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Powered By People - Toast, Cork

Community 3 min read

14 Jul 2021

The arts and live event industry has been one of the hardest hit of the pandemic - but when Sebastian Thommen was faced with no work last year, instead of turning away from the business he knew so well, he leaned into it and launched something new.

Serving the people of Ballinlough and beyond, Sebastian’s food and coffee truck, Toast was a product of the Covid-19 lockdown and has developed into a focal point in the local community. With a little bit of help from his online community, his local credit union and his family and friends, Sebastian tells us how the foundation of Toast is down to determination, commitment, and the people he has around him. As life begins to get back to some sort of normal, we sat down with Sebastian to find out he’s been Powered By People.

Hailing from Kinsale in Co. Cork, Sebastian began his working life in Macroom when he was 17 to pursue a career in outdoor pursuits as a tool for travelling.  When Sebastian had finished college his son was born and he wanted to stay in Kinsale to raise him. This was when Sebastian decided to enroll in a 2 year theatre performance FETAC 5 course.

Sebastian tells us about his life as an actor in Ireland, “As an actor in Ireland I realized quite early on that I needed a job that was versatile enough that give me time to audition whenever I wanted. And finding a job that I liked, that enabled me to do that, was tricky. So I became self-employed and it excited me, the sky is the limit, what you put in is what you get out”.

Being self-employed led Sebastian to pursue a number business ideas from Movie workshops to murder mystery events for hens, stags and corporate companies. This has been the foundation of Sebastian’s work life for over ten years, while enjoying acting gigs along the way. In his own words he “was not making a fortune, but making enough”.

When the pandemic hit, it was going to be a busy year on paper, Sebastian had a lot of bookings, and so lost a lot of money on deposits. Sebastian tells us how this was the beginning of Toast. “I had to reevaluate things. That’s when a good friend of mine, David Rice, suggested opening up a toastie and coffee food truck. He is an experienced head chef and restaurant advisor and I trusted him. The idea excited me and thanks to the Credit Union and support from friends and family, here I am”. 

A year and a bit in the making, Sebastian tells us how important the community around him was in getting Toast of the ground. “The build took the longest. It was difficult because of Brexit and Covid but also because my builders at Retro Food trucks were up the walls. A lot of people were also reevaluating and buying food trucks. I found an amazing food and business coach along the way, Tracie Daly, I stumbled upon her profile on Instagram and connected with her. She had run a food truck in Ballymaloe so I knew she was the right person to steer me along the way”.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the community around us. Although I’ve lived in Ballinlough for the past few years, I’m not from here and I don’t know many people, the few people that I do know helped me from suggesting ideas to getting my spot in the Community centre. My neighbour, Honor, who works in the credit union was amazing at suggesting who to talk to and how to go about it. Since the first day of trading in May I have got to know a lot more people and the support, suggestions and positive feedback is very, very encouraging!”
Sebastian’s local credit union was on hand to help in whatever way they could. He tells us how the credit union helped him start the process of getting Toast up and running, and without them, it may not have been possible. “The credit union enabled me to put a deposit on the trailer build and also buy a van, I wouldn’t of been able to get started without them. None of my previous businesses would’ve materialized without the credit union. From website loans to I don’t know how many vehicle loans!” 

And now the important bit! Sebastian gives us an insight into the mouthwatering menu on offer at Toast… ”The menu changes slightly month to month as we grow and as the seasons change. At the moment we have a Tom Durcan sliced beef toastie with Toons Bridge smoked scamorza (a local aged mozzarella), and sauerkraut. We have a Bradys ham, Smoked Carrigaline Cheese and Ballymaloe Relish toastie. We also have an Ardsallagh Feta toastie with Tom & Ollies sundried tomato relish. We have a smokey Jack Fruit Vegan Toastie with marinated rainbow chard. All served on Arbutus sourdough with our own aioli dip and O’Donnels crisps on the side. Our delicious coffee is from Stone Valley Roasters in Clonakilty, they have also been a great support, they went further than most when it came to advice and lessons on how brew the perfect brew”.

With a menu like that, and drive & commitment Sebastian has the future is most certainly bright and the possibilities are endless for Ballinlough’s food truck, “On top of serving in Ballinlough Community Centre we are also getting bookings for small weddings. Its going to fun serving toastie canapes, prosseco and espresso martinis from our vintage Rice Horse Box. And because I’m only trading three days a week I get to spend time with my family and also focus on watercolour painting and urban sketching which has been re kindled over the past few years. I’ve integrated the two and put my art onto my coffee cups, it’s a lovely feeling knowing that I’ve sold an online print because someone bought a coffee and liked my art. Now I’m wondering how to integrate the acting, maybe I’ll make a movie co-staring my foodtruck!”

Finally, we asked Sebastian for his advice for anyone looking to start off on a new adventure, “I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Even strangers on Instagram and Facebook doing something similar have been so helpful to me, and the worst that can happen is they ignore you, which only happens the odd time! Other than that I would say follow your dreams, and I say that in plural, life is short”.
Sebastian’s story has been told as part of our #PoweredByPeople series – a campaign which celebrates tales of community support – and highlights exactly what the credit union stands for: people helping people. Sebastian is a member of Ballinlough Credit Union in Co. Cork. If you’d like to get involved and tell your story, we’d be more than happy to hear it. Simply get in touch by contacting Jane at jdaly@creditunion.ie.