So much more than pub grub from Culinary Creations

Sunday, 16th October, 2011

They’ve got 10 beers on tap — including Irish favorites Guinness and Harp — along with dozens more bottled varieties and spirits plentiful enough as those said to roam the Emerald Isle. But McMurphy’s is not your average bar — at least not these days.

Owner Vern Marcois, who took over last May, said the business is focused on living up more to the pub end of its name with an emphasis on a business lunch crowd and deliveries, as well as happy hour and Sunday football fans.

The philosophy is no surprise, considering that Marcois fell into the bar business.

As a general contractor, he had overseen the bar’s extensive remodel a few years ago under the previous owner — “we completely gutted the interior of the bar and turned it into a brand-new facility” — but never thought it would one day be in his hands.

“I had no aspirations to own a bar. I had an opportunity to buy the property (last year), but I just wanted to collect rent.”

Entrepreneurship got the better of Marcois, and he turned an eye to making the business more of a casual pub, where people could watch the game, have an afterwork drink or enjoy a hearty lunch.

Key to that change would be the food. Marcois used the luck of the Irish (and an Elks Lodge 266 connection) to find the right team. Heavily involved in community work through the Bakersfield Breakfast Lions and the Elks Lodge, he shared a common bond with friend Randy Martin, CEO of Covenant Coffee, which trains former foster youth in the art of coffee roasting.

Covenant Coffee was the brew of choice served from the mobile kitchen of Culinary Creations, then stationed in a food truck in the parking lot outside the Elks Lodge near Garces Circle. With that connection, Martin introduced Marcois and Theo Morris, who owns Culinary Creations with his wife, Miranda.

Culinary Creations’ trailer was the brainchild of the Morrises, both talented chefs who met working in the kitchen when the Padre Hotel reopened.

After deciding to strike out on their own as caterers, they began operating a trailer at Buena Vista Road and White Lane, serving a variety of breakfast and lunch items that emphasized seasonal ingredients. Permit and zoning concerns forced the pair to relocate, this time downtown, where they connected with Marcois, who was looking for someone to run his kitchen.

“He approached us because he was looking to jump-start McMurphy’s,” Theo Morris said. “He expressed interest in revitalizing the restaurant side of his establishment and the importance of bringing in a new customer base.

“He liked what we were about, what we were trying to do with our business.”

While building their catering clientele and running the trailer, the Morrises were open to exploring more opportunities, especially having a set location that was not subject to the weather.

Theo Morris said, “On a rainy day, it’s nice to have a location where people can come in and sit down.”

Impressed with their expertise, Marcois tapped them to revamp his menu.

“We were doing bar food, but I didn’t want to do bar food. He (Theo) seemed open to that, and was excited that we wanted to introduce Irish items. If we’re calling ourselves an Irish pub, we can’t just serve Guinness and say we’re an Irish pub.”

The menu currently offers potato cakes, Irish pork medallions and a leek and mushroom shepherd’s pie. Marcois said a Guinness stew is also in the works in the coming months.

Along with Irish fare, the menu is a mix of starters, salads and sandwiches, like the popular McMurphy’s burger.

“With the McMurphy’s burger, everything that goes into that is fresh,” Morris said. “Angus ground beef, fresh jalapeno, parsley, garlic and onion are mixed into the patty. There are whiskey caramelized onions and jalapeno guacamole.”

Customers remarked that it was too bad the burger was introduced after Pete Tittl, The Californian’s food critic, released his top local burgers package over the summer.

“It’s actually kind of funny. Guys came in and said it should have been on the list.”

Along with a walk-in crowd, the Morrises have stayed mobile, setting up deliveries to hair salons, a law firm and other businesses.

Their trailer, operated by sous chef Christal Garcia, was set up on Calloway north of Rosedale, but will be moving to a new location in the next week or so that will be more conducive to a lunch business.

Changes are coming to McMurphy’s as well, with a few tweaks to the menu that will echo the trailer’s.

“On the trailer, we did daily specials, literally whatever we made that day,” Morris said. “Because the way McMurphy’s was established, we set up a rotation — Meatloaf Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc. — so people could get comfortable with the menu. Now we’re going to revert back to the trailer style.”

Just as they’ve done with the trailer, Morris said they’ll post daily specials on the Culinary Creations and McMurphy’s Facebook pages.

Many customer favorites (the burger, their spin on the club sandwich, Irish whiskey chicken wings) will remain, while daily specials and seasonal items will be added. One such addition will be a trailer favorite: a Thanksgiving sandwich with grilled turkey, sausage stuffing, cranberry mayo and Munster cheese.

Also catering to a holiday crowd, Culinary Creations will sell a variety of breakfast casseroles (Mexican breakfast, Texas spicy hot link, meat lover or spinach Florentine) to appeal to those with full households.

With Miranda at the helm, catering continues to grow, but there is an equal interest in building business at McMurphy’s. Already they’ve noticed an upswing in attendance for Monday night football and special events.

“Before the Santana concert, we had 20 to 30 people coming in for cocktails. We had a guy singing in the background and some appetizers.

“We do know that we have a crowd. Once we get our lunch built up where we want it and it get successful, we can expand to dinner down the road. But it’s a long process. We haven’t seen the success financially yet.

“By the end of the year, we might be in the position to do dinner.”

As the word of mouth grows, Marcois keeps an eye on what they’re all about: keeping people happy and coming back.

“If we can offer really good food and a great selection of beer, and with nine TVs, usually there is something for everybody.”

Source: Stefani Dias, bakersfield.com/

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