Feargal McKinney, Owner of the Old Monk and Blackfriar, on the Magic of an Old Irish Whiskey
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Feargal McKinney came to the U.S. after college to see the sights and do a bit of traveling. After some time in New York City, he took the scenic route to California and stopped in Dallas to visit a friend and essentially never left -- partially because he got stuck here, but mostly because he liked it.
Feargal McKinney owns the Old Monk, the Blackfriar and other pubs.
After a lifelong career in the restaurant and pub business, McKinney now owns The Old Monk, The Idle Rich Pub, Blackfriar Pub and Renfield's Corner. All of which this Irishman will have hopping on St. Patrick's Day.
What did you like about Dallas when you stopped in for a visit over two decades ago?
I arrived in March and the weather was just like this, gorgeous. After being in New York where it was so cold, it was lovely. Also it was much easier to find work here and the people were really nice. It was easier to break in and make friends.
How did you initially get into the bar business?
I always worked in restaurants throughout school. My first job here was the at the Pearl Street Oyster bar. We lived within walking distance. I worked at Chili's for a while, then the original Knox Street Pub at the corner of Travis. It was a great pub, I was there for years. Also worked at Genevieve and the Inwood Lounge briefly. Then, I owned the Dubliner and sold out of that a few years ago. In 1996, I opened the Old Monk on Henderson, then the Idle Rich, the Blackfriar and Renfield's Corner.
What's the secret to running four pubs at once? I imagine it's a 24/7 gig.
I've got a young family, so it can't be 24/7. It's about hiring and training people. Most of our management is fostered internally. They work their way up. I'm not really sure how I do it -- it would take someone from the outside to analyze what I'm doing, I suppose.
How do you manage your team(s)?
I try to make my expectations clear to people by putting an emphasis what's important. Building relationships and talking to customers is really important, as oppose to just rules and side work. It's much easier to hold someone accountable to a checklist; the other things, like building relationships with customers, are a little more intangible. We talk about those things in meetings to make clear what the focus is. As a business gets bigger that can get lost because you try to put everything in written documents and checklists. I can't do a checklist to see if someone is communicating well.
How has the Dallas food scene changed since you've been here?
It was a bit insular when I first got here, but it's gotten a lot more interesting. It's changed in 20 years, but at the same pace as everything else. People are using pubs for the same reasons though -- for casual get-togethers and mingling. That hasn't changed. There weren't as many pub-style places back then, but there are more places where you can get quality food and drink now.