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Finbar’s Irish Pub

Written by the Symplicity team

Maritime Resilience is a series of stories on how local organizations are adapting to COVID-19.

Hard work, loyal patrons, and luck of the Irish carrying Bedford pub through pandemic

When Michael & Pamela Casey were contemplating owning and operating a restaurant over a decade ago, their research told them that Irish pubs were eleven times more likely to survive the seven-year mark than any other restaurant format.

Finbar’s Irish Pub has not only surpassed that elusive seven-year mark but is now proving its resilience through a pandemic.

Along with every other food establishment around, the Bedford-based pub was mandated to close with the arrival of COVID-19 to the Maritimes. For the first few weeks, the complete shutdown was bleak with the loss of several staff members.

“From March 17 until early June we were in ‘what-do-we-do-next?’ mode,” recalls Casey. Starting with a takeout and curbside pickup model, Finbar’s was able to reopen and hire back a few staff members. Their limited menu offered some new items to entice customers.

As it turned out, their patrons needed little persuasion.

When the Caseys took over the pub in 2004, their goal was to create a neighbourhood hub with a warm, friendly environment that would keep people coming back. Their efforts paid off – their loyal customer-base were in need of a Finbar’s fix despite COVID-19.
“We’re well-known in the community so there’s a certain degree of trust built there. When we opened our doors, the people came back.”

Casey was slowly able to hire back more staff, and the team continued to add more options for their customers. Online ordering was set up. Hours were extended. With the new stay-at-home dynamic, families were spending more time together and Finbar’s embraced it with take-home meal kits.

Eventually, Nova Scotia regulations allowed restaurants to reopen for dining in. Finbar’s indoor seating was adjusted to 50% capacity but the reopening conveniently fell at the beginning of the patio season. With a patio twice the size of their restaurant, technically the pub was able to open at usual full capacity.

Extra space and customer loyalty are just a few of the many advantages for Finbar’s.

“Our model doesn’t rely on any of the things that have been decimated by the pandemic. We’re a local hub, so tourism doesn’t affect us. We have no TVs so sports are irrelevant and we’re too small for big events. We’re also not reliant on other businesses around us such as movie theatres or downtown attractions.”
One may say that Finbar’s had it easy, but there were still challenges. With the constant changes in restrictions, Casey struggled to make tough decisions that could be meaningless days later. The couple are regular clients of Symplicity Designs, with whom they’ve learned the importance of business forecasting which had become seemingly impossible. One thing, however, that the team at Finbar’s can foresee is impending colder weather.

Plans are underway with partitions being built in the restaurant as well as more outdoor updates. “Finbar’s Sweater-Weather Patio”, a Kickstarter campaign, is set to launch in hopes of extending their setup to a 3-season patio.

Despite the challenges, Casey notes his greatest assets in keeping Finbar’s afloat are his people.
“Above all, the team is key. If you get the right people, nine tenths of your management issues just evaporate. We have such a great team now that it wouldn’t matter what business we’re in, I would take them with me.”
A good team, and perhaps, luck of the Irish.

Finbar’s co-owner Michael Casey giving tips to his patrons at home during quarantine

Finbar’s is open for dine-in and offering takeout.

Check out their website to see their menu and order online. Want to see what they’re up to? Give them a follow on social media!

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