Arguably, there are more Irish bars in North America than any other themed establishments. It is a staple of any town but particularly present in Massachusetts, where Waxy’s Modern Irish Bar is as authentic as it gets. The food, of course, includes Irish fare to go along with pub favorites, but there is so much more to Waxy’s. It is an Irish pub that strives to be a genuine representation of modern Ireland. Business in Focus spoke with Director of Marketing & Events Julie Doherty about this rapidly expanding concept.
The first Waxy’s was opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1997, with a distinctly old-school Irish pub feel, but things have progressed in the last twenty years, and it has been reinvented. Waxy’s is expanding into six states, from Texas to New York, but its head office remains in Brookline, Massachusetts. Paul McKenna, one of the four owners is in his thirties and from Dublin. He wanted to embrace the vibrancy of modern Ireland with restaurant food, cocktails and beer.
“Our newer locations have incorporated this concept of the modern Irish pub. It was put in place to elevate existing locations to a new level. We are all going through a rebranding presently. Remodeling is underway,” says Julie.
The newer locations have imported millwork, artwork, lighting and fixtures and are moving away from that older style Irish pub look. This is not necessarily the trend in the Boston area as yet, but Waxy’s is blazing the way and will inevitably be imitated.
Waxy’s is taking old school Irish favorites and giving them a fresh new twist. The Guinness beef stew and shepherd’s pie are made with fresher ingredients and served using novel plating techniques. The same changes apply to craft cocktails and the draft beer selection. Waxy’s has a beverage director whose sole job is to develop new cocktails.
“We have a cucumber-mint Collins, and strawberry mule for example – all fresh ingredients. The juice is squeezed every day; the garnishes are crisp,” says Julie. The goal is to make each drink and each craft cocktail into a presentation.
“It’s a little bit of a different spin on Irish favorites, such as a cocktail with an Irish cold brew. This cocktail has Irish whiskey, brown sugar, cold-brewed coffee and chocolate bitters in spiked whipped cream, and sounds scrumptious even to people who do not usually drink coffee.
Waxy’s has a huge selection of draft beer and a rotating draft beer line for seasonal specialty craft beer collections. As I write, all of the fall selections and pumpkin beers are coming out. Each location is a little different in its offerings, and all are constantly evolving and changing.
Current locations are in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; Keene, New Hampshire; Plainville, Connecticut and Woburn, Lexington, Foxboro, Brookline and Kingston in Massachusetts. “We are very excited to launch our new locations this year. They are Assembly Row, located in Somerville, Massachusetts; the Crossgates Mall in Albany, New York and Manassas Mall in Virginia,” says Julie.
“The new locations will include higher-end shopping malls and lifestyle centers at over 7,000 square feet, with patio terraces and outdoor bar areas,” says Julie.
I asked Julie how the new concept has been accepted by Irish patrons. She claims that it is the best of both worlds. In many locations, so many of the patrons are Irish, and the Irish owners spend a lot of time at each location helping build those relationships. Soccer, sports and Irish music really bond the Irish, and Waxy’s has regulars who have been coming to its locations since day one.
Visitors come in and become immersed in Irish culture, especially in the Boston area. The atmosphere and the build out of everything from floors to stained glass, light fixtures and artwork is imported directly from Ireland.
“A company named Truwood does all of our millwork, from booths to chairs and bar stools, the actual bar, every piece of furniture, glass, lights and fixtures. Everything is built in County Monaghan, Ireland. It gets put on containers and is shipped to Boston, before being fitted out into our many locations,” says Julie.
Restaurant business recruiting is very competitive, especially in the Boston area. Waxy’s is constantly working to attract top talent across the board. A lot of Irish employees come to work for Waxy’s on work visas and embrace the concept of the chain. Guests who come to Waxy’s love the fact that they are served by someone from Ireland, and the accent adds to the experience.
Waxy’s is in a unique position as it opens the new locations and is growing. It can promote from within, giving a huge incentive for all employees at every location.
“Our current staff is very good, and we are constantly adding. Average number of staff per restaurant is at about thirty. As for capacity, each pub is different. The Foxboro location can hold up to 380 people, the Brookline location has up to 140, and the Kingston pub accommodates 400,” says Julie.
Waxy’s is partly owned and operated by Jamsan Hotel Management, which is a great match for both brands. In-house restaurant dining provides a competitive advantage for the hotels by more effectively meeting the needs of guests. Hotel guests are savvier than before and travelling for food now more than ever.
Hotel guests, whether travelling for business or on vacation, are predisposed to celebrate and have a good time, so drinking, eating and lodging goes hand in hand. The formula is mutually beneficial because the restaurant enhances the reputation of the hotel and vice versa. Waxy’s will even drive customers to the hotels.
Waxy’s locations are bar-centric, with a variety of custom seating arrangements that offer multiple drinking and dining options. The overall atmosphere is enhanced by unique lighting schemes and high-quality audio systems, which change the mood from a softer, family-friendly ambiance during the day to a more adult, happy hour, dining, classic rock environment in the evenings to a ‘top forty’ sound with appropriate mood lighting on the weekend. Televisions are positioned throughout, showcasing live sports action and music videos.
“Many of our larger properties have dedicated private space up to two hundred people, allowing us to be a host for all kinds of events, from weddings to bereavements to bar mitzvahs, the local chamber of commerce events and much more. Our events team works closely with our beverage, culinary and restaurant excellence teams to ensure that our private event guests get the best-in-class beverage and culinary options, combined with the best-in-class service and execution,” says Julie.
Ongoing focus on the development of its restaurant excellence team is crucial going forward. Waxy’s believes that at the very core of the brand’s success is a daily attention to service standards, hospitality, quality products and cleanliness that, ultimately, lead to guest retention and customer loyalty to the brand and concept.
Continued development of its general management teams is underway. Combined with a great location, determined marketing efforts and ancillary support from the beverage, culinary, marketing, events and restaurant excellence teams, on site management of its properties is the ultimate guarantee of success.
“Michael Doherty, our director of operations, came on board a couple of months ago, and things are progressing very well with that. A restaurant industry veteran, Sean Hannon, has joined our team and will be in charge of restaurant excellence and customer service. Waxy’s is getting geared up and building for the future with new openings,” says Julie.
There is a long list of places that Waxy’s is looking at for expansion. The Washington, D.C. area and the Virginia market are at the top. It is constantly moving forward and will soon announce the hiring of a new chef and menu. Waxy’s will continue to develop new events and work to secure revenue streams from outside the normal foot traffic.