Helen Porter, Co-owner of Ann’s Pantry in Larne
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Partner and owner of Ann’s Pantry, running the business in collaboration with my brother, John Agnew.
BRIEFLY OUTLINE YOUR EMPLOYMENT HISTORY TO DATE
I moved to London in the 1980s and worked for Harrods. I started out as a retail assistant and was promoted to an executive management trainee, working my way up to become a departmental controller. In 1990, I took up the position of manager at Ann’s Pantry, joining the family business which had expanded to consist of four shops, including chains in Carrickfergus and Belfast. Recognising changing consumer trends, I downscaled the business to our one shop on Larne Main Street, just before the recession hit.
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
My role in Ann’s Pantry is front-of-house management and promotion of the bakery and coffee shop. I take care of all aspects of the day-to-day running of the business, including everything from staff, stock and customer service to finance.
WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
The best part of my job is interacting and working with our brilliant staff who are a great team. I also love chatting with our regular customers and welcoming visitors from all over into our shop. I don’t think I have a particular worst aspect; nothing really phases me. I have a daily routine and embrace all jobs, taking everything as it comes. However, I would say that my patience is tried when dealing with office-based administrative work.
BRIEFLY OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
My working day begins at 8am, when I start to set up the bakery and coffee shop for the day ahead. When the kitchen staff arrive, we all muck in cooking frys and filled sodas, as well as making soups and stews which are prepared fresh daily. My day passes in flurries of serving and talking to customers and leading the busy breakfast and lunch service both in the kitchen and on the shop floor. Then in the afternoons we start to clean and tidy up. This is also the time I dedicate to dealing with wholesale orders and stock control.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?
Being part of an award-winning team has been an honour. We have won 39 Great Taste awards and seven Tiptree awards, the success of which has made my whole family so proud. The highlight for the business was being voted Northern Ireland’s Best Bakery by the BBC Good Food Show.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED WITH THE LOCAL RETAIL INDUSTRY?
Seeing the regular customers returning year after year. The different generations of these families are like great old friends and we share the good times and the sad times. We see some customers daily, weekly or monthly and others visit each year when they return home for the holidays. It’s great catching up and building a rapport with my customers and I’ve made some lifetime friendships.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
I love to walk along Larne’s beautiful coastal paths. I try to get out three or four times each week, embracing all kinds of Northern Irish weather! The best days are the wet, windy ones when the salty sea breeze blows away any stress. I also took up yoga around two years ago and I wish I had started sooner. Aside from the physical health benefits, I love the mindfulness and meditation it teaches.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT NOT MANY PEOPLE MAY KNOW
My favourite movies of all time are Sweet Charity by Cy Coleman and Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann. I love all of Luhrmann’s work, the energy of the soundtrack and the dancing… Each musical has an eclectic quirkiness, encompassing sadness, humour and feel good all at the same time. I really feel that they capture the sweet reality of life.