Photo by Jim Larson, story by Jim and Diane Larson
His name is Irish Johnny. He’s the Director of Blarney (his official title) for Shawn O’Donnell’s restaurants, and he’s found a place to call home.
“I was born and raised in Ireland about 80 miles north of Dublin. And I came to America in 2003. But prior to coming to America, I grew up on stories of Butte, Montana. And before I knew about Boston or before I knew about New York or Chicago, I knew about Butte America, and I’d heard the nickname that it had, that it was the Ireland of the Rockies. So, from a young, young age, I was fascinated with the mining city,” said Irish Johnny.
And what does one do with that fascination, well one eventually moves to the Ireland of the Rockies and opens a business. It took a few years for that desire to be realized.
In 2020 Johnny was living in Washington state and when the governor put a lockdown and businesses were closed, he decided with some free time for the first time in a while he would take a trip. “I rolled out a map of America. I put it on my kitchen table, and I said, […] what am I going to do? And I decided to take a trip to Butte because I’d grown up on these stories of Butte. I’d been infatuated with it from a distance, I’d been enamored with it from a distance,” said Johnny.
During that trip to Butte Johnny felt a sense of closeness to the place. “I had a feeling as if I’d been here before. And on the very first day that I was here, I decided this is where I wanted to live out my days. I wanted to live in Butte,” Johnny explained.
While he was in Butte Johnny wondered, “is this the right place for an Irish restaurant, an American grill, to set up shop?” So, he began to learn what he could of the culture and habits of Butte. He continued his research and met with people who would help him answer his questions. He met with the BLDC, visited local restaurants, and walked around and talked to the people of Butte. “I got a sense of the city, and I could feel that there was this resurgence coming. There’s a revitalization coming to Uptown Butte,” Johnny said.
He also met with Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher, had a discussion, and sought his advice. Gallagher then helped him further by introducing Johnny to some key people who would help him further gathering information. After all this work and market research, “all signs pointed to Butte being a natural home for a family-friendly Irish restaurant,” Johnny said.
This family-friendly Irish restaurant will be Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill and Irish Pub. The foods they will serve, according to Johnny, the core items, will be authentically Irish dishes such as shepherd’s pie with lamb, which is the traditional way to make a shepherd’s pie. There will also be fish and chips, bangers, and mash, and each and every day of the year they will serve corned beef and cabbage. “I think those are going to be big hits with the people of Butte,” said Johnny.
O’Donnell’s is located at 123 North Main Street, the previous home of Mac’s Tavern. However, they will be expanding this location location and combining it with the property next door to create a larger space. “There is tremendous iconic value just to the addresses. We are at 123 North Main Street and 125 North Main Street in Butte America. We’re in the heart of the Ireland of the Rockies,” Johnny noted.
Along with being in the largest historic district in the nation come some challenges. These buildings, while containing so much history, have also aged, which means there is work to be done. Even with that, “We’re looking forward to investing in these buildings. We’re looking forward to improving them structurally, and just get a nice façade on the outside here that’s going to present Uptown Butte in a way that people are really gonna be proud of,” Johnny said.
It's a while until they will be able to open their doors. They are shooting for early in 2024. Once the day for opening comes closer, they will need to hire about 2 dozen people to get the place running smoothly.
“I just want to do Butte justice, and when you ask me why Butte, Butte is a very vibrant town. It’s up and coming. This Uptown district is where my heart is and where my heart was every time that I visited. And this is where I wanted to be. It’s a very natural connection between an Irish person and Butte America,” said Irish Johnny, Director of Blarney at Shawn O’Donell’s American Grill and Irish Pub.