Brewing success: 'How we turned a forgotten car park into one of Antrim's favourite coffee spots'

Declan Donaghy (25) from Tiny House Coffee in Antrim reveals how he and his brother converted a tiny caravan into a thriving coffee shop in three years

My brother and I first opened the hatch of Tiny House Coffee three years ago out of a small converted caravan.

We were one of the many coffee trailers that opened during what now seem like mad times during Covid but people still wanted their caffeine fix! I worked in a call centre to try and fund and expand the business.

Thinking back to those first few months is nostalgic. I remember the caravan being so small that we could barely stand up in it, never mind working busy weekends together. The first busy summer working in the caravan made us want to expand the business further, at least to a

space we could comfortably stand up in.

We researched different styles of coffee shops and decided that a shipping container was the answer to our spatial problems.

Being from Antrim town, I was aware of Chimney Corner Football Club as being a source hub for the local football community. In a meeting with Chimney Corner Football Club in 2022 we explained our vision of a busy little coffee shop with a community feel at the core of its heart.

The committee was surprised when we said that we wanted to make use of a small part of their car park that was rarely used and lay empty at the time. The area we wanted needed a little TLC and had a few trees and rough patches that needed sorted before we made good our vision.

Shortly after our little blue shipping container was dropped into place and Tiny House Antrim was born.

Looking at a map, Chimney Corner FC might seem like it was a little far from the towns of Antrim and Randalstown to open a coffee shop. However when you scratch the surface and look deeper, we knew it was a fantastic club with very well maintained grounds.

This is all credit to a small but vigorously hard working team of volunteers behind the scenes. It is also a landmark location to the people of Antrim.

It was clear to us that Chimney Corner FC had the blueprint for everything we felt would be needed for the basis of a great foundation to a new community-oriented business in Antrim.

Day to day running is never the same, anything can happen and you never know who is going to come through the doors. We are fortunate to be located along the main route from the International Airport to the Causeway Coastal Route and regularly have tourists dropping into us.

We are privileged to have the opportunity to give them some of their first impressions of the country. Having a love of travel myself, I feel this is a significant and very important privilege that Tiny House bears.

Tiny House expanded thereafter to incorporate the Tiny Diner, which started trading within Tiny House last year. This expansion was a result of my uncle Liam, who made the jump to return to self-employment again.

Liam previously owned a busy cafe in Armagh many years ago, so you could say entrepreneurship runs in the family. Liam brings a simple but effective low cost menu to our cafe on weekends and is a key part of what makes our weekends so busy.

In today’s climate, it’s easy to over focus on the finances of your business leading and keeping things afloat. It’s certainly not easy at times and bills continue to rise, however if you build a community around a coffee shop, you build a business. It’s a simple equation.

It’s not just about money, my greatest accomplishment is that regular customers who were once strangers have now become great friends.

Our coffee shop has become a living room to the people of Antrim and Tiny House has allowed many community groups to find their home in Antrim.

Social Strides being a key one to mention, it is a fantastic free social walking/running group that aims to get people up and active within Antrim. It was set up by Travis and Francy and it’s great to watch the group go from strength to strength in numbers.

Tiny House was my first business venture and the first time I’ve ever worked for myself! It took some adjustment to go from working for someone to being my own boss. But now we’re celebrating three years in business, unbelievable.

Here’s to many more years of making Tiny House the living room of Antrim town.

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