‘We’re not giving up’: Starry Plough Pub persists despite financial trouble

Starry Plough Pub
Paolo Harris Paz/File

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As a business originally started in 1973 to raise money for the Irish Republican Army, the Starry Plough Pub now relies on donations from the Berkeley community to stay afloat.

United by their love of music and intent to help liberate Northern Ireland from English rule, members of the IRA created a venue with music, food, beer and no shortage of Irish culture. According to pub co-owner Shahin Naima, however, they soon discovered the difficulty of running a business that sends a majority of its profits overseas.

In 1985, Naima’s parents bought the establishment, and eventually, Naima took over the kitchen. For the first time in 47 years, however, the Starry Plough has had to close its doors and end its nightly live performances due to the pandemic.

“We’re not giving up. Until we can have shows, it doesn’t make sense for us to open up,” Naima said. “That’s basically why we’re staying closed. We don’t want to put our family, community and employees at risk.”

Initially, Naima described COVID-19 as a “blessing in disguise,” a break from working seven days a week with limited time off. When it was apparent that the pandemic would continue longer than anticipated, Naima said he was excited that funds from the Berkeley Relief Fund and the pub’s GoFundMe page would be able to support the business.

This assurance soon disappeared, however, when the pub only received $2,500, in comparison to art-filled community spaces that received about $25,000, Naima said. He added that the pub expected more money because Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the Starry Plough fits the art space criteria.

“We provide 90% more art to the community and we receive 90% less funding from the city, and we just feel like we got slapped in the face,” Naima said. “You expect the federal government to give Target and Walmart and all the big corporations more money than everyone else, but you don’t expect that from the city of Berkeley.”

Though the GoFundMe campaign has raised about $42,000, Naima raised the goal to $100,000 to ensure that money is not an issue through the end of the year. He said it will take at least a year for business to return to normal, as music venues such as the pub will be one of the last places that people return to post-pandemic.

Aside from community funding, Naima’s mother, Rose Hughes, recently applied for a Small Business Administration loan and has considered making the establishment a nonprofit.

In the meantime, Joan Pez, who hosts the pub’s open mic nights, has conducted virtual open mic nights on Facebook Live every Tuesday at 8 p.m. to keep the Starry Plough in people’s minds until their “favorite brick and mortar pub” reopens.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.