The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many people hard, but it's been a particularly rough road for restaurant owners. Businesses that rely on people gathering can't sustain being closed for long, and when your small business is your livelihood, your financial security can plummet far and fast.
That's the situation Mary O'Halloran found herself in when her Irish pub in New York City's east side was shut down just before St. Patrick's Day. In a post shared by Humans of New York, O'Halloran explained that her longshoreman husband got stuck in the Aleutian Islands for nine months when the pandemic hit, as no flights were going out. That meant she was stuck with a suddenly shutdown pub, six kids who needed schooling from home, and no idea how to make it all work.
She explained what she did to homeschool her kids, as well as try to make ends meet:
"I pulled all the furniture out of the bar, and made a section for each of them [the kids]: pillow, blankets, everything they needed. Then I had to figure out how to survive. Other bar owners were just throwing up their hands, but I had to try something. I began catering dinners for emergency workers at a nearby hotel. It wasn't much money, but it was something to do. Each night I'd cook dinner for thirty people. The kids would help when they could: peeling potatoes, washing dishes.
But I'd be so exhausted every day. Everyone had so much faith in me to survive. Maybe because I keep the tough side out—everyone assumed I was OK. Nobody knew I was full of worries. But it was so freakin' hard. To keep the kids happy. Month after month I'm falling further behind on the rent. It felt like the walls were closing in."
However, her regular customers kept showing up:
"They ran errands for me. Sometimes they'd take the kids on walks to give me a break. There was a group of Irish musicians who would play here every Thursday night. They helped me set up an online store, so that I could sell scones to the music people. Soda bread scones with homemade blackberry jam. My mother's recipe from back in Ireland. Really, it's the simplest thing-- but all six of us kids used to line up for them."
Those scones became a lifeline for O'Halloran when a reporter did a story on the bar and tasted one of her scones live on TV. For a few months, the orders rolled in:
"It wasn't a ton of money. I was only making $1800 for 100 boxes of scones. It wasn't paying rent or anything. But it was something to do, you know? I finally found something that was working. People were writing notes, saying: 'I gave these to my grandmother, and she loved them.' It was the little bit of light that I needed. It pulled me forward. I didn't feel alone anymore. It was like: 'Oh My God, there's something out there.'
O'Halloran's story on Humans of New York resonated with people who acknowledged her work ethic and heart for service—and comments from those who know her and her pub came flooding in as well.
"I used to sing in Mary's pub," wrote one commenter. "My jazz band loved her food, my Irish parents loved her hospitality, and I loved her genuine, heartwarming, generous, positive, can-do, independent spirit. This woman is a Celtic Goddess. She's the rainbow in an Irish sky. She adds a secret ingredient to the extraordinary mix of this melting pot city. As Nat King Cole spelled it.... L-O-V-E."
"Mary is SO WONDERFUL," wrote another. "No one in the world deserves happiness and success more than Mary. I had the pleasure of teaching her daughter Erinn, and Mary was the most incredible class parent, always sending in treats for the class and asking what more she could do when she was already stretched so thin. She even hosted our entire grade of 75 students for a cooking class at the pub! She often donates catered meals to our school's teachers and office staff. We love you, Mary!!"
And yet another: "Mary even would come in on a Sunday am & teach local Boy Scouts how to cook & let them serve their families in her dining room! My son still knows how to crack an egg one-handed thanks to her. She's a gem and so is Mary O's!"
And still another: "I live around the corner. Mary let my neighbor get married in her restaurant. There was no money in it for her. Just needed a space for 30 minutes. There were only a few of us there in person; a lot of people on zoom. But Mary couldn't help herself: She whipped together a shepherd's pie and sautéed mushrooms and we had a wedding feast all afternoon."
Brandon Stanton, the man behind Humans of New York created a special web page for people to purchase O' Halloran's scones for $30 instead of her price of $18 to help her out. "Mary started crying when I suggested raising prices, because she says other people are hurting more than her," he wrote. "So if you are also in a tough spot, but want to try the scones, do not worry. The $18 non-magical scones are still available through her website."
Within a day of posting Mary's story and the link for ordering scones, more than $1 million worth of orders came in, Stanton shared on Instagram.
"We found a quiet table at the end of the night, and I gave her a full accounting," Stanton wrote. "There were 25,000 orders, which meant 150,000 scones. She allowed herself a brief, joyful cry. Then she asked: 'I can do this, right?' I told her: 'Of course.' Because every one of those orders came from people who want the best for her. And I felt confident that we'd all be patient while she figured out a new process for making scones. Mary has a great team around her. She refers to them as 'The Regulars' as if they're a squad of superheroes, but they're actually longtime customers who transform into volunteers at a moment's notice."
Stanton said those volunteers have made it clear that after a decade of serving others, O'Halloran is simply reaping what she's sown: "'This woman deserves every bit of this,' they said. 'She gives and gives and never asks for a thing.'
It will take teamwork and planning and time to fulfill the scone orders, but it will be done. A GoFundMe also provides an alternative for people who want to help Mary O's out directly.
What a beautiful show of support for a woman who has provided so much support for others.
- Humans of New York featured this brave Pakistani woman. The ... ›
- How a Humans of New York story turned into a class trip to visit ... ›
- Humans of New York went to Europe to see the refugee crisis ... ›