This pandemic has hit many families and communities, and whole countries, extremely hard. Nearing the two year mark, the COVID-19 health crisis has damaged economies, forcing many businesses to close down.
Restaurants are particularly vulnerable, as they rely on customers whose movements have been restricted to prevent the spread of the virus.
New York resident Mary O’Halloran is one of millions of business owners all over the word that have struggled with the impacts of the pandemic.
Maintaining financial security during the crisis has been difficult, as O’Halloran tried to keep her Irish pub afloat while taking care of her six children.
In March this year, O’Halloran’s pub on New York City’s east side was forced to close right before St. Patrick’s Day. The closure compounded an already difficult situation.
Prior to the pub’s shutdown, her longshoreman husband was forced to stay in the Aleutian islands for nine months, as there were no outbound flights due to the pandemic.
As a result, O’Halloran alone had to suddenly deal with lost income due to the shuttered pub, and care for six children who all needed to be home schooled.
With no idea how to manage it all, O’Halloran had no choice but to make things work. She said, “I pulled all the furniture out of the bar, and made a section for each of them [the kids]: pillow, blankets, everything they needed.”
She also need to transform her business and become financially creative. “Then I had to figure out how to survive. Other bar owners were just throwing up their hands, but I had to try something. I began catering dinners for emergency workers at a nearby hotel.
It wasn’t much money, but it was something to do. Each night I’d cook dinner for thirty people. The kids would help when they could: peeling potatoes, washing dishes,” O’Halloran said.
All her efforts, however, left her exhausted. Still, she persevered, mainly because many believed in her ability to survive.
O’Halloran toughed it out, and tried to hide her worries and financial difficulties. Unfortunately, as months passed her challenges mounted and she kept falling behind on rent.
There was a silver lining however, as O’Halloran’s regular customers continued to show their support. “They ran errands for me. Sometimes they’d take the kids on walks to give me a break.
There was a group of Irish musicians who would play here every Thursday night.” Her loyal clients also helped her with a new line of business.
She shared, “They helped me set up an online store, so that I could sell scones to the music people. Soda bread scones with homemade blackberry jam. My mother’s recipe from back in Ireland. Really, it’s the simplest thing– but all six of us kids used to line up for them.”
Who would have thought that scones would be a lifesaver for an Irish pub owner? When a reporter did a story on the bar and tasted the scones on live TV, O’Halloran was deluged with orders.
She shared, “It wasn’t a ton of money. I was only making $1800 for 100 boxes of scones. It wasn’t paying rent or anything. But it was something to do, you know? I finally found something that was working.”
Her new customers also lifted her spirits. “People were writing notes, saying: ‘I gave these to my grandmother, and she loved them.’ It was the little bit of light that I needed. It pulled me forward. I didn’t feel alone anymore. It was like: ‘Oh My God, there’s something out there.’”
When her story was posted on Humans of New York, numerous comments showed how her situation resonated with others. Many recognized her work ethic, heart for service, and generous and independent spirit.
The tremendous outpouring of support prompted Brandon Stanton, the man behind Humans of New York, to create a platform to help improve the sales of O’Halloran’s scones. He established a special web page that listed the price of the scones at $30, instead of the usual $18.
He said, “Mary started crying when I suggested raising prices, because she says other people are hurting more than her. So if you are also in a tough spot, but want to try the scones, do not worry. The $18 non-magical scones are still available through her website.”
The response to the post was simply remarkable. Just a day after the post, O’Halloran received $1 million worth of orders for the scones.
Stanton wrote, “We found a quiet table at the end of the night, and I gave her a full accounting. There were 25,000 orders, which meant 150,000 scones.”
Joyful and teary at the same time, O’Halloran had to determine a new process to fulfill the voluminous orders. Stanton was confident though that O’Halloran could pull it off given the number of people who were willing to help her out even at a moment’s notice.
This windfall is simply a testament to O’Halloran’s character. Many have said that, “This woman deserves every bit of this. She gives and gives and never asks for a thing.”