and I are in training. We have 4 weeks of rehearsals and the event is in February. It’s definitely throwing me out of my comfort zone. Our choreographer is Tara Door and she’s very patient.”

What would you score yourself, out of 10?

“Oh, 3! We’ve a long way to go. It’s great and I’m enjoying it but I’m no sooner in the door when I’m out again.”

How do you juggle it all?

“I don’t know! If there were 40 hours in a day it wouldn’t be enough,” she laughs.

Bantry born and bred, Emer’s well-established work ethic began at an early age. She was 12 when she started her first job in a hotel at weekends. “I remember being so proud because I was able to buy my own school jumper and I could help my mother out. It was a great feeling.”

After secondary school, she wanted to study Social Science but missed out on the points. “I was a massive worrier, to the extent where I’d be sick, so I knew repeating the leaving cert wasn’t an option. I had enough points to study science in Tralee but I left after 2nd year because I realised it just wasn’t for me.”

True to form, Emer found a job straight away in Shaw’s by day and in Horan’s by night, which is where she met future husband, Ken Tobin.

That’s so romantic! Did he ask you up for a slow set?

“He wasn’t a customer, he was running the place and hired me for behind the bar,”

Also, quite romantic.

“When Ken went back to Limerick to finish college, I went with him. I got a job in Whacky Shoes. And when he graduated, we moved back to Tralee, where I applied for a job as general manager in Harry Corry.”

That was plucky, with no experience.

“I know! I didn’t think about it, I just went for it. I remember my father-in-law saying I should have applied for a sales-assistant post because I’d no hope of being manager, but I wasn’t fazed and I got the job,” she shrugs, smiling. “I was there for 6 or 7 years.”

What does faze you?

“Allergies. When someone comes in to eat and they say they’re seriously allergic to something I get nervous. Regulations are the most difficult part of the job nowadays. Printing calorie counts on the menu might be problematic if it becomes law because it’s difficult to be that accurate with more than one chef.”

So what keeps it fresh for you in business, I ask.

“Oh, the customers, definitely” she says without hesitation. “I could chat all day to the customers and wouldn’t notice the time passing at all. I love listening to their stories and I’m always surprised and honoured by how much people confide in me. Ken says I should just have a therapy room in the back and be done,” she laughs.

Personally, I’m not one bit surprised people like talking to Emer. She’s warm and worldly, unpretentious and full of charm, just like Yummy’s, really.

Yummy’s Café are accepting Tralee Gift Vouchers.