- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) - It all started with a high school kid washing dishes at an old restaurant on the Jersey Shore.

Fast forward to 2015 and that fellow still has a twinkle in his eye when he tells the story.

“I was a kid hitchhiking to the beach in Jersey to a party,” Mike Shea said from his office in the back of Mike O’Shays on Main Street. “A guy comes out of a local place and he desperately needs dishwashers because the dishes were piled up to the ceiling. He says ‘I’ll pay you guys $5 an hour if you wash dishes’ so we skipped the party and washed dishes. I started bussing for them and so on and so forth.”

Then he started waiting tables, and cooking at other local restaurants all through high school.

After high school, Shea drove 1,799 miles to the west and found Longmont.

O’Shays is celebrating 35 years operating from the same location on the east side of Main Street on the 500 block. It’s the longest continuously operating restaurant in town and it shows no signs of slowing down.

“I’m a stick with it kind of guy. I buy something or start something and I stick with it. There are people that buy and sell stuff all the time. I don’t. I have a car that I’ve owned for 40 years,” Shea said. “I don’t know what else I would have done. Restaurants have been my life.”

When they opened the doors on Oct. 28, 1981, there weren’t a lot of other food options along downtown Main. There was The Huddle, the Aspen Café and the Imperial Emporium. They are all long gone.

“There wasn’t much downtown. There were a lot of pharmacies downtown back then. There were a lot of empty spaces, a lot of empty storefronts,” Shea recalled.

“We had such a good reception when we opened, from the people who lived and worked around the downtown. People wanted a place that was more contemporary back then and we were it.”

Shea and his crew opened with a heavy seafood concept, and it stuck. Today’s menu is still heavy on the seafood, as well as steaks, sandwiches, salads and corned beef and cabbage.

Former city council member and local businessman Dan Benavidez has been eating at O’Shays since the day it opened.

“Mike O’Shays is so very special to me and that’s the truth. You know 35 years ago when Mike opened O’Shays it was troubling times in our city, times were tough,” Benavidez said.

“I would go there to O’Shays to get my spirits lifted and to this day I go frequently to Mike’s place many times with my good friend Mike Butler.”

Mike Butler is Longmont’s director of public safety.

Local businesswoman Frannie Follick-Hood has been eating there at least twice a week since 1983.

“Four generations of our family have eaten there,” she said.

“When our daughter was three, and we would say ‘where should we eat’ she would always say ‘I want to go to Mike’s,’ meaning O’Shays.”

Follick-Hood’s usual meal is the lemon pepper cod, while her husband favors the corn beef and cabbage.

“What has been unique about O’Shays, is it’s the hub. The hub for what happens in Longmont,” is how Stacy Cornay described the restaurant. She’s been a regular since moving to town in 1990. “If people celebrate special occasions, they come to O’Shays. If people have tough times, they come to O’Shays. It used to be after city council meetings, they would all come to O’Shays.”

2015

Today’s Longmont is much different from than it was on opening day 35 years ago, and Shea approves.

“I like seeing the destination places downtown. But it’s still not a good parking situation,” Shea said, rolling his eyes at downtown’s parking challenges.

“I like to see a place like Rosalee’s doing well, a pizza place downtown. I like all the shops. Ziggy’s does a great job. Even the candy store next door, they did a great job and it’s changed the face of downtown.”

Downtown Longmont today also has more competition than Shea has ever faced. Within the last year several restaurants have opened to positive reviews within a block or two of O’Shays: The Roost, The Brew, Rosalee’s and Sample’s World Bistro.

“Down here I think we felt it a little bit because there were so many,” Shea said.

“The Roost affected us a bit on our lunches, and Samples did too.”

But overall Shea said they are holding their own.

Mike O’Shays has been voted the Best Overall Restaurant 10 years in a row in the Longmont Times-Call. Other publications like Westword and Yellow Scene have honored the business as well.

The name

The bright yellow and blue sign outside says Mike O’Shays Restaurant & Ale House. Some find that a bit odd.

“We sat down with the artist, and with some misspellings and all, and he added an O to make it sound Irish so it when from Shea to O’Shays,” Shea said.

“I said fine, as long as it makes money go with it. So that’s what I did. My mom could’ve killed me”

“One of the biggest challenges is keeping staffed with quality employees, good people. And we have been able to always do that,” he said

“Whether it’s manufacturing, or the service industry, or whatever, it’s the staff that keeps it going and the staff that pushes your vision. Man I could write a book. I’m not going to, but I could … “

Staff members at O’Shays tend to stick around. General Manager Todd Johnson has been leading O’Shays for 27 years, after starting as a bartender in 1981.

Secret of success

The restaurant business is difficult.

According to a study by Ohio State University on failed restaurants, 60 percent do not make it past the first year, and 80 percent go under in five years.

“Attention to detail,” Shea said when discussing why his effort didn’t fail like so many others. “I have my nose in every corner of this restaurant. I’m in every cooler. I taste things. I really try to catch any problem before it becomes a problem.”

“We have the food and we have the service,” he added.

“It’s always good,” said Frannie Follick-Hood. “The service is impeccable. You get to know everyone. It’s home to us.”

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Information from: Daily Times-Call, https://timescall.com/

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