The Heart and Crown has been a staple in the Byward Market for almost 30 years, having just turned 27 in late April. We’re thrilled to have them come on board as a sponsor for GEM Conference! We chatted with Shauna Bradley, co-owner of the family-owned and operated Irish pub, about the Heart and Crown’s history, changing times, and craic!
"We could often be found attempting our own business ventures on the sidewalk outside from face painting maple leaves on Canada day to busking with our devil sticks!"
Shauna, on getting the entrepreneurial spirit from growing up in her parent's pub.
Happy 27th Birthday! Tell me a bit about how the Heart and Crown got started as a family business back in 1992.
The Heart and Crown started in 1992 when my dad, Larry Bradley, took the plunge and made his dream of opening a pub a reality. My dad left a troubled Ireland in the ‘70s to make a better life for himself. He started in the States, and eventually moved Canada. His employment over the years included bartending, bar security, and various construction jobs. Shortly after making Ottawa his home, he started his own construction company with fellow Irishman, Pat Kelly, in 1982. Construction was going well but he had an ongoing thirst (no pun intended) to open a local pub for friends and family to gather for a bit of “craic”, just like the ones back home in Ireland. On April 19th, 1992, the Heart and Crown opened its doors in the ByWard Market. This would not have been possible without the help of mom, Michèle, of course. From humble beginnings, we have come a long way in 27 years. Before being equipped with an accounting department that we are very grateful for now, my mom took care of all the bookkeeping for the business. Any time we needed posters made for in-house promotions, I remember my mom drawing them by hand at home. (My brother Michael takes care of all of our in-house printing needs now). Most importantly, when my dad had to be at the bar for endless hours, my mom was either at home with the three kids or she took us to work in “the dungeon”, AKA the office in the basement of the bar, with her. As kids, we spent our PD days and holidays at the pub. I’m sure we drove the staff nuts. We could often be found attempting our own business ventures on the sidewalk outside from face painting maple leaves on Canada day to busking with our devil sticks!
The restaurant industry is tough and, unfortunately, a lot of businesses close not long after opening. How has Heart and Crown stood the test of time?
Everything aside, I think a lot of it has to do with the relationships we have formed over time and making connections with our audience over the last 27 years. We have five locations across the city, and when we walk into any of our pubs, we always know somebody sitting at the bar. Some of our customers have seen my siblings and I grow up. Some of them like to bring up embarrassing stories from when we were kids, haha. I really think a lot of our customers enjoy supporting a family oriented business like ours and feeling a connection to us. We’ve always been family-friendly and love seeing parents, grandparents, and kids gathering at the pub. Just like in Ireland!
My dad has always been on a mission to provide good vibes (craic) and atmosphere, and I really feel he’s passed this on to us “kids”. After opening, we quickly became known for live music and, 27 years later, we still are. I must also mention, we throw the best St Patrick’s Day parties in the city!
Back in ’92, the ByWard Market wasn’t quite the destination it is now. We like to think we helped shape it over the years. We are a big tourist destination and are often told we are a staple in this city. Our Irish charm doesn’t hurt either! We’ve always maintained a strong relationship with the Irish community. When we first opened, they were our biggest supporters. We are now seeing a lot of their kids coming in and continuing the tradition.
I feel like we’ve been a part of the life cycle for many people in the community. We have people that started coming in to our Market location with their parents, to partying during their university years, to settling in the ‘burbs with their spouse and kids, who are now coming in with families of their own.
We’ve always believed in giving back to the community. One of our very first (and ongoing) community initiatives was our Christmas Dinner for those in need. Our first Christmas in business, with the help of volunteers, we opened our doors to feed people that were either going through tough times or just needed some company. This past Christmas we served more than 600 meals and provided everyone with a wrapped gift. To name a few of our current local charity involvements: we are a Mealshare partner and help fight youth hunger by providing close to 40,000 meals since last June. We bring our staff to volunteer at Operation Come Home regularly. We have been the title sponsor for over a decade of the Heart and Crown presents: Fight for the Cure boxing event, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. We have an ongoing partnership with the Bruyère Foundation and host one of their annual fundraisers, which raises more than $20,000 each year. Every February, we raise thousands for the Heart Institute. This coming November we will be doing the same for Movember, and are even hosting their closing gala. We have our second fundraiser for ovarian cancer coming up this summer in honour of one our long time employees/original boss lady/Irish sister, Julie Donnelly, who lost her battle in 2017. Most recently we raised a ton of money for the Ottawa flood relief, and the list goes on.
(Heart and Crown quickly rallied to aid in flood relief funding in April 2019, donating $5 from every burger sold to local efforts).
Our attitude has always been if we are able to help out, we will.
Finally, a lot of hard work, continuous trial and error, learning from mistakes, and not being afraid to try different things. I think timing has a lot to do with it too. Knowing when to make a move or not, and knowing when it’s time to move on, whether you like it or not. Learning to trust your team is very important too. My dad also has a knack for picking locations in this city. Corners are key!
How has being a family run business helped shape the Heart and Crown?
I really think being a family business has given the H&C a lot of personality. Having grown up in the pub environment has certainly built character, and a thick skin!
The same ideals and values have been passed along, while we continue to come up with fresh ideas and stay relevant. I feel like the vision and the personality of the place continues to grow through our family. As the 2nd generation of Heart and Crown, my siblings and I have seen many ups and downs, from its humble beginnings until now. (Check out our Insta for some vintage pics! Ha) Despite many offers, my dad has always chosen to keep it in the family. And we are grateful! I honestly can’t imagine a life without the Heart.
Although there is only a small handful of us that are actually blood related, we feel like we are part of one big dysfunctional family (and I mean that in the best way possible!) We all look out for each other. So many relationships have been formed at the Heart in 27 years. Whether it be friends, lovers, employees, or customers, everyone has a Heart story!
Heart and Crown has cycled through eras over the years, so to speak. What kind of era are you in or entering now?
We have certainly gone through a few eras! I’m not exactly sure what this era has to hold but I’m feeling good about it. We’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last 6 months, and we’ve got a good team working together. We are maintaining our Irish roots while evolving with the times. We are doing our best to help our neighbours and support local.
"Shauna said that they have just hired their first female GM at one of their locations, and that excites her! We need more women in leadership positions in the restaurant industry."
I’m so happy to be seeing a growing community of female business leaders in the community. I don’t know what it is, but I’m feeling some good vibes in the air.
How do the young employees and female employees effect how the business evolves?
Always having young employees around definitely helps keep us up-to-date with the times. They can give insight on what is considered “cool” nowadays and help predict trends.
We’re happy to say that many female employees have climbed the ranks in our establishments over the years. Their feedback is pivotal for key decisions. One example is as the way we choose our uniforms, it was very important to get female perspective to ensure that they felt comfortable during their long shifts while still maintaining the look and brand that is the Heart & Crown. Most of our front line staff are female, but I would love to see more women applying for more upper management positions in this industry. From the restaurant level to head office level, we are proud to see so many women working as a collective to get the job done.
Tell me about "Good Craic."
Irish are known for funny words and slang; craic being one of them. It basically means a good time, laughing, and chatting. Heart and Crown prides itself on its mighty craic! Going back to our roots, we are really trying to focus on having a good atmosphere, and the fun times that shaped who we are today. Hard to beat good craic!
(Definition of “craic”-pronounced ‘crack’-Collins Dictionary: If you are talking about something that you did and you say 'the craic was great', or 'it was a good craic', you mean that you had a really good time, especially because everyone was talking, joking, and laughing)