As the owners of Bull McCabe’s prepared to open their Irish pub, they were surprised by the community’s negative response.
Malachy Noone and his then partners had bought Joe and Jo’s Downtown, a beloved bar on West Main Street in Durham whose owners were pioneers in the downtown’s nightlife revival.
Rumors abounded when Noone and his partners moved forward with a plan to transform the bar.
“It was unreal,” Noone, 40, said of the rumors. “First we were a chain. Second, we were just these bunch of idiots from New York.”
But eight years later, Bull McCabe’s has clearly made the spot its own, welcoming a variety of community gatherings and soccer enthusiasts.
This spring, Bull McCabe’s rolled out a wide, covered side patio that creates an outdoor scene and adds another layer of vitality to one of the gateways to the acclaimed foodie district that surrounds the city’s Five Points intersection. Up until spring, outdoor dining in that area was limited to tables on the sidewalk at Toast and the now-closed Whiskey.
Outdoor spaces often serve as another beacon to the business and the general community, said Greg Hatem, whose Empire Eats restaurants includes five places in Raleigh and one in Durham.
“When you are outside in an outside dining space, everybody is on stage,” he said. “It just creates so much good for the community.”
Hatem’s outdoor spaces range from a courtyard at Gravy to a sidewalk patio at The Raleigh Times and a rooftop bar and dining space at The Pit in Durham.
For businesses, outside seating areas can attract customers, diversify dining options and increase a restaurant’s capacity.
Guests covet the outdoor seats on those ideal North Carolina cool evenings, Hatem said.
However, with those spaces comes the responsibility to meet city and state regulations, including an annual renewal of an outdoor dining permit for dining within the city of Raleigh’s public right of way.
Owners also have to be aware of the noise and inebriated customers spilling into the surrounding neighborhood, Hatem said.
Relying on good weather
Outdoor spaces and their dependence on suitable weather create an uncertainty that directly impacts staffing levels and inventory.
Andrew Leager said he knew it was a risk when he converted his only parking spaces into a deck at his Boylan Bridge Brewpub near downtown Raleigh. A risk that paid off, he said.
Leager started leasing the 15,500-square-foot building on South Boylan Avenue when his cabinet shop Special Projects had outgrown its space on West Martin Street.
The Boylan Avenue building’s landlord said Leager had to lease all or none of the building, so he moved his cabinet shop into the space by 2005 and built by hand the roughly 3,000-square-foot brewpub, which he opened in 2009 in the same building.
“I made the bars and the booths,” Leager said. “I made the doors. I did the general construction, the Sheetrock work, the tile work.”
Leager built the deck to not only maximize the view of the setting sun over downtown, but to be in the plane of vision of passing drivers.
“So people in the cars can make eye contact with people sitting on the deck,” he said.
The brewpub’s outdoor space accounts for about 95 percent of its annual revenue, and it barely breaks even during the cold months, he said.
“Maybe not even that,” he said.
Leager added outdoor heaters last year, but it didn’t make a big difference.
“People just have a very narrow tolerance for any sort of cold weather, even with 75,000 BTU heaters,” he said.
Leager suggested that small-business owners should have a “highly evolved presentational design,” to attract customers. They should also consider the wind, which can be a blessing or a curse.
“The wind is always blowing at our place,” Leager said.
Expanding Bull McCabe’s
After working as a bartender in New York City for eight years, Noone, a native of Ireland, and his wife moved to Raleigh.
He worked at the Hibernian Pub in Raleigh for about a year before he and two partners bought in 2006 Joe & Jo’s lease and equipment from owner JoAnne Worthington, who planned to help her father run a restaurant in Belize.
Noone rummaged through spaces in New York, Virginia and North Carolina and decorated Bull McCabe’s with finds that include four stained-glass church windows, pews and a 120-year-old oak bar.
After Bull McCabe’s opened in April 2007, Noone started contacting the owner of an adjacent lawn that the city maintained. He called or emailed once a month begging to buy the property.
“She wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t do it. She wouldn’t do it,” he said.
The owner finally agreed in 2011. Noone and his one remaining partner, Rhys Botica, put a fence around the space to meet N.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Control rules, which allow patrons to consume adult beverages outside in an enclosed and controlled environment.
The business partners mortgaged their houses and property to pay for the renovation, and they negotiated with the owner of the Bull McCabe’s building to secure a lease that extends through 2038. They found an architect and interviewed seven contractors. The construction started in November 2013.
They built the 1,000-square-foot concrete porch with a roof that covers heaters, fans and five televisions. They closed the place for two weeks to cut a hole for a door in the side of the building.
To address the expanding capacity, they upgraded kitchen equipment, replaced a hood that sucked up the air-conditioned air, turned a back room into a food cooler for more storage and added seven more bathrooms.
The full-serve patio bar opened earlier this month.
Before the outdoor renovation, Bull McCabe’s had room for about 84 inside the restaurant, Noone said. Now, the patio has a capacity of 87 and space for up to 55 inside, he said.
During the transition, Bull McCabe’s staff has increased from 24 to 36 people.
Noone advises those considering investing in an outdoor space to plan to exceed their budget by at least 20 percent. Noone encountered various unexpected expenses that included adding a new roof and replacing existing plumbing. He also recently learned that weatherproofing the deck for cold weather could cost up to $20,000.
Since the expansion, utility bills have increased significantly, but so has revenue.
Noone still hopes to expand the kitchen and landscaping and make better use of the quarter-acre lawn area that is dotted with picnic tables.
“Bands. Movies on the lawn. Documentaries,” Noone said. “That is just for starters.”