The Geaghan's Restaurant and Pub Story
You hear of family restaurants and usually think of a place to take your family for a nice dinner or a nice place to meet friends for a drink. Geaghan's is a family restaurant in that sense, but also in the sense that it's a family business, currently run by three of the Geaghan brothers, Larry, Pete and Pat. That, along with hard work, great employees and loyal customers has allowed Geaghan's to survive for nearly 35 years and see four generations of customers " and little Geaghans.
Geaghan's restaurant was founded by John Geaghan in 1975. The business was founded as Timka, named after his children Tim and Kathy, who died young.
"He started the business with their bankbooks," explained Larry. "You know how when you're a kid and you put in a dollar. When they died they probably each had three bucks. He cleared those out, and with that and money he borrowed he called the company Timka. His idea. Still, to this day, blows me away that he did that."
Initially, brothers Dave, Terry, Chris, Mike, Richard and Pat, along with their mother Arline, worked in the restaurant. Six months later, Larry signed on. The restaurant operated from "hand-to-mouth" for years.
In 1983, when John Geaghan passed away, Chris, Pete, Carolyn and Larry bought the business from their mother, with Larry as president of the corporation. He said one of the things that helped the restaurant was that each family member had their own area of expertise.
"I kind of manage the day-shift and bookkeeping, Pete basically manages the kitchen and especially the nighttime shift and did all the ordering for the kitchen," he said. "Chris managed the bar and all the stuff there. Carolyn managed the wait staff."
Siblings went off in different directions, pursuing different opportunities as years went by, but Pat, Pete and Larry have stayed committed to keeping the business running smoothly.
"There are two things that really have made a difference. When people hear it's all family " and it is, my sister-in-law works here, my wife worked here, my kids have worked here, nephews, nieces," said Larry. "One of the two things I'll credit with saving this business, or really making it work, is first and foremost we [three brothers] meet every Thursday at one o'clock in this room. It's an opportunity to air differences and argue, but it also gives us a chance to pat ourselves on the back ... It's a chance for us more as partners, even though we're brothers, to talk."
But despite being a family-owned restaurant, the brothers feel that it really belongs to the customers and their families. Recently, people have been bringing in the fourth generation of Geaghan customers.
"It's almost like it's not really our restaurant. We run it, but it's our customer's restaurant. It's more important to me that they feel like it's theirs than it's mine," said Peter. "I'm the winner in the whole deal really. I love what I do. I love that when I walk in maybe it is Cathy LeBlanc down there with her grandkids. I knew her son, and I know her mother and father. I know the whole story ... There will be people tonight with more stories just like that. Maybe they met here, or maybe their grandmother took them here as a kid and they like to come back - different names and different circumstances but somehow we're all family and this place. Though it means something different to each of us and stirrs individual memories, this pub is ours collectively."
To date, Arline still works at Geaghan's, coming in on Sundays and Mondays to help Larry with the books as well as meet and greet with customers.
With that and 30-plus years of building a loyal customer base, many momentous events have happened at that family restaurant.
"We've had weddings and wakes and funerals and engagements and divorces. When you do that for thirty years you become part " not of their [customer's] everyday life " but their weekly life," said Peter. "And you combine that with employees that have been here for 10 years, 18 years, 30 years. They [the employees] really, almost more than us, become more personally involved in our customers' lives. But it all happens down here and out of our control."
Irish need not apply
When John Geaghan founded the restaurant back in 1975, the prevailing theme was that of trains, because it was located near a local roundhouse, a place where trains were repaired and turned around on the tracks. Since many of the customers worked at the roundhouse, it was a natural theme. But even back then, there was an undercurrent of Irish items being accumulated and hung on the walls.
"He [John Geaghan] never thought about the Irish aspects of it, but you know what? From day one, there were Irish things in here," said Larry. "It just had an Irish feel to it. Any time we could get hold of an Irish thing we'd put it up. A good luck charm if you will."
In 2007, Larry, his wife Rhonda, sons Tom and Andy, their wives, Erin and Lindsay, and Andy and Lindsey's son Isaac travelled to Ireland to trace their roots. They discovered they had quite a bit in common with the pubs across the Atlantic.
"We finally got to Ireland, and I went into my first Irish pub and I felt at home," Larry said. "It didn't have a theme. It didn't say, 'Hey, we're Irish and this is an Irish pub.' ... The stuff on the wall was the same stuff we put on the wall. The conversation was the same. You could sit all day at a table and have a conversation and nobody was moving you along. My god, we didn't set out to do that, but that's what our pub ended up."
As Geaghan's expanded over the years, the two themes continued. The dining room remained mostly trains, but when they opened the pine room it became the Shamrock room.
Larry's son Tom found some items that had a train and Irish theme, including a train poster advertising the rates to travel from Bangor to Belfast " Ireland, that is, not Maine.
How the Geaghans 'saved' St. Patrick's Day
Irish pubs all across America celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but scant few pub owners can make the claim that their ancestors are the reason St. Patrick's Day exists at all. The Geaghans can make that boast.
During their trip to Ireland, Larry, Rhonda, Tom, Erin, Andy, Lindsay, and Isaac set off to find a dot on the map named Castletown Geaghan - the place where this journey all began. While visiting Castletown Geaghan - viewing the cemetary and visiting the post office - they came across a plaque of information about their ancestors. As history would have it, it was the Geaghan family who brought St Patrick to Ireland... as a slave. You can't make this stuff up, though with our Irish blood we might have tried. Regardless, it is no suprise St. Patricks day at Geaghan's Pub has become legendary in the Bangor area.
Crafting the Future
Through all of the ups and downs of family, community, and business; Pete, Pat and Larry have stayed steadfast in their dedication to maintaining Geaghan's Pub as a vibrant and uplifting part of the Bangor community. As times have changed and faces have changed it is amazing to see that the vision of Geaghan's Pub has stayed the same. One of the largest changes to Geaghan's Pub in recent years has come in the form of "Beervana". Recognizing the trend of a growing "beer culture" Larry had an idea to start a program that brings in a new beer each week for customers to try, judge, and discuss. Larry says, "The idea in some ways came from my sons Tom and Andy. Whenever I would be out to dinner with them they would ask the bartender about the beers that were available. They would always try something new. They talked about beer 'styles' and wanted to know about the breweries and communities that their beer was coming from... and they never missed an opportunity to give me a hard time about drinking a Miller Lite." Beervana prompts customers to try a new beer each week for just $3. "Sometimes I love it, sometimes I really don't, but it is always interesting to try something new and talk about it," one customer said.
Beervana has taken on a life all its own. With hundereds of people signed up and many trying each week's beer; Geaghan's Pub has become a very comfortable place for craft beer enthusiasts and those just getting into the culture. "We've taken customers on bus trips to tour local breweries and even begun a program called 'Beer School' which brings beer experts into the pub for a night to present a tasting and discuss their beer in more detail. It has really become more than I expected," says Larry.
After a few years away, teaching science at a local high school and receiving a degree in theology from Bangor Theological Seminary, Larry's son Andy rejoined the family business. Andy is the current Front of House manager and resident Beer Geek. In early 2011, Andy had the opportunity to work with Tim Gallon owner and brewmaster at Black Bear Brewery in Orono, Maine to produce MacGeoghegan's Irish Red - an exclusive collaboration for Geaghan's Pub. This wonderful Irish Red Ale has been a huge hit and propelled Geaghan's Pub even further into the local beer culture. Andy says, "We are who we are. We're local people who love what we do and love the people we are blessed to be surrouned by. We talk constantly to our customers and among ourselves to help craft an excellent experience day in and day out. It is funny to look back at old pictures of the pub and compare them to new ones. Lots of things have changed in those pictures. We've replaced windows and doors. We've changed the look of our bar. We've added new pictures on t he walls and taken old ones down. We've added new menu items and removed others. For the first 20 years of Geaghan's Pub we didn't make a single Boneless Buffalo Wing and in this past year we sold 40,000 lbs. For the first 10 years of Geaghan's Pub there were no New England craft breweries and now the movement is exploding. Through it all, this place feels the same to me. It's the same community, the same people, the same experience of great food, great drink, and exceptional people." The Geaghan family is building on the momentum of the expanding microbrewery movement. In December 2011 the Geaghan family, along with award winning brewer Jason Courtney, launched Geaghan Brothers Brewing Company. Fresh and locally brewed beer is now poured exculsively at Geaghan's Pub.