Dining Guide: A day in the life at The BlarneyWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
While The Blarney Irish Pub in Downtown Toledo may be known for its late-night shenanigans and rollicking good times, employees work all day to keep the restaurant humming.
Ed Beczynski opened The Blarney three years ago, adding it to his repertoire of businesses, which include Focaccia’s Deli, Mo Joe’s and recently The Blarney Bullpen. He traveled to Ireland and conducted research in 35 different pubs. After his trip, Beczynski came up with a resounding conclusion.
“Anyone can sell a Guinness,” Beczynski said. “The service was unbelievable in Ireland, and that’s the most difficult thing to copy: Hospitality. People want to feel at home.”
Beczynski wakes up at 5 a.m. every day so he can be at Focaccia’s at 6 a.m., which does a steady breakfast and lunch business. After that, he heads to The Blarney and sometimes ends up staying late into the night.
Beczynski said people usually don’t think about all the hours that go into owning a business day after day; very few people get that experience.
Activity at The Blarney begins around 8 a.m. Instead of cleaning after the bar closes and making the staff stay into the wee hours of the morning, one employee does the dirty work in the morning. Depending on how messy things got the night before, it could take him anywhere from one to three hours. On Aug. 24, things were relatively easy: everything was done by 9:30 a.m.
Around that time, kitchen manager Danny Rall and cook Dillon Mitchell are in the kitchen.
They begin slicing tomatoes and stocking fresh ingredients for the multitude of salads and sandwiches on The Blarney’s menu. Things are quiet in the small kitchen, which consists of a stove, fryer and freezer on one wall. Two steps backward on the other wall is a salad bar and prep table, with the ice machine sandwiched into the corner.
A new cook, Mario Arroyo, shows up for his first day. Handed an apron and a pair of gloves, Arroyo is thrown right in. He acquaints himself with the location of all the ingredients and scans the menu. Mitchell shows him the ropes, restocking the 15-odd salad dressings.
Bags of fries are loaded into the freezer, along with mozzarella sticks. Rall slices up six large onions and sautés them in oil on the grill, the sizzling adding a friendly noise to the kitchen.
“This is a really good job,” Mitchell said to Arroyo as they make small talk during the salad prep. “It gets a little like a factory sometimes.”
The morning dishwasher, Jake Morse, drifts into the kitchen to take care of whatever dishes are left from the previous night’s late-night diners.
Handfuls of tortilla chips go into the fryer and emerge a crispy golden brown. Potato chips follow. Bacon is fried, burgers are shaped. A pan of mushrooms waits to be cooked.
Meanwhile, Manager AJ Smith preps the liquor order at the bar. Smith said it goes through Irish whiskeys the most, especially Jameson and Bushmills, as well as Grey Goose for martinis. Naturally, Guinness is the bestselling beer.
“We go through three kegs a week,” Smith said. “That’s 200 beers a keg.”
Smith, who has worked at The Blarney since its opening, said there’s a solid lunch rush from noon to 1 p.m. and that “Game days are a pretty solid rush, especially since Tuesdays are usually not busy.
“Late nights are when crazy things happen,” Smith said.
Fifteen minutes before The Blarney opens, servers Dennis Kennedy and Julie Birmingham arrive, as well as bartender Jamie Keblesh. Keblesh stocks ice at the bar as Kennedy and Birmingham roll silverware. Another cook, Chris Rogers appears in the kitchen.
A man walks in and seats himself at the end of the bar, near the kitchen.
Everyone says hi to the man, who turns out to be Jerry Crandell from the produce shop next door where The Blarney gets its fresh goods.
Crandell works the night shift and comes in for a drink after he gets off work, usually around 10:30 a.m. Crandell said he likes the different groups and crowds that come to The Blarney and often bounces back and forth between The Blarney and Pizza Papalis across the street.
“I enjoy talking to the employees — they know me. I really enjoy the people,” Crandell said.
“Take a seat anywhere you like,” Keblesh calls to the first customers of the day, greeting them with a smile and a pair of menus.
Beczynski said that’s the most important thing he instills in his staff and works hard to maintain: a friendly, familiar atmosphere where everyone knows and talks to each other.
By noon, the noise has slowly accumulated to a mild chatter. The lunch traffic keeps the kitchen busy, but no one is stressed. The kitchen can handle this; it’s business as usual.
“This is probably one of the slowest few days we’ve had in a long time,” Smith said.
When a customer asks what Smith would recommend, Smith responds, “What’s your flavor?”
He suggests the chicken parmesan, but grilled instead of fried. The Blarney’s entrees vary and are usually between $8 to $9 in price. Not all are items specifically Irish; some are crowd-pleasing bar foods. Every day, The Blarney features a special soup.
Back in the kitchen, Rall takes the tickets as they stream out of the printer and hangs them on the counter in front of him, examining the names of the diners. Rall said sometimes there are names of customers and other times simply physical descriptions so servers know exactly who to give the food to. Rall said Mayor Mike Bell visits about once a month and always gets the same thing: cheddar sliders with bacon.
When it’s busy, Rogers said there’s a lot of yelling.
“Sundays and weekends, when it gets crazy, there’s yelling,” Rogers said. “‘Where’s my soup? Where’s my fries?’ But it’s really like family, when it’s slow everyone gets along.”
Rall makes an order of black and bleu chips — potato chips with bleu cheese melted on top. Burgers sizzle in the background, the grease catching fire as they’re flipped and sending up orange flashes.
“It’s a pretty small kitchen. Friday nights there’s four to five cooks back in the kitchen, but everything’s within reach,” Rogers said. “It’s like going over to a friend’s house and helping them cook. Even on the weekends, with everyone out front, it’s still like a big party.”
On this day, The Blarney is eerily quiet by 1:45 p.m., when the lunch rush is finished. The two servers have already left and Arroyo and Rall get ready to go home.
Arroyo said his impression of his first day was good: “I like it already. It’s a good atmosphere.”
Keblesh, Rogers and Smith are left to cover the dead time until the dinner rush starts again. Rogers makes salsa for the evening’s dishes, throwing tomatoes and onions into a food processor. Manning the kitchen alone, he makes the orders as they slowly flow in. Burgers and sandwiches get a pickle spear and chips or fries. Occasionally, a traditional shepherd’s pie comes through the kitchen or large lunch salad.
Smith chats with customers and Keblesh controls the dining room and bar until the next shift of employees arrives at 4:45 p.m. She hovers, greeting customers with a smile and a coaster when they sit down at the bar.
‘It’s about to get crazy’
At around 3:30 p.m., people slowly begin showing up to prepare for the for the 6:30 p.m. Mud Hens game. Four people are seated at the end of the bar, chatting in couples: a prelude to the ruckus of busy times.
Beczynski comes in and has a brief meeting on the patio.
“It’s about to get crazy,” Rogers said, getting his kitchen ready for the dinner rush and night staff.
Thomas Woronec, a night cook, comes in at 4:15 p.m. Rogers and Woronec start scooping side cups of sauce for the evening rush. The cooks are always doing something, using their downtime to get whatever they can ready for the busy times.
The kitchen stops serving food usually around 10 p.m. during the week, but stays open until 11 p.m. or midnight Friday through Sunday, depending on the crowd.
The noise of customers grows as fans stream in before the Mud Hens game. Keblesh and Smith are still alone in the front of the house. Keblesh works it like a pro, handing out menus, doling out drinks and taking orders. She takes a second to glance at the clock — customers come in by the minute. Can she make it to 4:45 p.m.?
Another dishwasher and cook come in at 5 p.m., and the three servers for the evening show up at once. Keblesh is relieved and breathes a quick sigh. They clock in, don their aprons and head out to take orders.
By 6 p.m., the patio outside is full. The dinner rush is under way and people are devouring fries, burgers and beer.
The Blarney remains open until 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 1 a.m. Thursdays and 2:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
In the morning, the cycle of cleaning and serving begins again.
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