Lauren Jones Magnie, at left, and Jay play to a packed courtyard during a recent Wednesday night Jam Session at Sun Dog Cafe.
Anyone who hasn’t heard yet, don’t miss Wednesday nights at the Sun Dog Cafe, when the island’s best musicians, guitarists and singers gather to jam to a packed courtyard.
It might be Sun Dog’s tasty new menu options, icy cold drinks and frozen treats or just the fantastic ambience of the open air courtyard in Mongoose Junction, but the restaurant has found the perfect recipe for success.
Since opening its doors in 1992, the Sun Dog has transformed from a frozen yogurt shop to a favorite and affordable island eatery for lunch and dinner.
Sun Dog owners Michael and Barbie Barry purchased the restaurant and the Gecko Gazebo bar in 1997 and worked tirelessly over the years to make the eatery a dining destination, and their work has paid off.
“We’ve worked steadily through the years to improve the Sun Dog concept to where it is now one of the most popular lunch choices on St. John for both locals and our island guests,” said Michael Barry. “We’ve been selected by the ‘New York Times’ as a Travel and Leisure Pick for St. John and voted best lunch numerous times by the St. Thomas ‘Daily News.’”
Sun Dog proprietors Michael and Barbie Barry
Barry is not new to the hospitality business, he worked as a marketing director and partner for an 11-unit restaurant company in central New York before moving to Love City with his wife and son Jackson.
“I kind of did the mid-life crisis early enough to do the next thing, and was fortunate enough to discover life on St. John,” he said. “Wanting to raise a family here was the motivation for getting back into the restaurant business after selling out of the company in New York.”
As he reentered the hospitality world again, Barry brought his prior experience and a few lessons he learned along the way. Now instead of overseeing 550 employees, Barry is happy to run a 15 member team.
“With a staff of about 15 here, Barbie and I can be the kind of employers that we want to be,” said the Sun Dog owner. “We have a real family atmosphere on staff, and it shows in our everyday performance.”
One secret to Sun Dog’s success is its commitment to offering good value for its customers, Barry explained.
“The cafe has always been about value,” he said. “Because the physical size of the kitchen is so small, we have a lighter overhead expense than most, and this helps us to keep the prices down, but the quality high. ‘The most expensive thing in a restaurant is an empty chair’ is our philosophy.”
“To help our locals even more, we offer a frequency card for lunch, which is equivalent to an 11 percent discount, a Two for One Happy Hour from 4:20 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and a Hungry Hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. featuring half price appetizers,” said Barry.
With tantalizing options like grilled shrimp skewers basted with a sweet and spicy Thai chili sauce served with avocado creme fraiche and black bean puree, Jamaican jerk chicken quesadillas with pico di gallo, sour cream and guacamole and a half-pound certified Angus flatiron steak served with fresh chimmichurri sauce and grilled smashed potatoes, the menu alone draws fans and repeat diners. But the chefs don’t stop there, Barry added.
“We have a very small kitchen and that keep everything super fresh,” he said. “We have to be very careful about the number of ingredients we have and how they work together to make what the ‘New York Times’ called ‘an impressive menu for a kitchen the size of a Volkswagon beetle.’”
“Everyone in the kitchen is a total foodie and our chefs take a lot of pride in the daily specials that they come up with,” said Barry.
Sun Dog serves up tantalizing dinner options.
While Barry helms the staff and restaurant, his wife Barbie oversees the bar, that is when she’s not tied up serving as the athletic director at Gifft Hill School.
“While Barbie’s main focus is Gifft Hill School, where she serves as Athletic Director, she manages to work closely with the bar staff,” said Barry. “When you come to the Gecko Gazebo Bar, it is just about impossible to not meet someone or engage in a conversation. We don’t have televisions, or other distractions that take away from people getting together, which is what it’s all about.”
The Barrys continue to dedicate much effort and time to GHS. Both Barbie and Michael Barry were founding board members of the Coral Bay School, which eventually became the current GHS. Today, Michael Barry continues to serve on the board at GHS because he feels it is “making a difference for the future of the children of St. John by preparing its leadership,” he said.
As the Barrys look ahead toward their 14th season, they’re excited to offer an expanded wine list and a fully-perfected dinner menu (which they only started serving two years ago).
“We started serving dinner in a quiet way two years ago,” said Barry. “It happened the way I do most things — by evolution, not revolution. This year represents our first year of being able to present a high quality, high value menu for dinner — all of the entrees are under $20.”
“We’re in the process of expanding our wine selections to complement the new foods, again with an eye on quality and value,” Barry said. “As we enter into our 14th year, we’re maybe even more excited than ever about what we’ve been able to accomplish and the value that we are able to give to our guests.”
Stop by the Sun Dog for lunch daily between 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and dinner weekdays from 5:30 to 9 p.m. And don’t miss the Wednesday Night Jam which kicks off at 7:30 p.m., but be sure arrive early in order to get a seat in the courtyard. For more information call the restaurant at 693-8340.