When Dan Madden, Bill Madden and Rob Robertson opened Silky Sullivan’s in 1984 they didn’t know their joint would become a trailblazer for many of the like in the Fountain Valley area.
“We were the first place in Orange County to serve buffalo hot wings in 1984,” Dan Madden, owner, recalled.
Pat McMullen was a big customer at Silky Sullivan’s. He was also from Buffalo, where the original recipe for buffalo chicken wings came from. McMullen could get the original recipe sent from Buffalo for Silky Sullivan’s to use in their kitchens. “He came in, went into the kitchen, and showed the guys the best way to make it,” said Madden. “We gave them out on Monday Night Football and everybody loved them.”
As they prepare to celebrate 35 years in the business, Silky Sullivan’s continues to be the gold standard for how to run a successful restaurant over a long haul. “Hasn’t been a lack of struggles,” Madden said, chuckling at their anniversary. “We’ve managed to make it through 35 years. It’s a pretty good accomplishment.”
Dan Madden, one of the three owners, recalled the beginning and how they were searching for a secure spot for their restaurant, and then located a vacant building that was previously the Fountain Valley Post Office.
“The guy that owned it wanted to sell it so it was up for sale but he wasn’t having any luck selling it,” said Madden. “The city wasn’t being very cooperative about what would go in there.”
The city of Fountain Valley and the three owners disagreed on the plan for the vacant building. Madden and his co-owners wanted to place a restaurant in the spot, but city believed a restaurant could not succeed in the location because of lack of parking. So the Madden brothers and Robertson had to the figure out how to make this work, while also pleasing the city.
The Silky Sullivan’s owners countered with a proposal to the city: using office spaces as parking. When they came up this compromise, the city of Fountain Valley lowered the requirements. Because of this, Silky Sullivan’s could open on time, and have enough spaces for patrons to find accessible parking. For the first few years, Dan, Bill and Rob leased a vacant building and opened up a new restaurant.
“We didn’t have the money to buy the property but we made a deal with the guy to lease the property with the option to buy it,” Madden added. “After a couple years, we were able to gather the financing to buy the property.”
With the property now theirs, the three owners put their focus on growing as a business. The pub and bar was not only one of the original sports bars in Orange County, it also was one of the first places to feature a very popular food item.
There have been economic difficulties over the years, and challenges from city-wide and state laws.
One of the harder challenges was when the No Smoking Law came in,” Madden said. “In a pub, we had a certain percentage of customers who smoked. Almost no places at the time were smoke-free environments.”
A large chunk of customers were smokers. The new law became a deterrent for them because they could no longer smoke in the restaurant, and Silky Sullivan’s would not violate the law when their restaurant was right across from city hall.
Madden and his co-owners overcame this issue, when they eventually placed a patio outside their restaurant. This changed things for the long haul.
“All the smokers from the year before came back,” said Madden. “It was a hit in the beginning but it was a long-term benefit.”
Silky Sullivan’s has one hurdle it must overcome: construction closures. The city of Fountain Valley has been improving its infrastructure over the last few months and several streets have been closed, forcing detours. This has caused some issues for customers who had their usual routes to the restaurant altered.
Silky Sullivan’s has persevered regardless, proving great food, drinks and customer service over the years. One of its biggest nights of the year takes place the day before Thanksgiving.
“A lot of people who grew up in Fountain Valley come back like a big reunion,” said Madden. “They get together and party the night before Thanksgiving. We’ll see a lot of customers over the years come back for that. It’s almost like a Fountain Valley Los Amigos Family Reunion.”
The restaurant has contributed actively to the city of Fountain Valley over the years helping various causes.
“We’ve done a lot of things to raise money for different causes, local high schools and different charities through the years,” Madden stated.
On September 17, Silky Sullivan’s officially celebrates 35 years in business. Their longevity and impact in the community has not been a mere case of luck, but because of their efforts to keep adapting to every change. Silky Sullivan’s is inviting their former employees to take part in the celebration.
Drop in to Silkys anytime for great Irish fare, old-school camaraderie and beers! Located at: 10201 Slater Ave, Fountain Valley, CA 92708 // 714-963-2718
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