When Derrick Cooling ignored the advice of the Brennan brothers it came as no surprise to his mother. Still, business is good at The Blue Door.
WEXFORD HAS always prided itself on being one of the favoured tourist destinations in Ireland. Every year, people from all over Ireland, and indeed the world, flock to the 'sunny south east' to take in all of the beautiful scenery, culture and activities that Wexford has to offer. At the start of April RTE repeated the show 'At Your Service' which saw local B&B proprietor Derrick Cooling enlist the help of successful hoteliers and owners of the five-star Park Hotel in Kenmare, John and Francis Brennan, to jump start his business, 'The Blue Door' B&B in Lower George Street in Wexford town.
Derrick, originally from Bray, trained at the prestigious Cathal Brugha College in Dublin and has worked for a number of years as a successful chef both at home and abroad. Seven years ago, he decided to turn his hand to the B&B trade. He and his brother both decided that Wexford was the perfect location for their new venture. 'I love Wexford.' Derrick said 'A couple of relations of mine had moved here originally and I had been up and down visiting them. Then I sold up in Bray and started looking around Wexford for a place suitable for a B&B.'
Derrick's venture got off to a disappointing start, but now he believes it was a blessing in disguise. 'I had a deposit on another place in Wexford,' Derrick said, 'and at the last minute it fell through. I had come down with the deposit cheque and everything and it all fell apart within 24 hours. It was a blessing in the end though because while I was down here, I was just walking along the quay, feeling totally deflated, and I just happened to see this place (18 Lower George St.) in an auctioneer's window for sale. So I ended up staying overnight, and coming to see this place the following day and I knew straight away that it was exactly what I wanted.'
Derrick's brother has since left the business and started a new life in Australia, and when Derrick was diagnosed with arthritis, he decided he would have to cut back on his work as a chef and focus more on the B&B.
While Derrick clearly has a great love for the Wexford area, he found it hard to be enthusiastic about the B&B, preferring instead to keep focusing on his work as a chef in Bray rather than put time into his own business. It was for this reason that he decided to seek the help of John and Francis Brennan on RTE'S 'At Your Service'. 'I had seen the programme on television and I thought it was very good.' Derrick said, 'So I decided to go for it and apply. Francis Brennan has a very big reputation and is very well known around the country so obviously that was a big factor.
It's now been two years since filming for 'At Your Service' took place at 'The Blue Door' and following a second airing on RTE, we decided to catch up with Derrick to see how the experience impacted him and his business. 'Business has been good,' Derrick told us, 'Off season it can be quiet enough, but overall it's been very good. Because of where we are situated in the centre of town, the weekends are always busy.' Like many Wexford businesses, 'The Blue Door' benefits greatly from the crowds brought to town for the duration of the Wexford Festival Opera. 'We're booked out year in year out for the festival. Everybody who stayed here for it last year would've rebooked for next year before leaving so generally we see the same people each year for it.'
Two years on from the filming of the show, Brendan has decided to cut back on his work as a chef in Bray and now only works at it parttime, choosing instead to focus on his business, something which Francis and John encouraged him to do throughout the show. Whilst Derrick did take on board Francis and John's ideas, he often decided to take a different route and run with his own ideas.
'My mother watched the show and said 'you have never done a thing you were told since the day you were born!,' so I suppose she wasn't surprised that I didn't really do what they said. I think Francis and John came to Wexford and saw this huge artistic and cultural tradition and they wanted to fit that in here. It was never really going to work because I don't have that kind of space.'
One of the ideas that Francis and John came up with, was that Derrick should convert a part of the ground floor of the B&B into a retail unit, something which Derrick was originally excited about. The concept which Derrick settled upon was the idea of a 'Wexford Shop', stocking all locally produced products from around the county. However, despite his initial enthusiasm, things didn't really work out. 'I looked into planning permission and that kind of thing, but it was never really going to be a runner. It was a great idea, but I think here it would have been too small. Then as well as that, once I contacted the fire officer, it kind of became clear that you can't really do both. It had to be either a B&B or a retail unit. It's something that I might come back to eventually in a different location maybe, but I've no plans to revisit the idea at the moment.'
Looking back on the programme, Derrick feels that perhaps the project was a bit too small for the Brennans and that perhaps RTE were not using them to their full potential. 'Francis Brennan is actually brilliant. He's a great ambassador for tourism in Ireland, but the way I see it I think that the programme is a bit of a lost opportunity for RTE. 'The Blue Door' was no real challenge for him. I think it would maybe have been better if he did something around the town, like a 'Wish You Were Here' type programme. It would be fantastic for tourism within the town. This project was too small for him really.'
However with some beautiful shots of Wexford town, from the quayfront to the hustle and bustle of the Main Street, the show did manage to capture the appeal of Wexford town for potential visitors. 'Wexford was the star of the show really.' Derrick said, 'People are never going to come to Wexford for 'The Blue Door', but they will come to The Blue Door because of Wexford and what it has to offer.'
For those of you who may have missed it, the show involving Derrick and 'The Blue Door' is now available to watch online via the RTE Player.