You would likely see these dishes offered at restaurants in the Emerald Isle, but delicious Irish food is closer to the Midwest than you may think. These Ireland-inspired dishes are just a few of the many items available at Blarney Stone, an authentic Irish pub born in North Dakota. The pub plans began when three business partners, Matt Geiger, Jim Poolman, and Russell Wanner, fell in love with an old building they found in a vibrant area of downtown Bismarck. “We knew we wanted to put something downtown in terms of a bar or restaurant,” said Jim Poolman, one of the business partners. Why an Irish pub? Poolman explained, “Matt had been to Ireland a few times, and I travel a lot for work and have seen a lot of concepts.” By bringing together their experience and different ideas, they formed a vision to create an authentic Irish restaurant environment with quality service and unique goods while helping to spur up action in downtown Bismarck.
The entrepreneurs brought their vision to life with a little help from Dakota Certified Development Corporation (now Dakota Business Lending) in partnership with Dakota Community Bank. In order to fund the purchase and renovation of their real estate, along with the acquisition and installation of their equipment and fixtures, the entrepreneurs utilized the Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loan program.
“The CDC (now Dakota Business Lending) was instrumental in working with our local banks to put together a financing package that allowed us to build the project to our satisfaction and to fulfill our vision,” says Poolman.
The existing building, previously a Chinese restaurant, was completely renovated. Blarney Stone was constructed with two levels and a beautiful mezzanine area for dining. The dark, rich wood on the bar, booths, tables, and furniture, along with classic chandeliers and other fixtures, give it a sophisticated touch. The décor and ambiance capture the essence of a true Irish pub. Blarney Stone opened in 2009 and immediately started to see immense success, but not exactly the way the partners expected. The pub has over 30 beers on tap and a wide variety of liquor and wine. Therefore, the business partners projected that Blarney Stone would prosper in drink sales.
“Oddly enough, we are known for our food,” Poolman revealed. "That was a surprise for us because we thought it would be a place for someone to have a beer and possibly a meal too, but it has really become a wonderful restaurant for people to eat and then have a beer and hang out for the night.”
Even so, alcohol sales are still a primary part of their business and they require customers to be 21 to enter.
After a few years of growth in Bismarck, the partners decided to expand in eastern North Dakota to West Fargo. Once again the owners used the SBA 504 loan program from Dakota CDC (now Dakota Business Lending) in partnership with First International Bank & Trust to construct the second Blarney Stone .The West Fargo pub was completed and opened in 2014. Much like the Bismarck restaurant, this location has two floors with a raised mezzanine area and open concept. With the same quality menu and an even greater assortment of draft beers and drinks than the original, the West Fargo pub found much of the same success as in Bismarck. Russ Wanner, the general manager of both locations and the partner with the most restaurant experience, has had a big impact on the success of the business. “We have great partners and a great manager, and I think he has assembled a great staff to provide a great product and service,” says Poolman.
The owners have felt incredible support and encouragement from both the communities of West Fargo and Bismarck throughout their experience. “We are very appreciative about how supportive the community has been toward our business and we will continue to try to support the community as well.” While creating jobs in both communities with their business, they also are continually working toward making their customers happy.
“Knowing what your customers want is incredibly important, and we are constantly evolving to meet our customers’ needs.”
Blarney Stone has specials five days a week and happy hour all week long. They also developed a VIP program for customers with great incentives and rewards like food and beer discounts.
The business trio is extremely happy with public reaction to the business. Blarney Stone has received multiple awards and honors over the last five years. These include Best Restaurant in 2014 by Bismarck Tribune and Bismarck-Mandan Entrepreneur of the Year Award. It is evident through these awards and others that the business is thriving. Using their vision and hard work, the partners took a chance on Blarney Stone and reached their goals. With the start-up behind them, Poolman feels comfortable with how they made their business decisions. “
There are always surprises when opening a new business. It’s okay. You learn from the twists and turns. Nothing costs what you think it will, but having a good relationship with your lender, like we do with Dakota Business Lending (now Dakota Business Lending), has proven beneficial for us to work through those surprises.”