A chance pitstop in Carrick on Shannon piqued Tony Conway’s interest in coffee and paved the way for his eclectic café Hearts Desire. Up to that point he hadn’t really ‘got’ the coffee scene and certainly wouldn’t have considered the making of an espresso as art. Today, his tongue-in-cheek mission is to rid the world of mediocre coffee.
The teenage Tony would never have foreseen a career in coffee. On leaving school he worked on building sites where Tony’s natural creative streak quickly rose to the fore. He began working on restorations with master craftsmen, learning on the job about techniques in plastering and other crafts. He worked on Lissadell while the Gore-Booths were still in residence, and other big houses. Chemicals couldn’t be used in these projects and restoration was painstakingly done by hand. Tony loved it.
A partnership in interior design and decorating arose by chance through a housemate who was a qualified interior designer. They worked together for some years taking on substantial night club and pub restorations. Each had its own individual requirements – Tony recalls reproducing illustrations off original wallpaper in Sligo pub ‘Shoot the Crows’ and doing plaster busts and casts.
Unsurprisingly he bought an old cottage to restore himself and wryly recalls one benefit of the building boom – quality materials tossed into skips outside houses and there for the taking. Perhaps fortuitously, his now wife Rachel was from Donnybrook in Dublin where there was definitely a better class of skip!
Rachel is a talented ceramic artist who specialises in the demanding discipline of raku. She moved to Sligo and together the two built up Rachel Quinn Ceramics over a decade or so, living and working in the renovated cottage. Although a townie by birth, Tony has always loved nature and the countryside, enjoying Celtic mythology and hill walking accompanied by his dogs.
The idea of opening a craft/coffee shop had always been in the back of Tony’s mind and once he drank that momentous coffee in The Café Lounge in Carrick, the die was cast. He was astounded by the taste of the coffee and was determined to ensure his venture served equally good fare. He did a one day barista course and to improve his skills further was told to get 100 hours experience on a coffee machine. Undaunted he called into The Café Lounge, offering his time in exchange for the experience, only to discover they were less than impressed at what he had learned so far. He began again, and for three months explored the world of making excellent coffee.
Back in Sligo, Tony found a premises in Stephen Street car park; too small for both craft and coffee, it became a café. In fact it’s a community too, a busy spot, full of conversation and wit with Tony at the heart of it. Busy at his coffee machine he makes what he claims is the best coffee in Sligo and possibly the country. It’s no wonder the beans he uses are called ‘The Art of Coffee’.