How The Happy Pear Began Ireland’s Health Food Revolution

How The Happy Pear Began Ireland’s Health Food Revolution

It’s been 14 years since David and Stephen Flynn started The Happy Pear and began a healthy food revolution that would alter the face of Ireland’s wellness scene. Starting out in a humble greengrocers store, they have since launched three wholefood cafes, a sprout farm, a health-food product line, a coffee roastery, and fermentation kitchen – and that’s without mentioning their best-selling cookbook and 200,00+ YouTube subscribers. CompareRetreats.com chats to Stephen about how the duo got started, sunrise swimming, and their favourite spots in Ireland. 

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
David and Stephen, founders of The Happy Pear | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

Can you tell us about The Happy Pear and the overall company ethos? The Happy Pear was started in 2004, by me and my identical twin brother David. We grew up on a meat-and-two-veg diet and played a lot of rugby – we were stereotypical jocks. After university, we changed our diet, took our focus off of money and put it on health. In changing our diet and our lifestyle we became happier in ourselves and we wanted to share that and inspire other people too. We found that food is an incredible means to bring people together, regardless of background, religion or whatever else divides us.

What motivated you to start The Happy Pear? As identical twins, we always did everything together growing up. We sat beside each other at school, had all the same friends, did the same things, ate all the same things… we were always ‘we’, the ‘Flynn Twins’, as opposed to David, or Stephen. So we decided after college to go travelling separately, and in going away separately we had more space to reflect on who we were and what interests we had. I was living in Corsica and doing a water fast when I had the idea to start a health food revolution. I called Dave up, who was in America, and asked if he wanted to start a health food revolution with me – he said defo. I then mentioned the little veg shop in our town, Greystones, and said I was thinking about buying it: he was like, “What? That doesn’t sound like much of a revolution.” But when I came back, Ireland was in an economic boom, we borrowed 100 grand and we organised taking over the greengrocers where our mum used to buy our fruit and veg: that was the platform we started our food revolution on.

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
From a vegetable shop to health food empire | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

What is a ‘Swimrise’? It happened by accident. Dave took a picture one morning, while he was walking his daughter – six months old at the time – down by the waterfront at sunrise. He shared the picture, and we had a lot of really positive engagement – I think because sunrise symbolises hope for a lot of people. We started getting up early to take photos of the sunrise, and then we’d swim at dawn at the beach – a few other people joined us, so we had a small regular group. One day, about two years ago, someone had messaged us on Snapchat saying they’d love to join us. So I decided to put up a message on Facebook – “We’ll meet at the shop at 4.30am, we’ll have porridge and tea with us, and we’re going to swim at the beach at sunrise” – and we thought we might get five or 10 people turning up. I met Dave at the shop at 4am to make the porridge, and when we walked out half an hour later there were 150 people standing outside. It’s an event that builds community and people from all over the world have come to join us. We’re still doing it at Greystones beach every day, and we still have new people joining us all the time.

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
(Swim)Rise before dawn | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

What are three key ingredients for happiness? Happiness means lots of things to lots of people, but there are three main things I can think of. First, exercise: and by exercise, I mean movement, not just going to the gym for 30 minutes or once a week but actually moving throughout the day and being active. Secondly, eating well is important. And lastly, support: we all need community, so anything that supports your ideas or values or helps support you to be a happier person is essential.

What made you change to a vegan diet? In college, we signed up to do a marathon with a friend, but at the same time, our mum had bought us tickets to go travelling around Europe, interrailing for the summer. We spent a month getting drunk and not training for the marathon, and we came back we had a month to train and get in shape: so we decided to do a detox. This was back 2001, and there wasn’t a lot of information about detoxes, it wasn’t trendy, the internet was barely a thing, so we went to the local library. We read up on it and decided to trade white for brown bread, give up rice for porridge, cut meat and booze, eat more veg. We did that for a month, ran the marathon and all went well: but we felt great and were enjoying it, so we decided to continue. We started to experiment a bit more, and when we went travelling separately, we started to explore what we ate, how it made you feel, could you reach a higher consciousness through eating more vegetables? I went vegetarian, then vegan, then to raw foods. I tried detoxing, fasting, enemas, all that sort of thing, and now I eat a plant-based diet

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
Stuffed sweet potato, Mexican style | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

What was the best thing about starting a business in Ireland, and the worst? It was great starting a business in our tiny hometown where everyone knew us and was supporting us, but that was probably also the hardest part: when we had gone off to university, we were semi-pro rugby players and male models, and then we came back as hippy vegetarians driving a van and selling vegetables. Some of our parent’s friends looked at us like we were maybe selling drugs out back. I couldn’t love a place more than Greystones though, it’s my favourite place in the world. 

The plant-based movement is taking off in Ireland. What are some supermarkets, companies and shops making it easy to adopt this lifestyle? I think it’s become fashionable now and you can see a lot of mainstream businesses embracing it because it’s good for their bottom line. We work with Supervalu, the leading supermarket in Ireland, and they’re making serious efforts to have a great range of health foods. We have 24 products available already, and we’re adding 15 more this year. We have a farm where we grow our own wheatgrass, we make our own pestos, we make our own soups and smoothies, we have our own dinner range: there are so many products making healthy eating more accessible.

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
The Happy Pear products are available in Supervalu, Ireland | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

Which chefs have had the greatest impact on you? Our ‘chef mother’ was Doreen Palmer. When we first started the cafe we didn’t have formal training as chefs: if you wanted to be a chef then, you had to do the Cordon Bleu fine-French cuisine chef training, which was all meats and animal fats. We didn’t want that because we were plant-based, so the first chef we hired was Doreen Palmer. She had thirty years experience, cooking and teaching as a vegetarian so we trained under her and for a few years while we were opening the restaurant. Another chef who worked with us is Claire McCormick: she’s really great.

What does a typical day in your life look like? Our days are so varied and different, it’s fabulous. If we’re at home, I’ll go to the beach for swimrise, and we have tea, porridge and caramel bites. Sometimes my daughter and my wife will come down too. I come home and have a family breakfast with my wife and three kids, and then I drop the kids at school if I can before I go to work – and then I’m writing cookbooks, or in board meetings, or researching new products, doing talk… it changes so much day to day. We’re very active on social media too, so if I’m taking a break I’m updating our stories and engaging with our audience. There’s a great blend of work and play.

If someone only had 24 hours in Dublin where should they eat, work out and discover? One of my favourite cafes in Dublin is The Fumbally, run by one of my friends Luca D’Alfonso. It’s a really cool vibe – not exclusively vegan, but they cater to most diets and do great coffee. In terms of working out… come and swim with us, if you’re into that. If I have the time when I’m in Dublin, I like to mooch and go to bookshops – although that doesn’t happen often!

What are the three most popular dishes at The Happy Pear? Porridge – we’ve been giving out free porridge for nearly ten years now, and that started when we had the cafe. We didn’t really serve much breakfast, we only opened at lunch, but we used to cook porridge for ourselves. It was suggested we add it to the menu, so we thought we’d try it by giving it away for free for a week. We found that people really appreciated it and that it really built up a positive community. That one week has gone on for about eight years now. We do fancy ones, pimped out with berry compotes, almond butter and fresh fruits too. Our dals and curries are very popular at lunch – we do ten different variations, which go down great. Another one is lasagna – we did a mousaka variation just yesterday, and we have a recipe in one of our cookbooks that uses celeriac sheets instead of pasta, and a cashew cream, it’s beautiful. 

How do you make sure technology supports you instead of consuming your day-to-day? My wife would probably tell you it does consume me! It’s something that we do have to keep an eye on – it’s work, but it is something that I love. I have to be vigilant and I’ve found I’m putting clearer boundaries on it. I won’t look at it before 9am or after 9pm. I think having these curfews and offline times is becoming a more common thing to do.

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
A vegan twist on a classic Victoria Sponge | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened so far in your business journey? It could have been embarrassing, but it ended up just becoming a funny story: back when we started, we wanted to try and get more people into the food revolution so we opened a juice bar to make it more appealing to young people. We bought a horse box and converted it into a mobile juice bar so that we could start doing festivals. We went to Electric Picnic, our first gig, and we learnt the three most important pillars of retail are: location, location, location. We had a crap location. It was dead quiet: Kev got bored and says he’s got an idea. He takes all his clothes off and puts back on his Happy Pear apron. Great idea – so I did the same. People would come up to order their smoothies, and we’d be facing them with our aprons – but of course, when we’d turn around to make the smoothies, it was just our bare asses. The queue grew and grew until the guards joined it and we had to put our clothes back on again – but it was a great bit of fun. 

Who are some wellness warriors in Ireland that are making the country a healthier, stronger and happier place? Everyone has had their part to play. A friend of ours, Roz Purcell is doing great things and I have a lot of respect for her. Deric Ó h’Artagáin comes out training with us, and Tony Riddle is a natural lifestyle coach, a superhero dude in England.

What are your favourite foodie Instagram accounts to follow? I like @TheBoyWhoBakes, Edd Kimber. I like different out-there stuff. @BlueHillFarm post interesting things. 

The Happy Pear, Stephen and David Flynn, Ireland, Dublin, St Patricks Day, Healthy Ireland, Ireland wellness,
David and Stephen make health and happiness their number one | Image courtesy of The Happy Pear

What are your healthy hacks for people who travel a lot? Always be prepared. We always bring a food bag – a bunch of bananas, apples, avocados, hummus and rice cakes, nuts, and then some healthier treats like salted caramel tarts with a base of nuts and dates, which we can snack on over the day. It means we always have good food with us.

Your five favourite places in Ireland that tourists should put on their bucket list? It depends on what you’re into, but I love going down to Cork for the English market, it’s a lovely place. I love mooching around Dublin without an agenda. There’s a clifftop walk between Bray and Greystones, and then pop in and eat at ours. The Cliffs of Moher are pretty amazing, and Donegal is hard to beat as an incredible place for castles and outdoor places.

David and Stephen’s 3rd cookbook is out in May. ‘Recipes for Happiness’ is packed with delicious, easy vegan and vegetarian recipes for every day – pre-order your copy here

Learn more about The Happy Pear’s food revolution at thehappypear.ie.

Follow David and Stephen’s healthy adventures on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Dervla Louli

Founder

Dervla Louli is the Founder of wellness travel portal CompareRetreats.com and a Digital Editorial Consultant based in Hong Kong. She was formerly the Digital Editor of Hong Kong Tatler, the Director of Integrated Content at Edipresse Media Asia and the Managing Editor of Sassy Media Group. She has moderated events at The British Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong University and Swire Hotels, and was the youngest panel member invited to speak at the Goldman Sachs' International Luxury Conference in 2013. She is a member of the Global Shaper Community, part of the World Economic Forum and a certified yoga teacher.

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