Full Bellies, Full Hearts

Full Bellies, Full Hearts

McGuire’s is more than a restaurant

Words by Ashley Locke

Photos by Matthew Coughlin

“If you aren’t proud of it, don’t serve it,” said Amy Martin. It’s a lesson she learned from her father, McGuire Martin—just one of many that he’s passed down since he opened his first restaurant in 1977. Forty-five years and 4 restaurants later, Mcguire is still building his lasting legacy.

Hospitality is a tough industry—many find out quickly that they aren’t cut out for the long hours and the mealtime rush—but hospitality is in McGuire’s blood. “I was raised by a single father from a very young age,” said McGuire. He owned a bar, and I grew up in that bar—I did my homework at the end of the bar basically all my life. I knew a lot of the customers and all of the employees, and I loved that everyone was coming there to have a good time.”

The camaraderie that gathering ‘round the table brings stuck with McGuire. During college, he started working with Saga, a college food service company. “It was a small company—maybe 15 college locations, but they were very friendly and loved to make the students feel good. They went above and beyond in giving good food and plenty of it.” McGuire took notice of the way the company went above and beyond, and the way their focus wasn’t just about feeding the students—it was about creating a good experience. 

After graduating, he took a job in the accounting department of a large hotel corporation managing the Food & Beverage. “I had to give the management their food and beverage costs for the day before and compile it on a monthly basis,” he said. “That was probably the best work I could have done before running my own business.” 

With everything he’d learned over the years swirling in his head, he opened McGuire’s Irish Pub in a small Pensacola shopping center. “My wife was waiting tables, and I was tending bar and running a sandwich steamer,” he said. “Because of working at Saga, I was making bigger sandwiches with better quality than everywhere else in town.” 

But even with attentive service and high-quality ingredients, it wasn’t taking off. “After about 8 months we were on our last legs,” said McGuire. “We didn’t think we could stay afloat much longer—then in 1978, Elaine Jarvis, a local journalist for the Pensacola News Journal, came in.” Elaine was writing a food column at the time, and after experiencing friendly conversation and a delicious sandwich, she wrote a nice article about Mcguire's. “As soon as that came out, it absolutely changed the course of our business,” he said.

By 1982, McGuire’s had moved into its new location, Pensacola’s 1927 Old Firehouse, where it still remains to this day. Though much has changed since then—the restaurant has expanded, adding more space for tables and an immaculate wine cellar—the foundation has remained the same. People first. “We to this day give people more than they expect in a very friendly way,” said McGuire. “Coming to McGuires should be a fun thing—we’re running a much higher food cost and labor cost than the chains do, at a much lower profit than the chains do, and intentionally so. We’re a family business and we don’t need a high profit margin.”

This business model has served McGuire well, and in return he serves others. Visit McGuire’s, and you might have a server that’s been there for 20 years. It’s unheard of in the industry, but it’s a standard at McGuire’s—and there’s a reason people stay. “We do everything we can to retain people,” said McGuire. “We allow our workers to make their own schedules within limitations, and we give them Blue Cross Blue Shield. We have individual IRAs for them, and we match contributions. We give paid vacations, and a lot of other bonuses.” 

Another unique feature of McGuire’s is that each server only takes care of three tables. In a restaurant with over 600 seats, it makes the experience personal. “We want to make sure when you come in, you get good service,” said McGuire.

McGuire’s children, Jimmy, Amy, and Billy, love being a part of the family business—but they had to earn the job. “We all had to work for different companies before we could work for him,” said Amy. “He’s done a really good job of showing us it is a lot of hard work—as owners, there’s not any job at the company we wouldn’t do.”

Part of McGuire’s success comes from his posture of being a lifelong student. He started his hospitality journey by learning from others, and he never forgot the importance of listening. “We are still so fortunate that we get to learn from him every day, but it’s really still about learning from your employees and managers,” said Amy. “He lets us know that you never know it all.”

When he looks back on his accomplishments, McGuire is really looking forward. “The only thing I can say is that it makes me feel very proud—and I'm proud my family has been able to earn their living from it,” he said. “I hope it continues. That would be the legacy—I hope it lasts forever.”

When you look around McGuire’s at the happy tables, cheersing their beers and sharing bites of food, you’ll want it to last forever too.