Barry O'Donovan's quest was to bring a little piece of Ireland to the quaint suburban downtown community of Cranford in Union County, New Jersey.
Born and raised in Ireland, O'Donovan has accomplished his mission with the success of Kilkenny House Restaurant & Pub, which opened in 2008, and which survived a serious threat to its existence three years later following Hurricane Irene thanks to its owner's perseverance and the assistance of a small business loan.
His bar offers 16 beers on tap, whether patrons have a taste for something domestic or an Irish beverage.
But because O'Donovan has always tried to market Kilkenny House as a family-oriented establishment, he prefers to position it as a restaurant that has a bar, rather than a bar that happens to serve food. The restaurant is open for lunch and the kitchen stays open until 10:00 p.m. The bar is open later.
"This is a family place," said O'Donovan. "Every child who finishes (his or her) dinner, as long as Mom and Dad tell me it's OK, will get a free ice cream."
Kilkenny House has a party room that can accommodate 40 people, making it suitable for anniversaries, business meetings, baptisms, wedding rehearsals or other banquets. The room, however, is not available on Fridays or Saturdays because business is too good--on those evenings, the place tends to be packed.
The menu includes Irish favorites such as fish and chips (fresh cod deep fried in beer batter), shepherd's pie (a blend of ground sirloin with carrots, onions, peas and onions, baked until brown), Harkin Curry Pie (chicken breast chunks simmered with onions, peas and carrots in curry sauce, topped with a puff pastry), O’Donovan Delight (Irish sausages with mashed potatoes and Irish beans) plus the best hamburgers in Union County.
Kilkenny House’s beef is from the Brooklyn meat market. The hamburgers are served on what the restaurant calls an “Irish muffin.”
“Our motto is more meat, less bun,” O’Donovan said. “No one around here asks: ‘Where’s the beef?’ Each burger starts out at a hulking half a pound.”
The restaurant’s most popular appetizer is Baked Artichoke Brie Dip, a blend of artichoke hearts and brie cheese baked in a crock. For sandwich lovers, there is the Cajun chicken and the Reuben, created with corned beef. On and around St. Patrick’s Day, the restaurant goes through an entire ton of its special corned beef.
A successful small business owner, O'Donovan's philosophy hinges on treating his patrons like they have walked into his own living room, rather than a place of business. He walks around to every table during the course of the evening, checking in on customers to ask how their meal is and how they are doing.
"It's the only way to do business," O'Donovan says. "You have to know your customers. The place is full of families."
To that end, O'Donovan always made sure it was a place for his own family, too. He'd regularly bring his wife and two kids to the restaurant at least once a week so they could have their dinner at Kilkenny House.
In the warmer months the establishment offers outdoor dining. Kilkenny House has been ranked among the top 10 Irish pubs in New Jersey by nj.com.
"Our goal is to serve a good product that is reasonably priced in a comfortable atmosphere," O'Donovan says. "We do all that with a very special flavor of Irish hospitality."
When New Jersey was ravaged by Hurricane Irene in August 2011, Kilkenny House incurred major water damage, with 12 feet of water accumulating in the restaurant's basement. Within two months, O'Donovan was able to reopen for business.
While the business was closed, he helped find temporary jobs for his staff. Meanwhile, O’Donovan applied for an SBA Disaster Loan and was approved. The loan covered both working capital needs and the costs of repairs. As a result, O’Donovan received the 2012 Phoenix Award for Small Business Disaster Recovery.