Barnes marks first year as new owner of Margaret’s

ANNIVERSARY — Eric Barnes will celebrate his one-year anniversary at Margaret’s Cafe in Toronto on April 10. The business has undergone improvements since Barnes bought the restaurant and full-service bar from former owner Terry Scalley a year ago. -- Julie Stenger

TORONTO — It has been one year since Eric Barnes signed the paperwork to purchase Margaret’s Cafe in Toronto.

His decision was difficult, yet easy.

There were questions as to whether people would be accepting of him and welcome him as the new owner of a popular hometown establishment that has been around for decade, and if the staff would work well under a new management team following years of working for an owner they had come to love.

But Barnes noted he had never seen a business where there was such customer loyalty. And ultimately, it was that loyalty which won out.

Barnes decided to buy the restaurant and full-service bar from previous owner Terry Scalley last April 10.

And to say the least, Barnes is quite pleased.

“I really, really, really appreciate our many customers’ loyalty,” Barnes said. “One of the main reasons I purchased this business is because in my 45 years of food service experience, I have never seen the repeat business this place has.”

From elderly couples who frequent the restaurant several times a week and order what Margaret’s is best known for — its cod chunk dinners and sandwiches — to the groups of teenagers who stop in during the evenings and order wings and fries, the business has continued to see a steady turnover of repeat customers during the last year. For that, Barnes is grateful.

Another aspect of the business that persuaded Barnes to purchase Margaret’s was how the dining room was separated from the bar area. Constructed as an addition several years ago, the dining room consists of 26 tables and booths and allows for a family-friendly atmosphere for all ages, including families with young children, class reunion groups or luncheon groups.

Barnes knew not to make too many changes to a business that already was doing reasonably well. He didn’t change the name, didn’t change the menu items and didn’t raise the prices, he said.

What has changed, however, is offering customers more daily special selections throughout the week, including 10-ounce strip steaks on Tuesdays and a half-rack or full-racks of ribs on weekends.

And, he’s made various upgrades in the kitchen pertaining to the equipment and installed a new heating and air conditioning system.

“We are simply reinvesting in the business,” Barnes said, noting an expansion of the kitchen area is planned for later this year.

“We certainly welcome any feedback from our customers as to what we can do to keep improving this business,” Barnes said.

For instance, some customers have inquired about extending the hours in which breakfast is served.

“We now serve breakfast every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays,” he said.

“Our employees have been very cooperative of the changes we have made, and our service level has definitely stepped up,” Barnes said. “We are now fully staffed, and I am appreciative of everyone’s hard work.”

He noted it is because of the employees that Margaret’s Cafe received the best of the best award for service in the Herald-Star’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Contest.

“We also try to be very responsive to the needs of the community,” he stated, adding the business continues to donate to local fundraisers and citywide events.

“Terry and Karen Scalley, who were the previous owners, were and continue to be very supportive with me taking over this business,” Barnes said. “I can call them at any time with any questions I may have or to just ask them about what they have done in the past. I am very appreciative to them for that.”

Barnes, who started working as a busboy and dishwasher at the former Elby’s Big Boy in Weirton at the age of 16, never would have imagined that his after-school job would be just the beginning of this lifetime career in the food industry.

He eventually moved up to a management position and later became manager of the old Don’s Restaurant and Cafeteria in Brilliant. This would be followed by 17 years of owning a variety of food service businesses and working 16 years for a food service distributor.

He brings with him more than 45 years of experience in the industry and wants to see Margaret’s continue to succeed.

He wants people to know that despite the change in ownership, the business still is and always will remain what it has always been — a small, hometown restaurant and bar that appreciates its customers and their loyalty.

During the one-year anniversary on April 10, there will also be an anniversary cake that will be served to customers.

The business is located at 805 North Fifth St. and is open seven days a week. Kitchen hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays; 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Bar hours vary depending upon the business that evening, with the latest being 2:30 a.m. For reservations, carry-out orders or information, call (740) 537-3671.