President of Donegal Women in Business looks forward


LIKE many restaurant owners, Jo Daly started her career in the kitchen. While there, she discovered her love for leadership, training and development.
In 2001, she took over the Harbour restaurant in Donegal Town with her business partner Debbie O’Reilly before going on to buy their own premises, Quay West, in 2016.
It’s been a busy few years for the Meath woman who first came to Donegal in 1987 to attend the Tourism College in Killybegs.
Last year, she was elected President of the Donegal Women in Business network – a three year term – while she also established a non profit organisation called ChefAid Donegal Town which operated during the first Covid-19 lockdown.
“Last year was so flat and we all missed out on so much around Christmas but there will be bells and whistles on the festive celebrations this year,” she said.
It’s Tuesday morning and Jo hosted the monthly Donegal Women in Business Network’s committee meeting, via Zoom, the previous evening.
The group runs seminars and workshops throughout the year based on the identified needs of the members.
It’s not all work though, the Network also runs a number of social events, which provide a welcome respite from daily business life and are a great way to have some fun while getting to know other members.
Next week, the group will host a ‘Back to Basics’ social media course with support from the Donegal ETB for its members.
“The Women In Business Network encourages and supports women who are starting business or are already up and running and to provide easy access to a supportive network to maximise their success and growth potential,” she explained.
“I’ve met so many amazing resilient women who wear so many hats at home – as a wife, mother, nurse etc – and yet still find the time to manage their business. I’m in awe of them all and to think that there’s a network in Donegal purely to support women in business is great. It started twenty years ago with 40 members. Today we have more than 200 and it’s growing steadily all the time,” she said.
“We’re not great at putting ourselves forward, which is probably an Irish thing, but the Donegal Women in Business Network is there to help. Our average age is probably forty so there’s 8,000 odd years of experience within the group. There’s so many different skill-sets and opportunities to make new connections to help support each other in their different businesses,” she added.
Jo Daly trained as a chef in Killybegs. There she met her best friend, Debbie O’Reilly, and after working in various jobs the pair were reunited in the Harbour restaurant, Donegal Town, in 2001.
“We traded through the recession and in 2015 we bought PJ McGowan’s lovely little house four or five doors up and opened it as Quay West in 2016.
“It was hard to leave behind a business that we had helped to build up over the previous fifteen years but we got a lucky break. We were in the right place at the right time and it’s the best thing that we ever did,” she said.
With a strong focus on providing local, sustainable good quality food as part of a casual dining experience in a friendly atmosphere business is good.
“We enjoyed a very good summer. Donegal was awash with visitors and there was a real buzz about the place,” she added.
However, the path has not always been that smooth.
“They (Government) got so many things wrong in the hospitality industry during Covid-19. Last Christmas the writing was on the wall and a lot of us didn’t want to reopen as we knew it would be short-lived as so it proved.
“I can’t really remember too much about last Christmas. That second lockdown was the hardest. We were closed for six months and re-opened to outdoor dining on July 8. It was a tough time for the industry,” she recalled.
March 13, 2020, is another date which is etched into Jo Daly’s mind.
“That’s the date we told the team that we were closing. We locked the place up on the Sunday and the following day I started planning for ChefAid Donegal and we were open by the Friday,” she said.
ChefAid Donegal was an outreach programme that provided free hot meals to up to 200 elderly and compromised people in the local community each day.
“That kept me busy during the fifteen weeks of the first lockdown. It was a weird time. There were eight ChefAid kitchens operating across Donegal at one time,” she recalled.
Funded by donations, they had a GoFundMe page which was very well supported as people living abroad knew that their parents, neighbours or elderly friends were safe and being fed.
She is married to Michael Roarty, who works as a children’s entertainer, and the couple have three children.
“It’s been a difficult time for everyone in hospitality but we’re a resilient bunch. As I said earlier, I can’t wait to start decorating the place ahead of Christmas as I think we’re all ready to let the hair down,” she laughed.

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