Raising the Bar

James
James McLeod
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Brenda O'Reilly heads a national advocacy group and owns two downtown hot spots, and she's just getting started

Halfway through the interview, someone walks into the bar. It's about 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and O'Reilly's on George Street is closed - chairs on tables, most of the lights off - but apparently the guy found an unlocked door.

Brenda O'Reilly politely says she'll be back in a minute and walks behind the bar to see what the patron wants.

Brenda O'Reilly stands behind the bar at O'Reilly's on George Street. She is the owner of both O'Reilly's and the YellowBelly Brewery, and also sits as the chairwoman of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. - Photo by James McLeod/The Tel

Halfway through the interview, someone walks into the bar. It's about 1:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and O'Reilly's on George Street is closed - chairs on tables, most of the lights off - but apparently the guy found an unlocked door.

Brenda O'Reilly politely says she'll be back in a minute and walks behind the bar to see what the patron wants.

Most of the time, O'Reilly is the founder/owner of O'Reilly's, the owner of the YellowBelly Brewery and chairwoman of the board of the Canadian Restaurant and Food-services Association (CRFA).

But without missing a beat, she morphs into full-on customer-service mode, and she looks comfortable behind the bar.

Half an hour earlier when The Telegram arrived, she leaned casually against the taps and pulled a couple of samples of the YellowBelly beer that O'Reilly's has on tap.

O'Reilly and her husband and business partner Craig Flynn are in a fairly commanding place when it comes to the St. John's food service scene.

She describes O'Reilly's as "one of the most iconic brands in New-foundland" - a brand they hope, one day, will extend across Canada.

YellowBelly has been called a jewel on the corner of George.

But there's still a constant fear of failure, she says, and the drive to prove herself.

"Absolutely, that's what keeps you going. The fear of failure keeps you focused on your business," she says. "Success is pride; why I work in the industry is passion."

It's the same attitude that fired her work when she owned and ran the Stonehouse, a fine-dining restaurant on Kenna's Hill in St. John's that ultimately lost money and had to close after a dispute with the landlord.

"She has incredible stamina," says Rebecca Quinton, owner of Quintanas in Churchill Square.

Quinton hired O'Reilly out of school to manage Casa Grande on Duckworth Street, her restaurant at the time.

"It was a learning process, of course, for her where she hadn't actually worked as a general manager before."

Now there's a plan to franchise O'Reilly's across Canada.

Closer to home, O'Reilly and Flynn have bought the Black Dog Pub adjoining O'Reilly's and are renovating to connect the two.

They're also test-growing hops on a plot of land outside the city, and hope to mass-produce YellowBelly beer.

The couple is working on all of those projects together.

It was Flynn who oversaw the restoration of the YellowBelly premises, guided by O'Reilly's vision.

"She's a very loving person, and very focused on the future; on what she wants O'Reilly's to be and what she wants YellowBelly to be," he said of his wife.

Back in the bar, O'Reilly's concerns are more immediate.

Quick study

The unexpected patron wants to buy a gift card for Christmas and pay by debit card - and O'Reilly doesn't know how the gadget works.

But instead of letting the sale get away from her, O'Reilly picks up the phone and gets a quick tutorial from someone who knows.

The new gift cards are downstairs, and she has to go get one of them, and the debit machine is a different tutorial altogether.

With the phone crooked into her shoulder, O'Reilly reaches down into a fridge and cracks the top off a Coors and hands it to the guy. The whole episode lasts about 10 minutes.

In the end she loads up the gift card and he settles up.

She walks back over to the table where we've been doing the interview with a smile on her face.

"I just learned two new things: how to program a gift card and how to work a debit machine," she says, taking a sip of her YellowBelly stout.

Then she effortlessly launches back into a lament about the sins of the provincial and federal governments when it comes to the restaurant industry - the same spiel she's given to multiple premiers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

At its core, her argument is that the restaurant and food service industry is overlooked. Unlike the auto industry or the fishery, the government has no overall food service strategy, despite the fact that it's a major employer and a contributor to the tax base and the economy.

"All levels of government, I think, have taken our industry for granted," she says. "When they develop public policy they need to consider our industry, because it's a very volatile industry when times are tough."

It's a convincing pitch; she recently managed to get Premier Danny Williams into a chef's coat to promote her cause.

"She's not a lobbyist - and that's the beauty, why she does such a good job representing the industry - because she's got skin in the game," says Luc Erjavec, Atlantic vice-president of the CRFA.

"She has been a pleasure to work with; she is a tenacious and a true entrepreneur."

When it's pointed out to O'Reilly that she has managed to switch back and forth from local entrepreneur to national spokeswoman - seamlessly - during an interview, she explains it's because the two are one and the same.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: CRFA, Canadian Restaurant, Coors

Geographic location: YellowBelly, George Street, St. John's Canada Churchill Square Casa Grande Duckworth Street

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Bernard
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    There is nothing fake about O'Reilly's pub. I've been across Canada, and there are very few 'Irish Pubs' you can go into to hear traditional irish/scotish music, performed live or otherwise. Places like Ceilie's in Calgary, Darcy McGee's in Victoria and the Pogue Fado in Halifax are shams/fake.. You'd be hard pressed to hear any traditional music there, even on St. Paddy's Day... I know... I've been to them .. O'Reilly's on the other hand should not be lumped in with the likes of them... they're in a class far above them.

    Slán agus beannacht leat

  • Silvana
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Stop bashing Brenda! She's an amazing entrepreneur and does a fantastic job representing Canadian restaurants, which account for a million jobs around the country!

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Just want Canada needs, more fake irish bars. I think this story goes to show how involved this person is with their business, that they can't even run a debit card through. I've always thought that O'rielliy's was dirty and poorly run...just my opinion.

  • Andrew
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    Taxpayer, The constant negative garbage being posted by you on every article is getting old. If you're that against NL and anything positive about NL, then do us a favor and get out of here...just my opinion.

    Oh and Merry Christmas...or is it Humbug to that too.

  • Well Done
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    It's funny how some Newfoundlanders (like Taxpayer II) are willing to do anything for someone who are down on their luck. But when a fellow Newfoundlander is successful they are bitter to no end. Why is that??

    I think it is a great idea to franchise an establishment that is so well known. How many people come back to St.John's for a visit and head straight to O'Reilly's? Having one in the town you call home would be a way to have a piece of Newfoundland near to you.

    I wish them all the luck.

  • M.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    I am a former employee and let me tell you that it didn't help my Christmas seeing that fake smile of hers plastered
    in your paper today. It's only fitting that she owns a place called Yellowbelly.
    THAT's all I'm going to say about her because behind that infectious smile lies the cold heart of a queen B**ch..

  • Barry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    I had returned to Nfld last year after an absense of 25 years, Yellowbelly was advertising for experienced staff..I have over 20 years exp in hotels, Bars, and Restaurants. When I went to Yellowbelly, I was directed to go speak with Ms Oreilly at OReillys. When I walked in, she treated me like crap. Didn't seem interested in my application..took my resume and threw it on the counter without even looking at it. I watched it land in a puddle of water (beer?) on the bar. Bet it wasn't even looked at after I left.

    Ms OReilly was in the paper here a few months ago lamenting the lack of experienced staff to work in her restaurant/bar down there...well, Ms OReilly....there were many who DID apply...you just couldn't be bothered to take an actiove role in seeking them out. I never jeard back from her... and , after 6 months of being back home.,,,I had no choice but to return to the mainland where my experience is worth something.

  • speaker
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    AGree withcomment that the bar is dirty & poorly run! THis article as well as this woman & her self proclaimed passion for her business is a farce!! O'reilly's bar is overpriced & the menu is a joke! If the food portions & quality matched the prices, it would be ok however it's shameful what is served there! The described situation is what employees face on a daily basis yet she is praised for dealing with a customer?! Unreal..

  • Bud
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Sweet article, nice publicity ... Now, follow up with a second article after speaking to past employees of hers. No point in asking those who currently work for her, they are not that foolish to risk their jobs with the real truth.

    Just thought this article needed a proper balance.

  • Bernard
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    There is nothing fake about O'Reilly's pub. I've been across Canada, and there are very few 'Irish Pubs' you can go into to hear traditional irish/scotish music, performed live or otherwise. Places like Ceilie's in Calgary, Darcy McGee's in Victoria and the Pogue Fado in Halifax are shams/fake.. You'd be hard pressed to hear any traditional music there, even on St. Paddy's Day... I know... I've been to them .. O'Reilly's on the other hand should not be lumped in with the likes of them... they're in a class far above them.

    Slán agus beannacht leat

  • Silvana
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Stop bashing Brenda! She's an amazing entrepreneur and does a fantastic job representing Canadian restaurants, which account for a million jobs around the country!

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Just want Canada needs, more fake irish bars. I think this story goes to show how involved this person is with their business, that they can't even run a debit card through. I've always thought that O'rielliy's was dirty and poorly run...just my opinion.

  • Andrew
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    Taxpayer, The constant negative garbage being posted by you on every article is getting old. If you're that against NL and anything positive about NL, then do us a favor and get out of here...just my opinion.

    Oh and Merry Christmas...or is it Humbug to that too.

  • Well Done
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    It's funny how some Newfoundlanders (like Taxpayer II) are willing to do anything for someone who are down on their luck. But when a fellow Newfoundlander is successful they are bitter to no end. Why is that??

    I think it is a great idea to franchise an establishment that is so well known. How many people come back to St.John's for a visit and head straight to O'Reilly's? Having one in the town you call home would be a way to have a piece of Newfoundland near to you.

    I wish them all the luck.

  • M.
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    I am a former employee and let me tell you that it didn't help my Christmas seeing that fake smile of hers plastered
    in your paper today. It's only fitting that she owns a place called Yellowbelly.
    THAT's all I'm going to say about her because behind that infectious smile lies the cold heart of a queen B**ch..

  • Barry
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    I had returned to Nfld last year after an absense of 25 years, Yellowbelly was advertising for experienced staff..I have over 20 years exp in hotels, Bars, and Restaurants. When I went to Yellowbelly, I was directed to go speak with Ms Oreilly at OReillys. When I walked in, she treated me like crap. Didn't seem interested in my application..took my resume and threw it on the counter without even looking at it. I watched it land in a puddle of water (beer?) on the bar. Bet it wasn't even looked at after I left.

    Ms OReilly was in the paper here a few months ago lamenting the lack of experienced staff to work in her restaurant/bar down there...well, Ms OReilly....there were many who DID apply...you just couldn't be bothered to take an actiove role in seeking them out. I never jeard back from her... and , after 6 months of being back home.,,,I had no choice but to return to the mainland where my experience is worth something.

  • speaker
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    AGree withcomment that the bar is dirty & poorly run! THis article as well as this woman & her self proclaimed passion for her business is a farce!! O'reilly's bar is overpriced & the menu is a joke! If the food portions & quality matched the prices, it would be ok however it's shameful what is served there! The described situation is what employees face on a daily basis yet she is praised for dealing with a customer?! Unreal..

  • Bud
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Sweet article, nice publicity ... Now, follow up with a second article after speaking to past employees of hers. No point in asking those who currently work for her, they are not that foolish to risk their jobs with the real truth.

    Just thought this article needed a proper balance.