It was the end of a busy Sunday at Mini Maegden when Lighthouse arrived to chat with owners Emma and Jo. The last few customers were waiting patiently for an afternoon cheese toastie or coffee, milling around the area and looking out to sea. It was a peaceful scene, seemingly far removed from the constant bustle of the Giant’s Causeway just up the road.
Mini Maegden is a grilled cheese and coffee van situated in Jo’s parents’ field, just off the Causeway Road. Instead of stuffy inside eating, you can rest at a simple picnic bench in the great outdoors and enjoy your food with an unspoiled view of the ocean. Serving up an exclusive menu of fresh grilled cheeses, luxurious hot chocolates, Bailies coffee, and incredible ice cream sandwiches, Mini Maegden is a refuge for visitors and locals of the North Coast during the months of Spring and Summer.
Amidst lots of laughter, over an Americano, we chatted to Emma and Jo beside their little caravan about their unusual business venture, all things old English, and what they love most about working at the North Coast.
How long have you been open for?
Emma: Since October . We were doing weekends at the start. Then we went to six days a week, and now we’re open from March until the end of September.
Jo: Last Winter we were serving people in hailstorms, in snow… And people were still coming! We would put the hatch down and people would still queue for sandwiches. We were like ‘we cannot serve you like this’. I had a wet griddle! They were going to get a soggy sandwich!
E: I’m amazed at how rain does not put people off here.They’ll stick their coat on. You just kind of have to otherwise you wouldn’t leave the house.
J: We moved back from the south of England - we were just outside London in Essex - and I hadn’t owned a coat, like a proper Winter coat, for about ten years. Moving back here I was like ‘oh! I can now actually purchase a good woollen, thick coat’.
Why did you move back? Did you both live and work in England?
E: Yeah, both of us were teachers. We shared a house. We were sort of getting bored at the same time and wanted to come back to Northern Ireland. We thought, ‘let’s sell the house, make a little bit of money on it, then we can do something else’.
Are you both from the North Coast originally?
J: I’m from Portstewart originally.
E: And I’m literally from here. This is my parents’ field so I couldn’t be any more from here!
J: I think you probably get a little spoilt when you grow up here and you don’t necessarily appreciate everything it offers. I do still miss the city, but I do like being by the sea.
E: I think one day I saw two people walking down this road looking a bit cold, and lost, and wet, and I thought ‘where do they go, actually, if they don’t want to sit in somewhere, and you just want something quick as you’re walking past?’
J: I think it’s probably more common in England to always have a coffee van if you’re out for a walk. There’ll be a coffee van along the route somewhere or on a stop along the way. They’re pretty common, so I thought this would probably appeal to people that like being outside walking.
At this point we were interrupted by a slightly intoxicated gentleman with a beer in hand, refusing to leave the premises and beginning to cause a scene. When he did eventually vacate, we had good giggle together.
Does that happen often?
J: No, that’s never happened before! It does help sometimes being used to shouting at teenage boys!
Where did you pick the caravan up?
E: We got this up in Edinburgh. We were just looking for something that wasn’t too big, and was vintagey looking, and had a bit of character. It was just on Gum Tree, and we went over to Edinburgh and picked it up.
J: This was after we had driven practically every back road of Northern Ireland, looking, literally looking. I went into people’s back gardens and anyone who had a caravan we were stalking. Family members were phoning and were like ‘I’ve been near Armoy and there’s a caravan.’
E: It turns out it’s quite hard to find caravans, really. There weren’t as many around as I thought there were. This one was going pretty cheap. It’s from 1952 I think, so it’s 60/70 years old - I can’t do maths - but it looked like a normal little caravan that had beds in it, and a bathroom and all sorts of things.
E: It was actually finished in Portrush. We thought it would take two months, and it took nine. We wanted to be open last Summer , but there was just no way.
Where did you get your name from?
J: I think I came up with it, personally.
E: Yes well, we’re looking at the back of the Riverside Chaucer, and it’s basically the old English spelling of ‘maiden’, meaning woman, but we were looking up the word ‘make’…
J: It wasn’t, it was Beowulf!
E: Well, whatever it was!
J: I was looking at the back of a translation of an annotated Beowulf and then the verb ‘meagd’ was in it, meaning ‘to make, to bring into being’. That actually only makes one appearance, so it’s probably a spelling error - or not a spelling error, it’s probably ‘mead’ and not ‘meagd’. So I found that and did some boring investigations and in ‘The Wanderer’ [another Old English poem] I found maegden used as ‘woman’, and it also means ‘strength and boldness’, but in Danish it’s woman, so when all of that fit together we thought we’d go with it.
And this [the caravan] is the mini?
E: This is the mini because there will be something bigger!
J: It’s just a miniature version of what we want, but now people have started referring to the caravan as Mini and we’re like ‘okay, alright’.
E: And both of our mums are called Mae, by utter coincidence, so there’s a bit of that as well. We get all sorts of pronunciations. We’ve broken every rule of business, which is have a name that people can pronounce.
J: It’s really, really handy though, because it means we can tell if someone’s been here before.
E: It’s like a code word!
And why grilled cheese?
E: We didn’t want to be chips, or burgers, or anything, and we’re too small to have gas in here, so it had to be something that could use electric and a griddle.
J: We also just thought, it’s simple - all you really need is bread and cheese for the main recipe - and you can pimp them all up in whatever way you want. We change our menu all the time - every few days. And I think It’s good comfort food, so that works. Hangover food…
E: What can you walk off with? You don’t really need cutlery, so that’s good. Children like it, so whole families can eat together. And you can show off the local ingredients. All of our cheeses are Irish… and you can buy local, because of the type of food that it is.
J: It’s all small batch, so it’s all proper farm house cheeses, good high quality. People appreciate that it’s local. Our bread is Zac’s Bakehouse and he makes us standard size loaves as best he can for us.
E: We’re fully self sufficient in here!
Has this just come from a love of cooking, since you were both English teachers previously?
E: No, not me, I just love eating. I really genuinely didn’t cook at all, until last year! It was a proper baptism with fire. Now I can make really fancy meringues and caramels and all sorts of stuff! I just taught myself from scratch, I can’t quite believe it! I really enjoy it.
J: It is really funny because I don’t think any of our friends can get their heads around the idea of you cooking - that are you chief jam maker, chief pickler, all sweet things… I don’t think your mum and dad can get their heads round it!
I’m sure you meet some interesting people.
E: Yeah, we do! Everyday you just don’t know who’s going to appear.
J: We had a guy earlier who was called Julius Caesar…
E: From Rome!
J: …who was calling everyone’s sandwiches out.
E: He was really loving it! We had a queue right back there and he was just going along greeting people. I think when you’re called Julius Caesar you have to. I think people quite like that atmosphere.
J: We do get lovely tourists.
E: I think when you’re here everyone’s in a good mood!
What’s your favourite part about what you do?
E: I think it’s the meeting people; it’s so varied. I think as a teacher you’re used to interacting with so many people a day, and I think I’d miss that. I would say the customers are the best bit. We also listen to a lot of radio 4.
J: I really like being in here first thing in the morning when you’re preparing, you get a few hours prep with whatever’s on radio 4.
E: We’re semi outdoors as well, I like that aspect. All the fresh air.
J: It does wonders! I sleep much better.
Emma and Jo have a visibly strong friendship that oozes warmth and laughter from their caravan workspace straight down to their waiting customers. We continued to chat about starting businesses in Northern Ireland, a love of English literature, and their plans for the coming Winter.
Were there ice cream sandwiches left to be eaten we could have stayed for much longer!
Fortunately for you, Mini Meagden have just set up shop again for the Summer season. Follow their goings on over on instagram at @minimaegden.Back to all Articles