I studied business in University, and while doing so ended up managing the student bar and various other places in Regina, before moving to Calgary and taking on the Black Swan.
The first thing I noticed about the Black Swan was that it was a very comfortable room. The clientele were not looking for anything trendy, and the staff we started to assemble, several of which I am proud to say are still with us, understood that. They understood that people liked to develop a relationship with their bartender or their server, and turnover became a very dirty word for us; we wanted to attract and retain long-term staff that understood the value of relationships in customer service.
We have a small staff with large sections, which makes it worth their while to have one job as opposed to two or three, and that contributes to their longevity. Even though there are times where they move on to other things or explore other avenues, it’s not uncommon for us to rehire them.
We survived this long by continuing to evolve and wear different hats, whether it be with our entertainment through bands, nightclub DJs and so on. Our room transforms quite nicely to suit different kinds of functions. Fund raisers, corporate or Stampede events. For example the dart room converts nicely to a silent auction room, and when we have DJs the main floor is a great dance floor. We rearrange the room according to the crowd that we expect. The room itself has a lot character, with high ceilings, comfortable booths, large tables, three fire places, and everybody seems to find their spot.
Along with wearing a lot of hats, we like to consider ourselves a full-service pub, where the time of the day, or the day of the week dictates the clientele we get. It’s nothing for us to see three generations of the same family, from just becoming old enough to go to a bar in the evening, to their parents at lunch and their grandparents in mid afternoon. We try to be flexible and cater to as many demographics as possible, whether that be by age, budget or whatever.
You’ve got to move with the times. The Black Swan is well known as a pub, it’s known for its creative menu and food fare. We have a huge menu, it’s probably 70 items plus. Its so hard to get rid of dishes your customers know you for, even if its not one of your best sellers. We try to follow the gastro-trends, that’s important too. People’s tastes change, their nutrition changes, and even though it’s a pub our menu is diverse and full of healthy choices: five years ago nobody wanted gluten free anything, today we have a little index, and vegetarian too.
Comfort foods are perennial favourites, but that’s a trick too: it’s the effort you put into those simplistic menu items, when you add a little something to it. It’s not as simple as offering the standard steak sandwich or fish and chips, it’s what you do around that. We redesigned every dish. Something as simple as the beef dip, we looked at it and said how can we give it our signature touch? You’ll find something unique and worth returning for.
The massive hand-made stained leaded glass chandelier was here when I took over the place. It takes maintenance, because the heavy leaded glass panels pull themselves out of shape, but it’s a very unique feature. Newcomers are always taking pictures of it.
I’m proud to say that we have customers today that I met the first day I walked in here, and I still see them frequently. We’ve given them reason to come back, and our staff, our kitchen staff, our food and our menu is something that people have come to love.