Written by Stephanie Summell
Photos by Michael Coons
Pouring the perfect pint of Guinness is an art that should not be rushed.
The dry stout must be positioned under the tap at just the right angle for just the right amount of time until the glass is three-quarters of the way full. After the beer settles, it is topped off so that a thick layer of froth almost escapes over the lip of the glass.
“It pours all cloudy and, very slowly, it separates into black and white,” says Brendan Searls, a founding partner and the namesake of Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant. “Then, we put a little crown on the top, so it’s actually a bit overflowing.”
The process, when done correctly, takes approximately 119 seconds.
One could say it’s that attention to detail that has made his business such a success.
Since opening its first location in 2011, Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant has become a standby for locals seeking a cozy place to eat, drink and enjoy the company of those around them. The pubs, in Camarillo, Newbury Park and Agoura Hills, offer a taste of the unique culture of the country where Brendan, 50, was born and raised.
Most of the pubs in Ireland and Europe are family owned and family-run, according to Brendan. “One of the things that attracts me to the pub business is that, essentially, it’s a community within a community.”
He has always been attracted to the laidback environment that a pub fosters. In other restaurants, people are often “shooed along” after they have finished spending money, he says.
“In America . . . we’re used to the fact that there’s a bar and you go to a bar to drink and there’s a restaurant and you go to the restaurant to eat. But where can you go with your coworkers, walk in at happy hour and feel like you don’t have to give up your table?”
A pub is a great place to unwind. “I love the fact that if you want to come in during happy hour to have a pint or martini, you don’t have to be in a hurry to leave. If you want to hang out and drink water for two or three hours, the pub is the perfect place for that.”
Brendan’s avoids the “cookie cutter” sort of service in which waiters, waitresses and bartenders stick to an impersonal script. Servers at Brendan’s avoid the familiar “Hi, my name is____ and I’ll be your server today” spiel for something more sincere.
“We have a daisy chain culture in that we believe that if you don’t give proper service or proper hospitality, you are running the risk of breaking the daisy chain for your coworkers and that (customer) may or may not come back,” Brendan says. “We try to build the business one guest at a time, and essentially, have “Cheers”-like comfort level where people know your name.”
“When we grew up (in Ireland), I’m not going to say we were poor, but it is definitely different from growing up here. You cooked because it was the most efficient way to feed a family.”
Brendan says his mother often made lamb stew, pan-fried steak, bangers and mash, fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.
“Those were staples. Irish cooking, when I was growing up, was not as cosmopolitan or sophisticated as it is now.”
The restaurateur grew up in Cork, Ireland, where he lived with his parents and one sister.
There, he excelled at Gaelic football, a team sport with similarities to rugby and soccer, playing for his high school and later, the County of Cork.
His journey to the U.S. began about 30 years ago when he befriended a young couple from Santa Barbara.
“I met them while I was hitchhiking to the beach. I was still in high school but I had a bit of wanderlust.”
A year later, Brendan flew to the states to be a groomsman in their wedding and decided he would one day make America his home.
Ireland at the time was weathering a period of political and economic instability. The country was plagued by high unemployment and mass emigration.
“Mine is the classic immigrant story,” Brendan says. “When I got done with high school and a year of college, it was the 1980s, which were tough times in Ireland.”
Brendan made his way to Boston, where he worked in construction and played semiprofessional Gaelic football for five years. In 1990, he moved to Santa Barbara.
There, he joined two partners to open Dargan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in 1997. The trio later opened a second Dargan’s, along with Rookies Sports Bar, Lounge and Grill, in Ventura before Brendan decided to strike out on his own.
He sold his share of the businesses in 2010 and went into business with Jonathan Siegel, a tech entrepreneur, investor and adviser he met while playing squash at the Santa Barbara Athletic Club five years ago.
“He is an extremely brilliant man who has had many successes,” Brendan says. “But, his businesses were Internet-based. He wanted something of bricks and mortar that he could touch and see.”
The duo opened the first Brendan’s in Camarillo in January 2011 followed by the Agoura location in March 2012 and the Newbury Park location in October 2012.
Brendan, who lives in Ventura with his wife, Kourtney, who owns Pizza Mizza in Santa Barbara, and their two children, says the pubs aim to provide the “comfy-cozy” atmosphere found in pubs in Ireland. Brendan’s menu offers both traditional and nontraditional pub fare so that everyone can find something they enjoy.
The restaurants, which purchase fresh produce from a farmers market three times a week, recently added a calamari dish to the menu in response to patrons’ requests.
“We spend a lot of time researching and developing our menu. We are going to introduce Brussels sprouts because Brussels sprouts, all of a sudden, are chic.”
And good whiskey, he says, will never go out of style.
“We have over 100 whiskeys at every location,” he says. “Everything from a $6 shot to a $180 shot.”
But, aside from good food, it’s the ambience that keeps customers coming back.
Tyler Rex, the pub’s director of marketing, says it has been exciting to watch the company grow.
“Brendan’s is just a happy place. Each (location) has a different layout and feel.”
And each location has authentic bric-a-brac from Brendan’s homeland. He recently returned from Ireland with lots of interesting things to accessorize the pub decor as Brendan’s will likely open locations in Simi Valley and Goleta within the next two years.
And it should be no surprise that both will offer the perfect pint of Guinness.
“We are trying to essentially bring the authenticity of the Irish pub experience to the Southern California market,” Brendan says. “Anybody can put the words ‘Irish pub’ over the door. We breathe the culture.”
Irish Reuben Sandwich
6 oz. cooked corned beef, sliced thin
¼ cup sauerkraut
2 Tbsp. Thousand Island dressing
2 slices rye bread
2 slices Irish-style white cheddar cheese
(or other white cheddar)
In a frying pan, saute corned beef and sauerkraut for about 10 minutes until browned. Toast two slices of rye bread and spread Thousand Island dressing on both sides. Place the corned beef and sauerkraut mixture on the bread between two slices of the cheese. Serve immediately.
Fish & Chips
1 ½ lb. Atlantic cod fillets, cut into
2″ x 3″ pieces
2 Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. Cajun seasoning ½ tsp. paprika
1 tsp. kosher salt
1½ cups flour
1 12-oz. bottle of beer, lager style
Heat vegetable oil to 375° in deep pan or Dutch oven.
Combine seasonings in a small bowl and set aside.
Put flour in a large bowl. Add beer gradually, while whisking, until mixture is the consistency of pancake batter.
Remove any bones from fish fillets. Coat fish with seasoning mixture. Dip in batter and drop into hot oil. Deep fry fish for 10 to 12 minutes, turning frequently until golden brown and cooked through.
Let the fish rest for a minute or two and serve with fries or potato chips.
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
pinch of oregano, dried
1 tsp. minced garlic
½ cup white onion, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup carrots, chopped
1 tsp. tomato paste
½ cup Guinness beer
¾ cup water
1 Tbsp. gravy, made from mix
½ cup peas
2 cups mashed potatoes
I n a large skillet, heat oil and add ground beef, salt, pepper, dried oregano and minced garlic. Once browned, add onions, celery, carrots and tomato paste. When vegetables are cooked, strain mixture and put back into skillet. Add gravy and peas and heat through. Place mixture in oven-safe serving bowl and top with mashed potatoes. Broil for 1 minute or until mashed potato top is golden brown. Serve hot.
Bread Pudding with Whiskey Caramel Sauce
6 slices double-thick, dense white
bread, cut into 1-inch squares ½ cup golden raisins
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2½ cups milk
¾ tsp. cinnamon
¾ Tbsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300°. In a medium bowl, mix eggs and sugar together. Add cream, milk, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. Arrange bread squares in a medium baking dish and top with raisins. Cover with cream mixture. Allow bread to become saturated. Bake for 45 minutes until lightly brown.
Spoon into individual serving bowls. Top with Whiskey Caramel Sauce and serve hot.
Whiskey Caramel Sauce
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
3 Tbsp. butter
5 Tbsp. Irish whiskey
In a small pot on low medium heat, melt sugars with cream and salt. Once completely blended and smooth, add butter and whiskey. Mix until well blended.