Try flying a plane while changing the wings!
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Jamie Gallagher, Owner of Shadow Lawn Inn
There are a lot of people in our community who are happy that Rothesay’s historic Shadow Lawn Inn has not only survived for decades but is now thriving.
Shadow Lawn has been the go-to place for everything from weddings to special family celebrations for generations of people.
Jamie Gallagher and his wife Mary Ann bought the family business five years ago from Jamie’s parents, Patrick and Margaret Gallagher.
Since taking the reins, Jamie has maintained the charm and essence of this sentimental establishment while updating the rooms, the kitchen, the overall decor and the restaurant to bring the inn into the 21st century with a more contemporary look.
I managed to squeeze in a few questions for Jamie during a typical busy day. I began by asking him to describe Shadow Lawn Inn to someone who’s never been there…
A: It’s an historic inn built in 1860. It’s been an inn for 60 years and we’re the sixth owners. It’s a fixture in the community and provides many services – a full-service dining room, banquet facilities, catering plus nine beautifully appointed 4.5 star guest suites.
Q: What changes were important to make when you bought the business?
A: When my parents bought it in 1986, it was primarily a banquet facility. If you had a wedding or wanted to host a cocktail party with friends or host a dinner, you would call and make a reservation. In recent years, during my father’s tenure, they started to run a regular restaurant – The Side Door Cafe – so people could come in off the street and eat here. Mary Ann and I have expanded on that.
We’ve recently renovated the restaurant. We’ve added some period pieces and some modern touches to the full-service fine dining room. We’ve re-branded it as The Robertson, named after the original owner, Mr. James F. Robertson, who built this as his summer home. Mr. Robertson was the president of MRA’s, the largest department store in Saint John.
Q: What were you doing prior to owning the inn?
A: I was a sales manager with Xerox for 11 years.
Q: So you had a corporate job – what was that like?
A: Xerox is an excellent company to work for. They treated me very well. At the end of the day, I wanted to own my own business. I had looked at a number of different businesses including Shadow Lawn several times over the course of my career. Eventually, the timing was right and my father was ready to retire.
Q: So you didn’t feel obligated in any way to purchase the business?
A: No, there was no formal succession plan. In fact, I have three siblings, and I was the least likely to purchase this business. My parents had run it for 24 years and in this industry that’s a long time. They were ready for a change. We were, too.
Q: What motivated you to move from a stable career to becoming a small business owner?
A: I was involved in an exercise once where I was asked,“If you won the lottery, what would you do?” My response was,“I’d like to own businesses that contribute to our region” This was an epiphany for me. Everyone else in the workshop said,“I’ll retire. I’ll leave my job. I’ll buy a fancy car.” My vision was radically different. Then I thought,“This is foolish. Why am I not doing this?” That was really the impetus to do it. I wanted to make a difference. I believe family businesses contribute so much to a community.
Q: I understand you made a conscious decision to learn everything you could about the business?
A: Yes. I met with every successful businessperson in the industry that I knew with a focus of trying to learn from them.
Q: Some of these people could be considered competitors. What was the response like?
A: I was shocked at the response. Everyone I asked was happy to meet with me. These people weren’t necessarily in the same region – they were in Nova Scotia, PEI and St. Andrews.
Q: What a great way to learn the business. Do you recommend this approach?
A: Absolutely. People who are successful are more than happy to sit down and talk to you. Someone told me in the first couple of months,“It’s going to be like flying a plane and changing the wings at the same time.”Five years later, I know exactly what he meant.
Q: What helped you determine what needed to change and what needed to stay the same?
A: That’s a great question. I knew I wanted to take it up a level. When we bought the property, it had a“3.5 star” Canada Select rating. It needed to be updated. We’d visited some inns on the Niagara Peninsula, in the States and thought,“Wow, this is what Shadow Lawn should be like.” We needed to update all of the infrastructure. I still couldn’t pinpoint in the early years what I wanted my dining room to look like and what type of food I wanted to serve. At a broad level, I had a vision of what I wanted. I needed to learn the restaurant business a little more before I could define it.
Q: What about the food?
A: We needed to be a place where a chef could be creative and develop unbelievable dishes – the food needed to look amazing and taste even better. We wanted to provide professional service at a high level building on what my parents had created.
Q: Since purchasing the Inn, what are you most proud of?
A: I’m most proud of our people, how they’ve come along and developed. I’m proud of The Robertson – the product and service we deliver.
Q: Anyone who has even been in business would appreciate that there are always some challenges along the way. Has anything surprised you around the challenges you encountered?
A: You always think changes will happen quicker than they do. You have to be patient. Things take longer.
Q: What advice do you have regarding financing the business?
A: Capitalize properly. Have enough money to make renovations, operate the business and pay your employees. Have enough in the hopper to do the work you want. Be confident in what you’re doing and move forward.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence,“A leader’s job is to…?”
A: A leader’s job is to set the direction and encourage their team to work towards their goal.
Q: How has it been working with your wife, Mary Ann?
A: We wouldn’t be half as successful as we are without Mary Ann. She is the one that has done a lot of the marketing, all of the marketing, for that matter. I am focused on the vision, Mary Ann is much more tactical.
Q: As you look back over the last five years, any regrets?
A: No. Absolutely not. People told me“When you own your own business, it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears.” I realize now they were right, but still no regrets.
Q: Do you feel like you are fulfilling part of that vision you had when you were asked what you’d do with one million dollars?
A: Absolutely. We’re on the right track. We’re filling a need in the community. People come in and say,“Gosh, my parents were married here. I was married here. We’ve had every family event here. This is a great spot. We need to keep this going”. This is what motivates me.
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As published in the October 24, 2015 Telegraph-Journal