Interview with Peter and Cheryl Kenny of The Dubliner, Capitol Pub and The Gin Mill
Cheryl and Peter Kenny
There's something a bit charming about the Irish. Maybe it has to do with the rich, sometimes mystical, elements of their culture. Like leprechauns, a penchant for being a tad hotheaded, folk songs that can bring everyone in a bar to tears, and Jameson, of course.
We love us some Irish. Each year the "Greenville" St. Patty's Day parade has grown hugely and those of us with nary a drop of Irish anything in our blood frolic.
Native Dubliner Peter Kenny never really meant to live in Dallas, much less open a bar and two restaurants. After growing up in Ireland, he headed over to the United States as a young man, looking for better a economy than what Ireland had to offer at the time. He landed in New York City, where he got a job clearing tables in Rockefeller Center. After a few months, he left the Big Apple with plans to travel to the sunshine of the California coast. He made a stop in Big D on the way and never left.
Kenny started bartending at the Knox Street Pub and eventually saved enough money to open The Dubliner along with some friends in 1994. Now a staple along Greenville Avenue, the room's dim lights and heavy wood offer a nice little escape from the typical bar scene. Foreign accents often punctuate the air, particularly when a big football game is on. The spot seems to be much wiser and fraught with character than it's 20 years suggest. And, obviously, it's hopping on St. Patrick's Day.
Kenny says for the past several years a group of guys have started their morning with breakfast across the street at the Blue Goose Cantina. As soon as they see Kenny rummaging around the Dubliner, they raid the place and insist on having the first shots of Jameson at the bar. And so the party gets started.
In 2007, Kenny and wife Cheryl opened the Capitol Pub on Henderson Avenue, which is a much more spacious restaurant and bar. More recently they took over the old Park spot on Henderson and completely reinvented the space into what is now The Gin Mill. If you haven't yet, you must check it out. Working from front to back, it starts with a lush and green patio area that recently got a new awning. It leads into a couple spacious dining areas. A bit further back there's a bar area dimly lit with an eclectic collection of vintage lampshades that hang over deep booths. Then, further back is a "speakeasy" that's probably best described as a retro lounge, which is often rented out for private parties. It has a full bar, but there aren't any formal dining tables and chairs, rather couches surrounds the perimeter. Then, past the speakeasy is another outdoor courtyard with different nooks of tables and chairs.
I spoke with Peter and Cheryl Kenny recently about managing three spots in Dallas.
First of all, Peter, as an Irishman, what do you consider the five most authentically Irish things in Dallas? Peter: Me, The Dubliner, the Gaelic football club, Guinness and Jameson.
Since you opened the Dubliner in 1994, how has the Dallas dining scene changed? Peter: In regards to pubs, it's changed from shotgun bars with greasy food to a lot more upscale food. People like the crossover of being able to get a good beer and food now.
What have you learned about managing people in restaurants? Cheryl: A lot of it has to do with work ethic. Peter has worked in every facet of the restaurant, from painting all the way up. There's no job that's too small. Also, a lot of our staff has started at the bottom and worked their way up. Peter: At first it's hard to manage everything, I couldn't have done this 20 years ago, but after time it just becomes normal.
What are a few of keys to keep things running smoothly at three spots at once? Peter: Delegate. Listen and then move forward. You can get run over by people quickly in this business. You have to listen and then move on. Like on a slow day, people might want to take off early, then all of a sudden the place is full and you're not staffed.
What's the hardest part? Peter: The back of the house -- the stuff people don't see. Sometimes I'll walk out to the bar and see a friend and they'll say, "Wow! You have the life ... you don't do anything." That's just the way it looks; you can't run around the front of the house stressed out, putting the bills out on the bar.
Yeah, I suppose asking customers to help balance the books probably isn't a good idea. Peter: "Here, can you look at these!?" No, when it's open time, that's when it's all about the front of the house. You have to completely switch gears.
Has social media made running a restaurant easier? Cheryl: In a way, but it also adds a lot of pressure because you feel like you constantly have to update things. And someone can go online and say something horrible about you and you have no control over that. Peter: It can be good, but it can also backfire. There have also been situations where we've had concerts or something and put fliers out and stuff. But, then a guy at the bar gets his phone out and starts texting or posting "King Bucks are playing here." Then, boom! You get hit an hour later.
If you didn't have a major block party to manage at the Dubliner this weekend, what would you be doing for St. Patrick's Day? Peter: I'd be in Ireland with my family at a pub.
So, did you ever make it to California? Peter: Nope, never been. I like Texas. After a week here I had more friends than I did after three months in New York City.
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