St. Patrick’s Day is a major drinking holiday for all bars, especially an Irish Pub. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US in March and the restaurant shutdowns began, Schileens Pub in Westville had already started preparations for their busiest day of the year. Instead of customers lined around the block for Guinness, green beer, and substantial helpings of ham and cabbage, owners John and Eileen Schillig, along with all other New Jersey bar owners, were forced to cancel their St. Patty’s Day celebrations. The couple quickly pivoted to provide takeout for the holiday until outdoor dining was permitted in late spring to make ends meet.
Like so many other local bars, operating amidst the uncertainty has a challenge for the Schilligs, and this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at Schileens are still uncertain. Heady Times had the opportunity to Zoom with John and Eileen Schillig to learn more about how they coped and adapted to business during COVID-19.
Heady Times (HT): How did Schileens Pub get started?
Eileen Schillig (ES): Twenty-five years ago, I simply walked straight up to John, who was bartending at the time, and I told him how I wanted to open a bar and call it Schileens. We scoured South Jersey and finally settled on what was previously known as The Delsea House Tavern. We worked in the restaurant industry for years before opening Schileens Pub in 1995, and our family is a big part of our success. All five of our children have helped throughout the years, ensuring that our leap of faith was worth it.
HT: How did you decide on an Irish pub theme?
ES: Initially, we were unsure which direction we wanted to take when we opened back in 95, but after our first St. Patrick’s Day, we just knew we were meant to be an Irish Pub.
HT: What sets Schileens apart from other Irish pubs?
John Schillig (JS): We are known for our food, which sets us apart from other bars. In normal times, roughly 95% of people at the bar had a plate of food in front of them. We put ourselves on the map with our hand-carved roast beef and ham sandwiches. Although we had to move our carving station from behind the bar to the kitchen due to COVID-19, we’re still selling plenty of sandwiches. In fact, we recently sold our 380,000th roast beef sandwich.
HT: What changes have you made due to COVID-19?
JS: The pandemic forced us to adapt and essentially build a brand-new business overnight. We relied heavily on social media to bring in customers and announce the changes we were making, on almost a daily basis, to keep everyone safe.
We created an outdoor beer garden, which allowed us to have daily live music and host Quizzo on Monday nights that helped drive our business due to the state’s indoor capacity restrictions. We had Miller Lite and Coors Light bucket specials, which helped make the outdoor beer garden a success.
HT: What were some positive impacts on your business from COVID-19?
ES: Everday, we did something to improve the business. Thanks to our social media efforts, we delivered large hoagie trays to frontline workers at our local hospitals and doctors’ offices. Although we hope for the state’s announcement of 50% indoor capacity, we plan to continue with our outdoor beer garden until the weather says otherwise. Thanks to its success, we will be opening it annually from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Eileen and John Schillig, Owners
32 Delsea Dr, Westville, NJ 08093 • https://schileenspub.com/
About Kramer Beverage
Kramer Beverage is South Jersey’s largest beer wholesaler, owned and operated by four generations of the Kramer family since 1924. Kramer Beverage is based out of Hammonton, Atlantic County, and services eight counties in southern New Jersey with top brands from MillerCoors, Constellation, Yuengling, Boston Beer, Heineken USA, Pabst, Diageo, FIFCO, and more. Kramer Beverage also distributes a wide variety of craft beers, from suppliers such as New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, to local favorites including Flying Fish, Double Nickel, Evil Genius, Glasstown, 2SP, and Dogfish Head. For more information on Kramer Beverage, please visit www.kramerbev.com.