At Egan and Sons, COVID shutdowns helped prepare the pub for Ida
By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
When you enter Egan and Sons, you might feel as if the pub hasn’t changed a bit.
There’s the brick exposed wall at the entrance of the pub. There’s the wooden bar, stocked with all kinds of liquor. The beers on tap. The impressive glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the main hall. They’re all familiar to patrons of a restaurant and bar that has been on Walnut Street in Montclair for 16 years.
But so much of Egan’s has been rebuilt in the last few months — because when Ida hit Montclair Sept. 1, it hit Egan and Sons hard.
“We just got flooded out. Like floor to ceiling. First floor up to like knee high,” Sharon Egan, co-owner of Egan and Sons, said.
She said everything was destroyed — electrical panels, fire alarms and elevators. The three kitchens were wiped out.
For more than 50 days, she said, the pub had to shut down completely in order to rebuild. The restaurant reopened on Oct. 28 after the extensive repairs.
Instead of laying off the restaurant’s 70 workers, Egan said, the restaurant repurposed them as “contractors.” Members of everyone from the kitchen staff to the management worked together in order to keep the pub afloat, and to prepare for an eventual reopening.
“And even bartenders came in and dug up the floor and everyone helped, you know? It was like the village rebuilt Egan’s,” she said.
Egan said several things had to be redone — like the upholstery of all of the benches in the main hall. That work was done by Mendez Upholstery, just a block away at the corner of Walnut and North Willow streets. Workers would pick up one of the benches each day.
“Then one night, [the owner] and his workers stayed in the building and just worked all night [changing the upholstery of the benches] after we left,” Egan said. “I mean, it really was a huge effort on everyone’s part to get us back up and running.”
The Halcyon Brasserie, located next door to Egan’s and owned by the same family, also suffered damages. There, too, the staff helped out with the repairs. Halcyon was ready to reopen earlier in October.
Egan said that even though the flooding and rebuilding were difficult, they didn’t compare with the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, and the spring 2020 shutdowns of restaurants and other businesses.
“If I didn’t go through COVID first, I never would have had the patience for Ida,” she said. “It got me prepared, you know? Before, if we were closed for one snow day, I would be in a panic. ‘How am I going to make that up?’ — you know? Now, I feel like we’re resilient.”
Egan said she remembers that period as a blur.
“We thought it was going to be for two weeks. Little did we know it was five,” she said. “And then we reopened for takeout for the month of May , and that really is just, for us, a bit of a waste of time. We did it just to stay relevant. We didn’t want people to forget we existed.”
In the summer of 2020, Egan said, the pub reopened for outdoor dining, but that was a challenge as well. Several staff members got sick with COVID-19 — including herself. She was out for a month in November of 2020. The pub was opening and closing regularly every time someone got sick, she said.
“It was just ridiculous,” Egan said. “Fortunately, we have the backyard. So, the parking lot became a huge restaurant and that was really good for us.”
Egan said the shutdown pushed management to reinvent the pub. One of those reinventions was to adopt a pay-by-phone system for orders at the front of the bar, which she said helps out when the restaurant is short-staffed and reduces contact with the customers.
Egan said that even though the past two years have been challenging, the difficulties have strengthened the relationship among staff members and its customers — she pointed to the example of a few longtime customers bringing cupcakes to staff working after Ida. She’s felt a sense of community both inside and outside the pub.
Egan said both the pub and Halcyon Brasserie are completely back up to speed, welcoming customers seven days a week. And she thanks the overall Montclair community for supporting the pub during challenging times.
“Everybody was just so kind. I mean, in the beginning [of the pandemic], people were coming in and just handing us money to give to the staff. Many customers came in and gave us like $500, $600 and even $1,000 cash to give to the staff. And that was really nice,” Egan said. “We employ so many people. For many this was their first job. So, I think a lot of people like to support us because they kind of started out here, you know?”