Thirty years ago in Longmont at Mike O’Shays Restaurant and Ale House, you could order Corned Beef and Cabbage for $3.50. A prime rib dinner cost less than $15, and Shepherd’s Pie went for $6.99. In October, as part of the restaurant’s 30-year anniversary, owners Mike and Nania Shea offered throwback pricing for their most popular menu items to express their gratitude to the customers of the Longmont community. While a lot has changed in 30 years for O’Shays, including a patio expansion, renovation and continuously evolving menu selection, one thing has remained the same: great tasting entrees, a wide selection of drinks and a fun, personable atmosphere.
O’Shays has excelled on the basis of offering fresh ingredients, house-made desserts and daily specials that give regulars and newcomers something new and unique to experience. Mike is a personable host and knows how to keep his customers coming back.
“We are thrilled to be celebrating 30 years,” Mike says. “Fortunately, we are in a great community that appreciates quality food and a community atmosphere. It is the people of Longmont that make this restaurant.”
When Mike O’Shays opened in 1981, it was owned by a core of investors, including the Sheas. After two years, Mike and Nania bought out the investors and took full control of the restaurant. Thirty years later, the couple still has the reigns. Nania makes all of the desserts — creating delicious layer cakes, pies, torts, tarts and now homemade ice cream, Mike says.
Mike participated in a question-and-answer interview for the Times-Call, shedding light on what it’s like to be in the service industry, a typical day in his shoes, and why he is continually challenged and motivated as a restaurant owner in Longmont.
Question: What has changed at Mike O’Shays since 1981?
Answer: Our facade, some of the renovation of the inside. We’ve been non-smoking now for 12 years. I feel that what we accomplished by our approach was to have high quality ingredients with classic to contemporary items on the menu. We’re not locked into a real strict theme food-wise, so we’re able to offer a wide selection on our menu. We really appeal to a wide customer base because of that variety. Another change is that my wife, Nania, makes all of the desserts now. She has done that for three years.
Question: What are some dishes that you tried and then decided to leave out?
Answer: Unfamiliar species of fish. Chicken liver patte because people health-wise don’t eat it that much.
Question: What are some of the menu items that have remained since the beginning?
Answer: At the top of the list would be the fish and chips. Our New England Seafood Chowder. French Onion Soup — we have people who come in just for the onion soup. Other items, the Half-Pound Burger, French Dip Sandwich, Potato Skins, Artichoke Cheese Dip, those have all been on the menu since the beginning. And we’ve always done fresh fish of the day.
Question: Have you always wanted to be a restaurant owner? Why do you like it?
Answer: I don’t think I always necessarily thought I wanted to be a restaurant owner, but I always gravitated toward that kind of work. It suited me well. I like the fast pace. I like food. I like the interaction with so many different people. I love the immediate satisfaction of being busy and having it go so well. It’s really hands on — management is heavily involved with the service. We’re doing 600-plus meals a day here.
Question: What are some of the things that have made O’Shays a success?
Answer: We weren’t pigeon-holed or segmented to one theme. It’s always had the connotation of being a pub, but I never called it a pub because I wanted to be able to offer a wide selection of food. We are flexible in our concept to be able to do a wide variety of things and do them well. Contemporary things reflected in the menu. I change my menu twice a year, not a lot, I just tweak it.
Question: What have some of your biggest challenges been over the years?
Answer: Many years ago it was finding good, reliable employees. Back then it was a well-known fact that restaurant positions had high turnover. And that might hold true today for some places, but we have a very tight core of reliable employees and virtually no turnover in kitchen and service staff. We have employees who have been here 15, 20, 25 years. When we first came here there were very little restaurants to compete with. So it was a challenge and a concern when the chain restaurants started coming into Longmont, but we’ve been able to maintain our market share. We’re as busy today as we’ve ever been.
Question: What is your favorite item on the menu?
Answer: Anything with shrimp. Our fresh fish that we offer daily is probably one of my favorite things about the menu
Question: How will O’Shays change in the next few years? What are some of your long-term goals with the restaurant?
Answer: One thing that will change is the back entrance. We’ll be updating that in conjunction with the alleyscaping project the city is doing downtown. Our goals now are the same as the initial goal, which was to evolve and change with our customers, adding some contemporary trends while staying true to what customers have come to expect
Question: What is a typical day like in the shoes of Mike Shea?
Answer: I try to start my day with some type of exercise — yoga twice a week, spinning class, working with a trainer, bicycling — as many days a week as possible. Then I come in in the morning and meet with the chef about the specials of the day. I write up the description of the lunch specials, open the front of the restaurant and make sure we’re totally ready. I meet with the staff about the startup and the specials. Then I work lunch, greeting customers and seating them. Afterward, we get ready for dinner. Honestly, I work roughly five days a week now. I don’t work the 70 hours a week that I used to. The good thing about it is that after all these years, I still really enjoy coming to work, and I enjoy not coming to work, too. Sometimes I feel like a fireman putting out fires all the time. I spend a lot of time maintaining the facility — there are so many things that can break. Also updating the restaurant. I never want it to look tired. I want it to be clean and fresh looking, which is the way it looks now.