Published on April 10, 2014
Irene and Brian Barrett’s love of fine dining was honed in a tiny apartment in downtown St. John’s. Now they have their own restaurant. — Photo by Diane Crocker/The Western Star
Published on April 10, 2014
Irene and Brian Barrett at their restaurant, Tuck In, in Corner Brook. — Photo by Diane Crocker/The Western Sta
Corner Brook couple feeding a niche for fine dining
When Brian and Irene Barrett lived on Gower Street in downtown St. John’s, it wasn’t unusual for the couple’s tiny apartment to be filled with friends enjoying a meal.
Brian, a chef by trade, would do all the cooking and Irene would play the role of hostess.
The apartment was affectionately known as “The Ghetto,” and the atmosphere it created, with its good food and good company, was something that this very social couple enjoyed sharing.
And it’s something they often talked of doing on a larger scale.
That happened just about eight months ago when the Barretts opened Tuck In, a bright and cosy restaurant located in the Broadway Mini Mall.
After living outside the province for bit, Brian said, “we chose Corner Brook as our home.”
He’s originally from Blaketown and Irene is from Port Blanford and they didn’t want to raise a family away. Corner Brook, to them, seemed like the perfect place to settle.
While Irene, a psychologist, secured work in this west coast city, Brian didn’t fare as well.
“At the time, work was limited,” he said. “It was tough.”
So the couple used their connections in the camp system and Brian once again headed West while Irene and daughter Emma, now 8, stayed in the city.
Nearly a year ago the couple had their second daughter, Nadia. Twelve days after her birth, Brian’s father died.
After about four and a half years of working away from his family, Brian said, “I was done, emotionally. I couldn’t go back.”
Through a bit of divine intervention, a friend introduced Brian to Fred Alteen, owner of the mini mall.
The mall had an unoccupied restaurant in it and Brian was interested in using the space for a Friday night dinner club.
But Brian said Alteen didn’t like that idea because he wanted the space used as a full-time restaurant.
Irene said they felt such a positive vibe from talking with the Alteens, both as people and because of their philosophy of co-existence in the building. She said there was a sense of community in the mall.
“And we wanted to be a part of that.”
And so Tuck In was born. Besides Brian as full-time chef, the restaurant employs another cook, a kitchen helper and three wait staff.
Managing a restaurant was nothing new for Brian. He ran the second busiest restaurant in the Fairmont chain while living in Lake Louise and was head chef at an executive camp, also in Alberta.
But for Irene, owning and running a business is a novel experience.
“It has been a huge learning curve, to say the least, on my part,” she said.
“With marketing, you have to understand what people want and then, when you get that, it’s to be able to figure out how to communicate, and psychology has really helped me with that.”
The restaurant has developed a following among locals and is even attracting a lot of new business.
The interest comes from word of mouth and its somewhat unique marketing campaign of promotion through social media. Tuck In has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
Pictures of Saturday sinful waffles and five-course fine-dining meals from those Friday night dinner clubs — which have become a part of the mix — are regularly posted online to tempt tastebuds. The restaurant’s full menu is readily available online, as well, as are comments from Irene and Brian engaging patrons to share their thoughts on the restaurant, the service and the food.
Irene said people are enjoying the social media promotion and interaction.
“We had an inkling that would be our best bet because we know that social media is something that is on the rise,” she said.
“Our intention was just to be able to get the message out of what we were doing and we actually have people posting privately and on our Facebook page how much they enjoy every day seeing the pictures and reading people’s comments,” said Irene.
“We are always striving for feedback and that’s why we’re really transparent on Twitter and Facebook,” said Brian.
“Without that feedback, and genuine feedback, we can’t realize what we’re probably doing wrong and help change that, so that way we don’t impact the next guest. We want to make sure that we try to make everybody happy.
“When we honestly come out to touch a table and make sure everything’s OK, that’s genuine,” he added.
The feedback they’ve gotten has resulted in menu additions and deletions and even tweaks to recipes.
“I have a vested interest in this business and I want it to succeed,” he said.
That’s part of the reason he believes in working together with his staff and will often leave the kitchen to serve a customer if the wait staff are busy.
“We’re here together. We have to work together and be on the same page. We want to make sure we support them like they support us,” he said.
The importance of that relationship is something the couple realized early on, and is why Irene put a lot of effort into developing a human resources manual for the restaurant’s staff.
“It was our guiding force, so that the staff knew if they had any issues that they had these safeguards in place to be able to have what they need. And for us it was our way to be able to say, ‘This is our foundation,’ so that when people came in, there was no guessing,” she said.
“We’re trying our very best in every way, shape and form. We want them to feel like we’ve got their backs.”
The couple also believes in giving back to the community and has provided support to C.C. Loughlin’s breakfast program, Transition House, Saltos, and local mental health and women’s health promotions.
“Corner Brook’s been awesome to us,” said Brian, “it’s time for us to give back.”
The Western Star