Russ Heaton ’97 had been dreaming about opening a bar in Tacoma for more than a decade. With experience as both a bartender and a beer and wine distributor, he had seen what worked, and he’d researched the demographics and potential growth in a handful of Tacoma neighborhoods. He even had a business partner in David Shelnut.
“We just didn’t have a spot, the wherewithal, or the opportunity—until now,” says Heaton. In April he and Shelnut opened Doyle’s Public House at 208 Saint Helens Ave.
Exposed brick walls, sturdy beams, and an enormous custom-made bar set the scene in this airy pub. The guys, with support from Heaton’s parents, Robert—a graduate of the Puget Sound law school—and Linda, did much of the renovation themselves. They credit David’s wife, Marissa DiJulio Shelnut ’00, with selecting the pub’s color scheme and providing the artistic details.
“Our goal was to create a European-style pub that people could walk to. We also wanted to be sure that activity there wasn’t driven by television but by real conversation,” he says. “We want this to be a place where anybody can come in to talk with a friend or someone they’ve just met at the bar.”
At lunchtime the pub’s Guinness stew and bangers and mash are popular with both business people and those who live in the area’s nearby retirement communities. As night draws, the crowd gets considerably hipper. The 20- and 30-something patrons show their appreciation for Doyle’s Euro taps (each served in a pint glass with the beer brand’s logo stenciled on it) and Jameson whiskey.
The business has grown faster than Heaton imagined it would.
“We figured Dave and I would be the only two employees for quite a while,” he says. Instead, within just four months of opening, the duo is overseeing a staff of 15 part-time employees.
“Managing personnel has definitely been our biggest challenge to date,” says Heaton. “We know what we expect but it’s been interesting to learn how to verbalize that to other people.
“It hasn’t been easy and we’re putting in some long hours, but we’re really pleased with the way we just sort of fit into the neighborhood,” says Heaton. “Doyle’s [the name was inspired by baseball pitcher Doyle Alexander—long story] is becoming exactly what we envisioned, and I think it’s just what Tacoma needed.”
— Mary Boone