By Peter McDermott
Laura Somers had seven years of restaurant experience before she decided she wanted a career in the business.
"I love it. There’s nothing better than working at something that you like, and knowing you’re good at it." said Somers, a chef at Shane’s Bakery in Woodside. "There’s never a day I wake up and say ‘I can’t go in today.’ "
And she prefers the early shift in her 50-hour work week, even though that means the alarm clock ringing at 5 a.m. "You get more done in the mornings," she said.
The responsibility and independence she was given at Shane’s Bakery brought her back to a course she’d abandoned in Ireland. "It’s a lovely feeling when people have confidence in you," she said.
At 18, she began working in a restaurant owned by her boyfriend’s family back in Dublin. "I couldn’t fry two eggs when I started," she said
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In her 20s, Somers found restaurant work in Cyprus with five friends for a year. When she returned to Ireland she thought about a change of jobs. She enrolled in a year-long course in international travel management. "Even though I got straight A’s, I knew it wasn’t for me," she said.
A Dalkey, Co. Dublin, native, Somers came to New York in August 1998 for a vacation at the insistence of her friend Debbie Patton, who was at the end of a three-month stay in the city. When they got home to Dublin, the two women arranged to come back the following month. Two years later, they’re still working side by side in Shane’s Bakery, which reopened recently after a devastating fire earlier this year.
"I loved the city. The whole size of the place, the different cultures. It still amazes me," the 28-year-old Somers said.
Woodside is ground zero in multicultural New York; the 7 train, the "international express," thunders overhead. But Shane’s Bakery, just a few feet from the 61st Station escalator, is an Irish island in the roaring metropolis.
The cuisine is unmistakably Irish: on a recent day two of the three specials were Irish beef stew and bacon and cabbage. In the mornings, two closely related choices dominate the menu. "The Ulster fry is the same as the Irish breakfast but with soda farl and potato bread added," Somers said.
The bakery’s customers range from construction and office workers early in the morning to women with small children later in the day. Not all of the regulars are Irish-born, though. On a recent morning, Chris, an Irish American, drank a quick cup of coffee, before heading to the train. "It’s the best thing there is in Woodside," he said. "The staff are very warm."
"We were here last night and now we’re here again before work," said Joanne Behan, a native of County Monaghan. "It’s food like your mother makes it at home."
"It’s very cozy," added her friend Sonia Wade, a native of County Wexford.
"It’s cute," said Uni Song, a Rochester native of Korean heritage, who comes into the bakery most mornings. "Whichever of us is up first comes in to order," said her roommate Avril Fitzpatrick, who’s from Kingscourt, Co. Cavan.
The women were seated near the back of the long, narrow store, surrounded by scores of paintings by Orwin Moynagh, the late brother of proprietor Shane Moynagh. "They add character," Song said.
As it approached 8:30 most of the activity was at the front. "A lot of breakfasts are ‘to go’ at this time," Moynagh said.
Evening time is unpredictable. "I say to the girls, ‘It’s maybe quiet now, but the trains keep coming and the next one could bring 10 or 20 customers," he said.
"To be a chef you have to able to deal with stress," Somers said. "And be prepared to be in a bad mood for part of the day," she added laughing.
"Laura is an excellent worker and very loyal," Moynagh said. "We had a couple of crises here and she really came to the front for us. She’s a good person."
She’s close to a number of staff members. "We’re friends in and out of work," she said.
"But Dublin is my base," said Somers, whose parents and brother live in Dalkey.
She plans to open a business in Ireland that would offer catering and restaurant services to bars.
"That’s not today or tomorrow, though," she said.