After two years of looking for the right spot for their restaurant and visiting more than 100 locations in the tri-state area, Gerry McGwyne and Patrick Brennan, both of New York, took one look inside the long-standing Ash Creek Saloon in Norwalk and said, "This is our place."
They purchased the restaurant a few weeks ago for $250,000, which included the assets of the business, and a new 10-year lease plus renewal options, according to Steven Matsis, senior managing director of Pyramid Restaurant Group, and Brian Dornan, executive managing director of Pyramid Real Estate Group, both of whom were the exclusive buyer/seller broker reps for the transaction. The restaurant is expected to open Wednesday, but customers are encouraged to call in advance.
They loved the Western theme so much that they decided to keep it and put their own touches on it.
"When we saw the Western theme, we said, `This is for us,' " McGwyne said last Friday at the former Ash Creek as renovations of the interior space were underway.
Those personal touches include a new custom crafted bar; all new kitchen equipment, including a state of the art wood barbecue smoker; enlarged stage for live entertainment; new restrooms and new flooring throughout.
They are also rebranding the location as the Old Mill Smokehouse Saloon, offering a new menu of classic American and Irish comfort foods and authentic barbecue.
McGwyne said new customers must try the smoked ribs and pulled pork, but said the menu will include something for everyone.
McGwyne also pointed out that chef Dimas Astudillo, who has worked at the former Amberjack's in Norwalk and Roomba in New Haven, will adjust the menu as they go along to coincide with customers' tastes.
"It's all about customer service and making people happy," McGwyne said. "If you have good food and you keep people happy, they will come back."
He's learned a thing or two about the restaurant business since he has owned O'Flanagan's, a sports bar at 1215 1st Ave. in Manhattan, for 20 years.
He's learned that sports fans flock to the bar for the NFL package, which he will have at the Smokehouse Saloon, and he's discovered customers also like the discounts O'Flanagan's offers on evenings such as Nurses Night.
He plans on offering a special night for hospital workers at the Smokehouse Saloon.
McGwyne said the idea to open another restaurant sprung from a conversation he and Brennan had two years ago as they celebrated St. Patrick's Day at O'Flanagan's. The two became friends in New York through the Irish community.
"Patrick said he'd like to open a bar," McGwyne said. "I said, `Well, let's go and find one.' "
McGwyne said he didn't plan on becoming a restaurateur. He grew up in Ireland and moved to New York in 1985 because the economy in Ireland was bad.
"There wasn't too much opportunity," he said. "I wanted a better opportunity. I came here for six months to try it out and never went back."
McGwyne started a moving company when he came to the States that his daughter now runs and bought O'Flanagan's as an investment.
"I ended up managing it," he said.
He said he still loves Manhattan and his fondness is growing for Connecticut, especially Norwalk.
"I'm impressed with it," he said. "I already have a full-time job refusing people telling them we are closed," he said with a laugh. "The phone hasn't stopped ringing. I think it's going to be awesome."
The Old Mill Smokehouse Saloon is at 2 Wilton Ave., Norwalk. Call 917-416-7980 for information.