Reflecting on a Year in Hospitality Like No Other

– with Karoline Sweeney of Castlegrove Country House Hotel

Tell us about how you pivoted your business this year?

2020 has certainly brought many challenges for our business. We initially closed on March 15th due to the Covid 19 Pandemic and reopened again on July 9th for the Summer. Unfortunately, we had to close again on September 25th due to the introduction of level 3 government restrictions.

Donegal Food Coast Castlegrove

However, during the Summer months we were very fortunate to welcome Irish visitors from all over the country as a direct result of Failte Ireland and Donegal Tourism’s massive ‘Staycation’ campaign. Donegal, as a whole, was very busy and it was a great opportunity to showcase our beautiful county on a national level.

During the first lockdown, we acted very quickly and launched our take-out menus right away; in fact, the first weekend was Mother’s Day, so it was a great way to kick start this initiative. From there, we continued to develop our menus and upskilling the take-out process. We paused temporarily when we reopened, so the kitchen could cope with the in-house volume but have since resumed our take-out offerings again since the second closure began in September. We plan to continue this service throughout the winter and are working on seasonal Christmas treats which will be readily available in the beginning of December. So, in summary we availed of the ‘Staycation’ marketing campaign to showcase our hotel and offerings and we also used the lockdown as an opportunity to develop our take-out menus and food products.

What has 2020 taught you?

It has been chaotic, that’s for sure, but the main thing is the health and wellbeing of our nation, in particular the elderly and most vulnerable. We have learned to be more appreciative of our health and more conscious of things we may have previously taken for granted.

From a business point of view, we have learned to be more resilient and innovative on how we deliver our service. We have worked with LEO to upgrade our website to offer take-away Ecommerce. We continue to look at our business and evaluate ways to diversify our revenue streams.

And of course, we adopted new ways to operate in compliance with all the HSE guidelines – basically, like everyone, we learned how to operate in the new “normal’.

Donegal Food Coast Castlegrove

You are launching Christmas hampers? Tell us about that.

Yes, we are very excited to be launching our seasonal Christmas offerings. We have some fantastic gourmet foods coming for the launch of our Christmas Hampers. Our chefs have come up with some really good products which showcase our style of cooking and, of course, create a way to use our Walled Garden Winter produce. We will start taking orders in November on our new site, over social media and via phone. If all goes well over the next weeks, we also hope to reopen our hotel and restaurant for December and the Christmas season. Castle Grove is a very magical place at that time of year with the lovey decorations and big open fires.

Donegal Food Coast Castlegrove

What are you most looking forward to in 2021?

Hopefully not talking about Covid every day (Lol!) No on a serious note, we are looking forward to a new year, working with all our happy couples who had to postpone their weddings this year, and we’ll continue to build our brand and develop our business – a fresh start, so to speak! Also, we miss our team! The CG team are like extended family and the house just isn’t the same without them all.

Donegal Food Coast Castlegrove

Castlegrove has its own herb garden. What are the three best herbs to cook with?

Yes, we have a wonderful four-acre heritage Walled Garden which we restored. Currently the garden provides fruit and vegetables for the hotel and restaurant almost all year round. It’s hard to choose three, but I suppose with the new normal and the take-out menu, we have used a lot of oregano in our Irish Beef Lasagne and this would be one of our best sellers. It’s made with 100% Irish beef, and our chef’s homemade sauces using oregano, tomatoes from the garden and freshly made pasta layers.

We also incorporate a lot of fresh Rosemary in our jus; we would serve this with beef and lamb so we were able to use this in summer and of course now on the Sunday Lunch To Go menus. We used a lot fresh purple basil in salads and starter dishes throughout the summer and are now using the more common regular green basil to make pesto which we use in our starters; it is so good, we love fresh pesto.

Donegal Food Coast Castlegrove

You recently received your Food Coast plaque. Tell us what being part of the Food Coast Network means for your business?

Yes, and thank you for that! We were delighted to get our Food Coast 2020 plaque this year. We love being a member of the Food Coast; it is a great platform to develop and grow our food story here at Castle Grove. Over the years, the Food Coast team has been so helpful not only to us but many local food producers by helping us connect with each other, allowing us to share ideas, promote each other’s products, and ultimately help grow and develop the Donegal Food story. Along with this support, it provides encouragement and confidence to explore new ideas and helps its members get their story out there both in a mentoring capacity but also with financial and business knowledge supports.

The Food Coast is both a fantastic and vital resource to enable Donegal to build its culinary reputation to put us on the tourist destination map both domestically and internationally. We hope to be part of this network for many years to come.