Michael Holloway

Irish Pub Changes Leave Staff Jobless

New owners plan to reopen as upscale bar, and perhaps re-hire some staff.

By - Jan 12th, 2018 01:50 pm
The Irish Pub. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Irish Pub. Photo by Michael Horne.

The Irish Pub, a neighborhood favorite located in the Third Ward, has temporarily closed as it prepares for renovations planned to improve the bar’s service. New owners Adam Weber and his wife Melissa Weber, who have relocated to Milwaukee from Chicago, purchased the bar last month and plan to steer The Irish Pub into the direction of craft cocktails. Adam is a Chicago restaurateur who has an ownership stake in two Chicago dining spots, Bar Takito and Takito Kitchen, according to the Business Journal and who has headed up the cocktail program at Takito Kitchen, with an emphasis on tequila drinks.

Located at 124 N. Water St., the Irish Pub had been open since 2006, sporting an Irish-themed setting with food specials like $1 hamburgers and a Tuesday wing night, and Irish drinks such as the Bloody Molly (a Bloody Mary with Jameson instead of vodka) and, of course, Guinness. The Webers purchased the bar for $1.35 million from a Chicago-based ownership group led by John Duggan. The bar temporarily closed on December 13th as the new owners updated the liquor license. On December 19th, the bar reopened, and everything was briefly back to business as usual. But on January 10th the employees of The Irish Pub were suddenly left without their jobs.

“(Adam) told the sellers and assured us we were all safe and were going to be taken care of,” Chelsey LaBadie, former bar manager for The Irish Pub, says. “The Irish Pub was going to remain the Pub and we were all guaranteed jobs.”

Melissa Weber says the couple ran into unexpected problems: “We purchased the historic building, but then you have two cracked sewer lines and are thrown a curve ball. Due to the immediate and necessary nature of these improvements (and since January and February are historically slower months) we made the tough business decision to temporarily shut down.”

Employees were told they could reapply for their jobs in three months’ time when renovations were completed, but “Melissa said that we are not guaranteed a position when they do reopen because they will be bringing people of their own,” LaBadie says.

Weber says “everyone was invited to reapply” with the expectation they would be retrained, but other “talent” will be brought in. “We will also work on some much needed redevelopment to the business which will include showcasing a high level of creativity along with some extreme talent in the industry.”

This contradicts what the new owners said when the pub changed hands, LaBadie says. She was told she’d done a great job with the people she had hired and that the owners fully intended to retain the staff and continue with everything that patrons enjoyed about the Pub, LaBadie says. “The base of our anger comes from the fact they lied to the sellers, the staff, and the city.”

The employees aren’t the only ones voicing complaints. In an effort to let the new owners know that they didn’t feel it was necessary for the Irish Pub to undergo change, Facebook users began writing negative reviews on The Irish Pub’s Facebook page. However, the page was taken down soon after this.

“The new owners want to take advantage of the area that they are in, increase prices, and likely do away with specials,” LaBadie says. “I feel like they also knew how much resistance was going to come from staff and regulars when they attempted to implement these changes.”

But Melissa Weber promises “patrons will also be surprised and delighted” with the revamped bar and its “unique and original cocktails. It will definitely be worth the time we are taking… The improvements will maintain the warmth and service-orientation that Milwaukee expects and deserves.”

The Irish Pub is only the most recent Milwaukee business to leave their staff jobless. In just a year, the city has seen a surprising number of businesses suddenly close their doors for good. The BBC bar and Hinterland restaurant, for instance, both left employees confused as they showed up to work only to find a locked door and a sign. If employees are expected to give two weeks’ notice when they leave, shouldn’t the same professional courtesy be expected of the employer?

“They really messed with something special,” LaBadie says. “The Pub was a unique place in this city, full of amazing regulars that become one big family. We genuinely cared about people and providing the best service we could for everyone.”

The Irish Pub

10 thoughts on “Taverns: Irish Pub Changes Leave Staff Jobless”

  1. IzzyDidIt says:

    Having worked in the service industry in some of MKEs best establishments for 10+ years I can empathize, however, these things happen all the time. The new owners have no legal obligation to keep the concept and/or current staff. Even if they would have, they probably would have picked off the employees one -by-one until they had an entirely new staff that was on board with the planned changes. It sucks to lose your job without notice, but there are plenty of other service industry opps available in the city with all the new bars and restaurants opening almost every other weekend. I would suggest the staff perhaps speak to the media in anonymity so as to protect their own future endeavors within the MKE scene. You can burn a lot of bridges by bad-mouthing past employers, just a bit of advice that actually applies to all industries. Personally, I never felt the Irish Bar was never a good fit for the upscale Third Ward, the food was so-so bar food and the times I visited, service was inattentive, unless you were one of those regulars mentioned in the story. We don’t have a true Irish bar in Walker’s Point, so why not take all that energy you are putting into bashing the new owners into starting your own version? I will definitely stop into the revamped bar to check it out when it opens and decide for myself whether it is worthy of a return visit. Basically, I guess I am saying, grow up children, life goes on, so move on, sorry if that hurts your feelings, actually I’m not. C’est la vie!

  2. IzzyDidIt says:

    Whoops, sorry I forgot about O’lydias nevermind

  3. Chris says:

    My thoughts were kind of the same as IzzyDidIt. Establishments change hands all the time. Closing without notice is not uncommon for the food/beverage industry. Losing your job like that royally sucks and I’ve been there. But that’s also the nature of the beast and anyone working in restaurants and bars should know that.

    The new owners are well within their right to change the nature of the establishment and bring in their own staff, but they lose good will with making promises they won’t keep.

  4. Izzydaidiot says:

    Bro why don’t you read about something else then. No one cares that you have no empathy. Probably why you were never a regular cuz you have no friends

  5. Tony says:

    You don’t assure someone they’ll have a job and then just lock the doors. This is shitty even in the service industry. I’ll have a hard time patronizing a place that does this to their staff.

  6. KLF says:

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ll miss the Irish Pub. I love the staff, music, atmosphere and how many friends I made while hanging out on that perfect patio. Had I known it would be closing I would have loved to make one last visit. It was Milwaukee at it’s finest. New owners should be warned that being “upscale” only markets to a tiny population in comparison to the humble happy hour crowd (which includes all of us regardless of social stature). I’m a neighborhood resident, but living in a fancy place means nothing; I don’t want to get dolled for a bar. Fine. Add another upscale location where people can flaunt how important and wealthy they are (because that always works here…sarcasm). If I could tell the new owners anything, I’d tell them that they can make far more money keeping it the way it is. Get the pipes fixed, keep the staff and reopen without any changes. A local watering hole always profits with the right staff (even when the economy bottoms out); and especially when it’s a bar that everyone can visit. Take a look at the oldest most successful bars in Milwaukee and you’ll see the recipe for success.

  7. LocalConcernedCitizen says:

    @IzzyDidIt my guess is you’re some troll who is the owners (Adam and Melissa) affiliation or a burned ex lover of a staff member. It’s ironic you call out immaturity, burning bridges, and for the children to grow up, but the whole discontent of the ex-staff and surrounding community was that it was done in poor business and morals from the new owners. Whatever your complaint is for the Pub itself, the business model worked, with rave reviews and a plethora of regulars in an immediate area where business of bars is struggling. (BTW the bar was in the Third Ward not Walker’s Point so maybe you’re not such a veteran of the local service industry). At the end of the day verbal and written(although not legal) promise was made to keep all employees and the bar model. While they had every legal right to terminate their employees, it was done spontaneously against their previous promise and demeanor without any warning. Employees and the surrounding community has every right to voice their discontent and concern regarding Adam and Melissa Weber(including their family and investor “board” members) and their newly purchased bar.

  8. Izzysadumbshit says:

    Dear Izzy,
    There are so many things I have to say about your comments that I’m unsure where to even start. I’ll start by apologizing to you for the “inattentive” service and our “so-so” bar food. Our food was mostly home-made and fresh. We made all of our own sauces, breaded our own chicken tenders, and made a bomb ass grilled cheese. The food rarely received complaints and people would continue to come back for a specific menu item. You seem like a $60 steak and $120 bottle of wine kind of guy, so I’m not surprised you feel the way you do.

    Yes, it sucks to lose a job without notice. However, you seem to be missing the point. This was not a “job” to us. Coming into the Pub every single shift never felt like work for any of us. No one ever complained about being there and work was fun. It was a second home with an incredibly large, dysfunctional, and amazing family. Our coworkers were like siblings and our regulars became friends we will have for life. The Pub was a place where everyone from all walks of life were welcome. We had a millionaire sitting next to a cook from Charlie’s. Doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, gays, straights, young, and old. Everyone felt comfortable and there was no judgement. It was a community when you walked through that front door. Our Cheers.

    Thanks for your suggestion about speaking in anonymity, however, you may keep your suggestions to yourself. Each of our staff members had at least 5 years of industry experience in more than just serving, bartending, and cooking. I have 12 years. We are not “replaceable”. The staff makes a place what it is. You don’t leave a place and say, “Wow! That food was great but the staff was shit. I’ll definitely go back!” The Pub had the most incredible staff I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We all had the same goal. Creating an experience and building relationships was our passion. Serving drinks and food is just something that comes along with it. Anyone can do. Having a personality and genuinely caring about people is not something you find everywhere in this business. You must have missed the comments everywhere about people saying how amazing our staff was. Had you taken the chance to get to know us, you would know exactly what I’m talking about.

    The Pub was an extremely unique place in an “upscale” part of downtown. However, what people loved about it is that even though they may have had a fancy condo across the street, they could come to a place and let their hair down. Just because the Pub is surrounded by condos and people with good jobs who make money, does not mean business owners should “take advantage of the area” and increase prices or start making some fancy cocktails. There is nothing wrong with a $2 High Life and a shot of Tully.

    “Burning bridges”? I will speak on behalf of all my coworkers here. We do not want to work for someone who is a liar and doesn’t keep their word. You also must have missed this article.

    I do believe he is quoted saying “the last thing he wants to do is change it”. He also wanted to get to know the staff and patrons and then decide what needed tweaking. 3 weeks is hardly enough time. They have also been quoted as saying they are going to upgrade and bring in “extraordinary talent” and it was clear that our staff wasn’t “properly trained” upon hiring. Apologies for not being corporate robots. Apparently our staff wasn’t qualified enough. (Please note our service industry experience mentioned above). So now not only have we been told lies, we have been insulted on top of that. We all have enough experience, personality, and good reputations in this city to find other jobs without a reference from a few hypocrites. I will be a reference for each and every one of them and they have my highest recommendation.

    Owners are entitled to do whatever they want with whatever it is they own. I could shave my cats if I wanted to, but they are fine just the way they are. The new owners were handed a very profitable establishment with a great reputation on a silver platter. They didn’t need to change a thing. It was a well-oiled machine. All they had to do was let it run and make them money. Simple. Over the course of a year, put personal touches on it once it is fully understood how things run.

    I realize sewer work needed to be done. That was discussed before the sale was complete and was not confidential information. However, most of the work is in the road, not within the Pub. The Pub needed to closed for maybe a few days to do what needed to be done. Permits have not even been acquired to start the work, so we could have been informed of the situation, stayed open for a week, and then found temporary work once permits were approved. Consideration. Instead, they have decided to close for potentially 2 months, and told us we can “reapply” if we’d like when they reopen but there will not be guaranteed positions for us. No thank you. All seems a little suspect doesn’t it? Sounds like a good opportunity for them to implement their own concept and clean house, which, as owners, of course they are entitled to do. However, this is not what they said and promised just 1 month ago when they bought the bar.

    In hindsight, it would have been better to sell to someone from Milwaukee who knew and understood what a diamond in the rough the Pub was instead of a couple from Chicago who thinks an upscale craft cocktail bar is going to work in that location. Bugsy’s is right next door, the Kimpton down the street, and the countless bars just down in Bayview and all over the city.

    I hope you do visit when they reopen. You seem like the right clientele they are aiming for.

    Just another replaceable bartender

    P.s. I’ve received 7 job offers in the past 3 days. And our staff has been approached by fellow industry friends for employment. I hope none of us are unfortunate enough to work with you.

  9. LostTheLocal says:

    Bravo… well stated… Not as big local community as is Chicago. Probably can get enough business to pay the bills, but can’t ever fill the gap left by destroying the true nature of the institution without people who care.

  10. Wakeshock says:

    Izzy is a troll. Hello Adam and Melissa

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