"Grill Sergeant" is what Karen Barrett-Jeffrey calls herself, and the four to five cooks who help her each day at Barrett's Barleycorn Pub & Grill.
Barrett-Jeffrey, 48, owns the pub with her father Frank Barrett. The late Ruth Barrett, Barrett-Jeffrey's mother, worked at the restaurant with her until her death in 2010. Some of her siblings have been involved with the operation in the past.
Barrett-Jeffrey is a native Nebraskan and she graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in business.
Q. How long has your family owned Barrett's Barleycorn?
A. We've been slaking the thirst of the ancient tribes of Hibernia since 1987.
My father was a lawyer but he always wanted to own an Irish Bar. When we bought it, it was called the New Classic. We didn't want to call it the "new and improved classic," — that sounded like a paper towel — so we decided to name it after John Barleycorn, the "patron saint" of spirits in Ireland. He's like an Irish Paul Bunyan. A mythical figure.
Q. So they threw you in the kitchen?
A. I've been here for the whole time. I've been cooking lunch since the beginning. I love it. We started out with burgers and patty melts and it evolved into a great menu. Everybody who has worked here has had a hand in it.
We start with great product. Our burgers are from Omaha Steaks. And our buns are Rotella's (Italian Bakery in La Vista). We've got a lot of great items.
Q. I see you've been getting attention for making authentic Reuben sandwiches. Some of the best in Omaha.
A. Yes. We have two ladies who just came in and asked for them after the reading the story in the World-Herald (on Jan. 27). The Barrett family has loved Reubens forever. My Mom used to make them at home. We started Reubens as a daily special. We sold so many; we put them on the menu.
Our pork tenderloin (sandwiches) are popular, too. We've been having Wohlner's (Neighborhood Grocery & Deli) cut pork tenderloins for years. They cut 100 for us every Thursday and Friday. We sell them (only) on Thursday and Fridays: first-come, first-served. Sometimes they're all gone by 1 p.m.
Our Phillys are well known. Sometimes I'd like to open a Barrett's Philly Hut because we do a ton of Phillys: beef ribeye, a chicken Philly and a veggie Philly.
We're also known for the Blarneystone (sandwich). That's a house special: turkey breast, cream cheese, sweet red onions and Swiss cheese, grilled on marbled bread.
Q. From your website, it looks like you have quite a following from Creighton University.
A. They're fabulous. We have a huge Creighton following; we run buses to the games from here. With the Med. Center nearby we get doctors, nurses and students here. And people from O.P.P.D. and Mutual of Omaha. We've got great customers. The kitchen is open 11 to 11 so there are always a couple cooks on board.
Q. Sounds like you work a lot of hours as cook and owner.
A. That's why I live close to the bar in Holy Cross Parish. You want to be right in the thick of things. To be successful in this business you have to be hands-on. And people like to see the owner sweat for their money.
Q. Any changes ahead for you or the Pub?
A. We're a big College World Series bar and we're ready for the crowds to come back this year. When LSU (Louisiana State University) plays at the College World Series, their fans hang out here.
Q. You and the cooks at Barrett's call yourselves grill sergeants?
A. None of us are chefs by trade. We love food. We love to see people have fun. We have this Irish proverb on the menu: "Laughter is brightest where food is best."
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