Ten minutes with Donna O’Leary, general manager of Bewley’s

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What attracted you to your current position?

Bewley’s Café is such a prestigious venue – it is part of the fabric of Dublin city. So to manage such a space was certainly a draw. Also, I like the challenge. The building itself is set over seven floors; it is a cafe, a retail space, a theatre, a bakery and a leader in the coffee industry. In fact, Bewley’s was the first company to bring fair trade coffee to Ireland and even the first to bring latte art here.

There is a lot of love for Bewley’s out there, but it can tend to be with older audiences. I want to ensure we continue to evolve it so that it also becomes a go-to destination for millennials and even Gen Z consumers.


What is the best part of your job?

People are an important part of my job and that’s what motivates me and spurs me on. Working with a team and being able to see them grow and flourish in the industry gives me a real sense of pride. To be a part of someone’s career and help them achieve their goals and potential is a huge honour and responsibility, one I never take for granted.

Bewley’s Café is such a prestigious venue – it is part of the fabric of Dublin city
One of Bewley’s values is “we do what we say we will do”. I think this is so vital in the hospitality industry. Ambition, dedication, and hard work should be rewarded and progression should be made available no matter what stage someone is at in their career.


What is the best piece of career advice you have received?

The best piece of advice I would draw upon is: “to look for where you need help and then look for who can help you”. Teamwork is vital in this line of work and understanding your team’s skillset and expertise is so important. Just because the bakery is part of Bewley’s doesn’t make me a baker – I need my executive baker, Alex Marcucci, to support me there, which he continually does and amazes me with his work.

I suppose it is knowing that you can’t always do it all and that asking for help isn’t a weakness, it’s how you become stronger as a team. Asking for help opens a conversation about how we can do things better, working smarter not harder, which is something I fully believe in.


Is there a career moment you are proud of?

In September 2021 Bewley’s Cafe began the process of certification to become recognised as a “Great Place to Work”. This certification was based on the feedback from the team and I asked them to think about how the business was led, how they were involved and listened to, as well as the faith and understanding they had in our direction and values. The feedback was incredible, with 91 per cent of my team stating that Bewley’s Café was a Great Place to work.

At the point of certification, I had been with the business for just nine months and growing the team at a rapid pace from 8 to 80. So knowing that they felt heard and appreciated was something very special.

The icing on the cake came in March, when we were announced as one of the top workplaces in Ireland. I hadn’t dreamed of such an accolade in my first year with Bewley’s, but it is so wonderful to know that we are building a high-performance culture and a place where the team feels supported and appreciated.


What are the key capabilities and skills needed to do what you do?

Empathy and resilience! Hospitality management is difficult at times but so rewarding. You have to learn to pick yourself back up and keep going after a difficult, day, month or quarter because it’s your attitude as a leader that can turn the tide. You have to be approachable, fair and earn the trust of your team.

Lastly, I’d say you have to have a sense of fun! Bewley’s is about creating experiences. There is a time to be serious but you have to enjoy the experience and have fun with what you do.

Bewleys, 10 mins with
Donna O’Leary with some of the team at Bewley’s (from left): Graham Davis, Felix Campbell, Cól Campbell, Valentino Benedetti, Marta Olejko, Laura Matthews, Keith Russell and Tara Kelly-Mór.


Where do you see your business in five years?

I would just say that in five years’ time Bewley’s will be a hub of activity for all age groups – younger consumers sampling our new coffee innovations and a variation of our iconic sticky bun. Maybe listening to a live podcast in our cafe theatre and afterward enjoying an espresso martini in our James Joyce room. Downstairs the theatre of life will be playing out in our cafe, where it will be buzzing with its multigenerational army of customers.

There will be something for everyone at Bewley’s as we continue to be an integral part of the fabric of Irish society, training the baristas of tomorrow while driving coffee culture in Ireland.


Is there a book or resource that you would recommend for anyone starting in their career?

I would recommend to anyone thinking of a career in management to read Stephen R Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book discusses how you can shape your actions through fairness, integrity and honesty, the foundations of any leadership role. It has helped me structure how I work more efficiently so that I can achieve a better work/life balance to be a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend-as well as the general manager of Bewley’s!”

For more information about Bewley’s, see www.bewleys.com/ie.



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