The little green building on the hill

Dave Stapleton sat down with Peter Martin of Vital Health Café, to learn how exactly a Tyrone man and Brazilian woman ended up running a healthy café in Wicklow Town!

Like many before him Peter Martin left Ireland for Australia in 2007, intent on only spending three months there – that was before he met Renée, his now wife. Peter and Renée quickly built a connection and bond, and both promptly extended their stay down under – if you can call seven years an extension!

After many happy years in Australia, Peter felt a bit homesick, longing to be back in Ireland. With Renée’s support and enthusiasm, the couple moved to Ireland in 2014 and set up in Dublin with new horizons in mind.

Renée is a trained chef, working in many different areas of the food industry while in Australia. She also studied health science, obtaining a degree in homeopathy and nutrition. After they moved to Ireland, she set up the Vital Health and Homeopathy centre – beside the Mater Hospital in Dublin – where she helps people today with a variety of issues from immune deficiencies, to anxiety and depression.

Originally, the couple saved up enough money to purchase a house, which is how they landed in Wicklow. On a day trip to Wicklow Town, they simply planned to “have a bite to eat, see the town and Sammy the Seal.”

Driving through the town, they were eyeing up the houses and dreaming of what life could be like in Wicklow, when one building on St Patrick’s Hill struck their gaze;  there lay the “cutest little building in purple with a lovely rock wall” – and it was for sale.

The building was owned and occupied by Denise, a dressmaker, who had the building styled in vibrant pink and purples. The couple went to view the property, and immediately fell in love.

“For Renée and I, we know almost straight away when something is right, and this property was perfect. Just an hour after viewing, we put an offer in on the property – Denise accepted shortly after!”

Early on, they decided it would become a healthy food-serving café, where busy people around the town could get a healthy lunch packed with nutrients, though that would be no easy task due to the size of the building – they would have to fit a whole kitchen, oven, stove, fridges, and “a handful of seats for rainy days” to get it up and running.

With the help of an architect and local tradesman Paddy Breen, the Vital Health Café was born, which now sits as the iconic ‘little green building on the hill’; If you drive through the town today, you can’t miss it.

They’ve only been set up for six months, a short period in business, but it’s already been life changing for Peter and Renée. People quickly flocked to the striking building with a keen curiosity, and many have become returning customers.

Peter remarked that many are amazed to hear how exactly “how a man from Tyrone and a woman from Brazil have ended up with a healthy café in Wicklow Town!”

Vital Health Café was nominated for a Restaurant Association of Ireland Award, alongside many other fantastic restaurants in Wicklow including The Mystic Celt, The Lighthouse Restaurant, and Mickey Finns.

The kindness of the locals has influenced Peter and Renée to relocate personally to Wicklow, and “so many of our customers have become close friends, we’ve felt so welcomed into the Wicklow community.”

“One of our first customers, Paul O’Brien, has become a great friend of ours. He only knew us three months, yet brought Renée to tears of joy when he arrived up with a wonderful painting of the café for her birthday.

Peter has a little phrase to describe how a typical day goes in the café: “the veg and fruit comes in and every day you start again.”

Renée serves as the creative and culinary side of the business, while Peter does the “behind the scenes admin”; but you’ll find him with a smile on his face serving their organic coffee to the people of Wicklow on weekends.

Renée has created a menu with a wide variety of healthy dishes with a delicious twist, and is always tweaking it to add new culinary delights. Their most popular dish is their customisable ‘Protein bowl’.

“How healthy the people of Wicklow are” Peter mentioned. “With so many healthy organisations and gyms around, there’s a wonderful, healthy vibe about the place.”

Where possible, Vital Health Café uses local suppliers for equipment and ingredients – Peter emphasised he wanted to list and thank each and every one of them:

  • McCabe’s of Wicklow for their fantastic coffee
  • Cullens of Arklow and Kellys of Wicklow for fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Avalanche foods in Rathnew for packaging

“If you have something you could offer us, please do contact us. We’d love to be 100% provided by Wicklow companies.”

When I asked Peter if they would ever consider expanding, he swiftly said no: “We love the small feel, we love the atmosphere, we like the idea of “healthy food to go.”

Call in to learn more about Peter and Renée’s story, or for bite to eat and a coffee at Vital Health Café, Wicklow Town.

https://www.vitalhealthcafe.ie/

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