In 2010, when the economy was plummeting and businesses across America were being forced to close their doors, four Ireland-born sisters received a phone call that changed the fate of their Atlantic Beach restaurant. Talk about Culhane's Irish Pub had reached producers of the Food Network's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." They loved the restaurant's website, menu and story, prompting them to contact Mary Jane Culhane about the possibility of being featured on the popular show hosted by Guy Fieri.
"Having our own Irish pub had been a dream of ours since we first came to the states," Culane said. "After 10 years of saving, we were finally able make it a reality. We used our own money to back the restaurant — never taking out loans from any banks — so watching the economy drop in 2009 and knowing that 70 percent of restaurants fail, we were thankful for the publicity that a visit from Fieri would bring."
Before a spot of the show could be secured, production teams were sent to check out the pub in person.
"They wanted to make sure everything was made from scratch and to make sure it was a legitimate, authentic place," Culhane said. "A lot of Irish pubs are all about the bar, but we've always focused on our Irish chefs and authentic food; many of our recipes come straight from our mother's kitchen. That's what sets Culhane's apart."
The creators of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" agreed. A week after learning they had landed a highly-coveted spot on the show, Fieri was in their kitchen. The show highlighted popular Irish comfort foods, like their Guiness Beef Stew, Dingle Fish Pie and Blarney Lamb Sliders. The unique ambiance and close-knit community, too, were emphasized — a true Irish pub atmosphere.
Culhane's has had loyal local customers since it's opening, but being on national television and now having a six-page spread in Fieri's new book has opened up a whole new group of patrons. People travel all over the country, following in Fieri's footsteps and trying out some of the best food in the nation.
"Atlantic Beach has always had such a great sense of community," said Culhane. "I've loved seeing the business grow. We get new people in everyday because of the show and the book."
Given glowing reviews on Urbanspoon.com, Culhane's has become a staple of Atlantic Beach. Their traditional Irish cuisine has been in high demand with the increasing acclaim; sales have doubled since their feature episode first aired, enabling the four sisters to renovate the pub's dining room.
Jacksonville-area residents will be pleased to hear the news: The Culhanes are planning another location as early as July. Although no official announcement has been made, St. Augustine, Mandarin and Riverside were all mentioned as possible locations for new Culhane's, with the family's goal opening two more by the end of summer 2014.
"Honestly, it's a dream come true for us. The show and book bring so much more credibility, and we'll always be so thankful for all of our loyal patrons."
In addition to Mary Jane Culhane, the restaurant is run by Aine Culhane McClung , Lynda Culhane and Michelle Culhane-Kearney.