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Cloud Picker is a coffee company. It is located in the industrial docklands of North Dublin. It’s an area that is becoming gentrified at break-neck speed. Glass buildings are shooting up. They are shiny and grand in contrast to the humble structures that lived before. Cloud Picker is hidden in an old industrial estate. Once you enter through the gates you are transported to old Dublin, that is before the colonisation of US tech companies. It’s impossible not to romanticise the area. It embodies hard physical work and grit.
Leaving Poland for Ireland
Peter Sztal is the co-founder of Cloud Picker coffee. He laughs easily. His Dublin accent is peppered with notes of somewhere else, that place being Krakow, Poland. “Initially I moved to Ireland for three months, that was back in 2002.” His mother loaned him €250 for the journey, “she didn’t have the money herself so I had to pay it back within six weeks.” He saw it as a working holiday, a chance to explore. He wasn’t expecting to want to stay in Ireland.
“I fell in love with here.” The love affair prompted him to organise his studies in Poland around his life in Ireland. “I had three jobs and was working seventy hours a week in the hospitality industry. I had to pay for college, for rent and for the flights home to complete my exams.” All that effort ensured that he graduated with his degree. It also exposed him to working in the hospitality industry, an area that he discovered a passion for.
Falling in love with an Irishman
During his time in Ireland he met his partner Frank Kavanagh. After a whirlwind romance they decided to travel the world for seven months. When they returned the plan was to work in Ireland for a year and then to resume their travels. “I got a job in corporate banking. It was a good steady job but I had this desire to work for myself. During my lunch break I’d look for premises to let in Dublin.” Kavanagh who is a graphic designer by trade shared Sztal’s drive to become self-employed. They wanted to work on a project together, “Frank and I wanted to go into business together. We envisioned that it would be our livelihood and a lifetime project.”
Launching two businesses
Their opportunity came when Sztal signed a lease for a corner unit in what used to be the Epicurean Food Hall on Liffey Street. The business was call Zupa which is Polish for soup. “We served four different types of soup. I’d work seven days a week. Up at 5:30AM then go to bed for 10PM.” The schedule was gruelling, “but I gained so much experience. Before this I knew nothing about owning a business.” Frank continued to work full-time on top of working in Zupa. The sheer physicality of project was starting to weigh on them, “if I didn’t have Frank to support me, I would of had to close the business after six months”. Then an unexpected opportunity presented itself, “one day we found out about a public tender for the Science Gallery Café. The competition was very tough but we did an amazing proposal and we got it!” That was six years ago. In that time they grew the team to fourteen.
It goes without saying that embarking on the self-employment route requires drive. Sztal is fizzing with energy and ideas, “I’ve this amazing huge self belief.” He witnessed the rise of coffee culture via his café. “It was a real eye opener discovering the culture of take out of coffee, we don’t have that in Poland. The profit margins from it were attractive too. But I didn’t know much about it so I immersed myself in everything coffee.” That results of his studies steered him towards the next venture, Cloud Picker.
The smell of coffee roasting and grinding in their warehouse is intoxicating. The team is lean but they have a relaxed synchronicity about them that always means production meets demand. The modern interior of the warehouse highlights how detail focused the men are. The signage has been designed by Frank as has their logo. The company name was a shared endeavour. “A friend of ours summoned us to her office. She took out a big white board and mediated us!” She encouraged them to remember their first shared experience of coffee. “It was when we were in Burma (Myanmar). We had to go through the clouds to see the coffee plantation, because it was at a high altitude.” They self-funded Cloud Picker, “we put all our money into this. We had no bank loan.”
Sztal accords a large amount of his success to his mother, “she has been a huge support and help. She motivates me. I talk to her two to three times a day.” When his mother was thirty-eight her husband, Sztal’s father, committed suicide. Sztal was twelve at the time, his brother was fifteen. “He had two grocery stores but had a huge debt the size of a mortgage. Our world was shattered to pieces. We went from having a very privileged life to total carnage filled with sorrow and sadness.” He is acutely aware of the effects of stress. “Being a business owner is unbelievably stressful. But I’ve learned how to deal with it. I embrace the pleasures in my life which are eating out and travel. Cloud Picker allows Frank and I to travel the world in the search of coffee”. He also acknowledges that Kavanagh helps him slow down. “I’m always firing with ideas. Frank can calm me down. He’s like my handbrake!”
When prodded he accepts that he is “very proud of myself. I had to repay €250 back within six weeks of my arrival in Ireland. Now we have two businesses. It’s a lovely thing to see and of course makes you proud.” Kavanagh and Sztal will soon be launching business number three, “a catering business.” Their ambition is enviable.
It’s fitting that Cloud Picker found it’s home in the old industrial lungs of Dublin. It’s founders have a drive that would exhaust most people, a resilience that won’t crumple and a love of life that inspires their employees and endears their customers to them. Sztal’s story is a modern Irish fairytale about a tenacious emigrant who has enriched Irish shores.