In just under three years restaurant owner Bill Psyllas turned Slattery’s Pub & Grill in the Denver Tech Center area of Denver from a failing Irish eatery into a thriving Irish sports bar, and he did most of it at the height of the pandemic.
"To me it looked successful, but once I got the numbers I saw it had been declining rapidly for five years," said Psyllas, who bought the pub in April of 2019. "Then COVID hit as we were getting ready for St. Patrick's Day."
Slattery’s would remain closed for six weeks as the government navigated the pandemic and rules regarding going out in public and serving food. But when Psyllas got the green light to open again, though with limited indoor use, he decided to pair up with a neighboring restaurant and built an event tent right outside. They shared the space and people started coming.
Inside the 5,000-square-foot pub things were changing too. Psyllas said the original Slattery's was beautiful, but also sectioned off and dark, meaning it wasn’t very inviting. He kept the bones of the building intact, refinishing the dark wood and repurposing a stained glass panel, but knocked down some walls to make it more open so customers could see the layout right when they walked in. A patio was built and new furniture brought in.
Psyllas, who also owns Hilltop Tap House in the Denver suburb of Parker, Colo., decided to make Slattery's a sports bar, too, something the neighborhood lacked. He added 25 television sets and bought a TV sports package that allowed him to play any game his customers might want to watch.
The food got an overhaul, too but mostly by improving the quality of the ingredients. Irish and British staples remained, such as fish & chips ($17.75), shepherd’s pie ($19), bangers & mash ($19), and corned beef with cabbage ($18). But new dishes were added too, including a bourbon-maple glazed tomahawk pork chop ($28), and bar items such as green chili cheese tots ($12), beer cheese and pretzels ($13), and truffle fries ($11). Psyllas wanted to offer some lighter options too, so he created a full list of salads and sandwiches, including a salmon BLT ($19.75), beet salad ($15.25), and blackened tuna salad ($20.50).
With all of those changes, today the pub is up 40% in profits from the time Psyllas bought it, a number he equates not only to the renovation and food quality, but to having a solid team in place and giving the area something it didn't have.
"It's all about hiring the right staff and making Slattery's more friendly and appealing to people," Psyllas said. "The guy that runs it now, [general manager Brian Butler], I have known for 26 years."
Psyllas said he actually hasn't had much trouble hiring staff. There are 40 to 45 employees at the restaurant, and many came over from previous places he had worked. Before he took it over, he said Slattery's was almost known for its bad service.
"I heard horror stories about people walking in and not getting served," he said. "It wasn't run by a true management staff, just employees were running the restaurant."
Psyllas immigrated to the United States from Greece when he was 6-years-old, and has been working in the restaurant business since he was a teenager growing up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. His first job at the age of 14 was at Angelo's Pizza (today it's called Angelo's Taverna). There he worked a slew of jobs from washing dishes to making pizza to eventually managing the spot. Next he went on to corporate America, working for the Red Robin franchise where he learned about training staff and focusing on food quality.
Nine years ago the now 62-year-old bought his first restaurant, Hilltop Tap House. Slattery's is his second sports-focused pub, and maybe, he said, if the right opportunity comes along, he will go for a third venture. But for now, dishing out pub fare and screening sports makes him, his customers, and his staff happy, sentiments that he hopes grow as the business continues to thrive.