A week after Finn McCool’s Irish Gastropub abruptly closed, its owner is speaking out about what he says doomed the business.
The Main Street bar and restaurant shut down Oct. 2, hanging up a sign attributing the closure to “circumstances beyond our control.”
In an interview this week, owner Jeff Frotton blamed the closure on the city’s laws and the Main Street construction project, which he says reduced his business by nearly 50 percent.
“It was a tough decision, but we simply had no more money and resources to pour into it,” Frotton said.
The restaurant at 102 E. Main St. first opened in 2010 as Catherine Rooney’s.
In February 2018, Frotton and his wife, Mette, purchased the restaurant after moving here from California. Part of the purchase agreement was that the Frottons had to change the name of the restaurant to distinguish it from Catherine Rooney’s other location in Wilmington, which remained under its old ownership.
They turned the upstairs portion into a whiskey bar, updated the menu and promised to bring in a variety of Irish music acts.
The bar started off strong but began to falter when city code enforcement officers cracked down on the establishment, citing it for excessive noise and for turning the dining room into a dance floor on Thursday nights, Frotton said.
“To be honest, Thursday paid the bills,” he said, explaining that Finn McCool’s offered cheap pitchers of beer on Thursday nights, for which University of Delaware students flocked to the restaurant.
After he made changes to pitcher night to comply with city code, UD students blamed him for ruining the fun and found other places to party, he added.
Meanwhile, the bar’s efforts to focus on bringing in Newark residents were hampered by the Main Street construction project, which began in April and will continue through summer 2020. Frotton said he heard from many customers and even friends that the construction prompted them to stay away from downtown.
“The construction just killed our business,” Frotton said.
Another factor was the hotel Lang Development Group will start building this fall directly next to the Finn McCool’s building, which is also owned by Lang. Frotton said he feared that hotel construction and the associated loss of parking would make it even harder to stay in business.
“That will be a two-year project we don’t have the resources to survive,” he said.
Frotton said that when he was looking for a bar to buy, he never anticipated the effect the city’s laws would have on the business.
“We don’t get a lot of help and support from them,” he said. “Had we known that, we wouldn’t have bought a bar in Newark,”
In a prepared statement, City Manager Tom Coleman pushed back against Frotton’s criticism of the city.
“It is always unfortunate when a business closes its doors, but we do not agree that the City of Newark contributed to the closing of Finn McCool’s,” Coleman said. “We are sympathetic to Mr. Frotton’s position, but we have a duty to enforce the codes established by Council. The City has a great track record of working with and supporting local businesses, which is why Main Street continues to thrive despite the construction.”
The closure of Finn McCool’s leaves vacant part of one of the oldest and most recognizable buildings on Main Street. Constructed in the first half of the 19th century, the brick building was used as the headquarters for the First Bank of Newark starting in the 1850s.
It was later converted to residential and office space, and by the time it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, it was being used as a real estate office. In 2008, Lang renovated the building and added 10 apartments and office space onto the back.
By law, the historic portion of the building cannot be demolished.