In the early 2000’s, Tina was a self described “Jager Girl”, commuting from Portland half the week to work at The Lookout. Katherine, who grew up in Belfast, was working as a bartender at the Lookout. One morning in mid 2005, Lookout staff came in to find the bar flooded. With water damage, an unresponsive business owner, and an eminent shut down, most employees, let alone two in their early twenties, would walk away. But Tina had a different idea.
“She forced me to do it,” Katherine says when asked about how Tina convinced her to buy The Lookout with her. Clearly that doesn’t tell the whole story. Katherine left massage school, moved back to Belfast full time, and brought her father into the venture. “No one would give us a loan,” said Tina. After being rejected by several banks, they finally secured a mortgage when Katherine’s father agreed to co-sign. “The regulars had a bet that we wouldn’t last two weeks,” recall the duo. And they had their share of challenges.
John Gibbs, a Belfast police sergeant and Katherine’s partner, (they met at the pub), said, “gravity feeds downhill, and this is the last place everybody went. People would come in from other bars around town with glasses still half full of beer.” Being known as the fun bar, at times there would be fights or other trouble. But Katherine and Tina, with and without the help of law enforcement, prevailed.
They created new policies, worked on creating a new image with the local media, paid off their loan early, and rebranded the entire business. “We just started growing up, we wanted to have babies, and didn’t want to be that bar anymore,” they shared. In 2012, they renovated and renamed their bar Front Street Pub. The establishment still offers dancing on Saturday nights, (“because we don’t want Belfast to be boring”), but now 60% of their business is food, a huge change from before.
As their success continued, Tina and Katherine were presented with the opportunity to buy their building. They did and the purchase led to an expansion adding Harborwalk Restaurant. Initially Harborwalk operated as a separate restaurant, but soon joined the two establishments with a door cut through the wall between. Today it is one business, one menu, and two distinct atmospheres, where Katherine & Tina can honor their dual desires to both serve quality food and provide a fun place to grab a drink and let loose on the weekends. In addition they employ upwards of 40 staff at peak season, making the business a significant employer in downtown Belfast.
In addition to Front Street Pub and Harborwalk Restaurant, Tina owns and operates Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House with her husband Anthony Jacovino.
Just up the hill at Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House, Tina and Anthony employ another nearly 40 people during the summer. The couple, which Katherine introduced, opened Delvino’s together in 2010. Prior to opening Delvino’s, Tina and Anthony owned a bakery, and a couple years after opening Delvino’s, they opened La Vida, (which is now Neighborhood). “At some point we also had a lobster roll shack with a giant lobster trap for people to sit in, across from Rollie’s. It was the most photographed and also one of the worst projects we’ve done,” said the couple. “I come up with the crazy ideas, and Anthony keeps me in check,” Tina laughed.
Today, Tina is quick to say success is from hard work and “mostly error” in the famed “trial and error” approach to business. And the two women and their partners are still working just as hard as when they first started.
Perhaps one of the biggest elements contributing to the success of these three businesses is the collaborative manner in which these businesses are run. “All four of us come to the table with something different,” said Tina. Katherine explained “When I got called back in to Front Street last night because the computers were down, I called Anthony, because he runs the computers at Delvino’s, and is more familiar with them than John is.” This collaboration expands to Katherine’s shop Katwalk as well. When Katwalk moved locations this spring, Anthony helped John rehang the sign. This teamwork means that when someone is sick, busy with a seasonal activity, like hunting or foraging fiddleheads, or simply needs a break, there are many hands to help out. “And when we work on projects together, it helps keep us motivated,” added John.
This success spills over into the impact they are able to have in the community. Delvino’s sponsors food at the Gameloft, Harborwalk is involved with the Keep Belfast Beautiful cleanup effort, and both restaurants regularly host sponsorship events for local nonprofits during the winter months, in addition to their ongoing support of Our Town Belfast.
In the nearly 15 years that have passed since Tina and Katherine first jumped into business together, a lot has changed. The two are now mothers of toddler girls, and Katherine is expecting another this summer. Parenthood has resulted in the couples stepping back a little, (La Vida was sold in part because of Tina and Anthony’s desire to start a family), but they show no signs of slowing down. They all spend a little less time behind the bar and a little more managing their businesses. However, one thing that remains the same is their success and the fact that you can still catch one or the other of them walking food to customers, fixing the air conditioning, or rehanging a sign.