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New York Irish Pub Owner Sells Millions Worth Of Soda Bread Scones


Mary O's in New York City's East Village has had a rough pandemic. It had to close just a couple of days before St. Patrick's Day in March 2020, sort of like a candy cane shop that has to shut down before the Christmas rush. Mary O's owner is Mary O'Halloran, and she kept some of the bills paid by catering food for emergency workers with the help of her children and some regulars. She has found perhaps a little gold in her soda bread scones. People began to order boxes of them after NY1 featured the bar. Then the site Humans of New York profiled Mary O'Halloran a couple of weeks ago. And she has since sold more than $1 million in scones. Mary O'Halloran joins us now from her bar in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

MARY O'HALLORAN: How are you? Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We're fine. How are you? It looks different than it did in the first days of the pandemic for you now?

O'HALLORAN: Yes, definitely. Totally different, that's for sure.

SIMON: Uh-huh. Well, would you mind telling us what those early days were like? Months, really.

O'HALLORAN: I did some catering for FEMA workers in the early days of COVID. And, basically, I spent months and months and months and months in here by myself with my kids trying to survive. You know, sometimes, people would come and maybe order, like, the family-style shepherd's pie or something to pick up, but that was basically it. So it was pretty rough days.

SIMON: So how did the idea to start selling scones take off?

O'HALLORAN: Well, I have a traditional Irish music session every Thursday night at Mary O's. And the girl who leads it, Caitlin Warbelow, she put it out as a virtual session. And Caitlin used to always say to me, Mary, you should sell those Irish soda bread scones online. I'm telling you, she's like, people will go crazy for them. And eventually, Caitlin was like, I'm just setting it up for you. We're going to do it. And so they set up a website for me. And then they also put up a thing where you could buy shepherd's pies for New Yorkers in need. Two weeks ago, the guy from Humans of New York came, and it just all went from there.

SIMON: A million dollars worth of scones have been ordered. How many scones is that?

O'HALLORAN: Well, right now, there's probably about - like, it's over 30,000 boxes of scones.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. That's a - you must have the oven going full time now.

O'HALLORAN: Well, no, actually. So because there's so many orders, it's completely impossible for me to do them in my kitchen. I have contacted my son's high school to do possibly three events where we will do scone baking. And I want to make sure that all the scone boxes go out exactly the way they would have gone out before Humans of New York came here. I would never have thought that people would buy scones at $30 a box and pay for shipping. Like, that was just way beyond my thinking. You know, Erin (ph) was here when he did the interview, and he had chit chatted back and forth with her.

SIMON: Erin is your daughter, of course.

O'HALLORAN: She was drawing when he was here, and he was like, let's put a special drawing in from Erin. And then I just need to make sure that everybody gets it the way it should be. Every time I talk about that part, I start to cry. It's terrible, and, like, I'm so...

SIMON: It's not terrible. It's beautiful.

O'HALLORAN: Yeah. People just come out of the woodwork. Like, I try to always keep the good side out, you know, and that's part of working in a bar. You have to. You know, but there's just something special about those damn scones...

SIMON: (Laughter).

O'HALLORAN: ...Because it's like something you get just from your mother. You know, it's not fussy. There's nothing fancy about it. It's just, like, wrapped up and put in. It's very neat and simple. But yeah, there's something about them.

SIMON: Mary O'Halloran owns Mary O's in New York's East Village. Thanks so much.

O'HALLORAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.