Belmont Patch's feature, "Meet Your Neighbors," is just that -- discovering more about fellow residents or people who work in town and make this community a nice place to live.
Stephen Conley of Belmont
Pub owner, Belmont High School basketball coach, sponsor of community events
Stephen Conley has the perfect job.
He makes people happy, is minutes from home so he can stop into work at any moment or leave to walk his dogs and – very important to this Belmont resident – can give back to the community that has provided him with so many friends and joyful times over the past few decades.
The owner of Conley’s Pub & Grille at 164 Belmont St. just over the town line in Watertown, Stephen will be celebrating his tenth anniversary of running the town’s most-loved bar and family restaurant on Dec. 26.
“We have a slogan that says everything about what I want to provide,” Stephen said. “It’s ‘Solid eats, decent times, cold brew … that’s how we do.’”
His staff members, many of whom have worked at Conley’s for years, are proud to be a part of the decade that the restaurant has been serving Belmont customers.
Manager David Erickson said Stephen is an excellent boss and extremely charitable, giving time and money back to the community.
“Stephen is a great person to work for and truly appreciates how hard the staff works,” he said. “Conley's had to overcome the reputation of a ‘dive bar’ and it's because of Stephen's hard work and drive that now it's a great place to go.
For once, location does not matter
Never mind that Stephen’s business is formally located in Watertown.
It’s splitting hairs – – to make any mention that the establishment isn’t really situated in this town.
When you park your car outside Conley’s, you’re in Belmont. When you get out of the car, you’re still in Belmont. It’s only when you set foot onto the sidewalk before entering Conley’s that you’re in Watertown.
And, at the end of the day, does it really matter? Not at all, say loyal patrons of Conley’s.
“It’s a warm, friendly neighborhood pub that I can walk to from my home in Belmont,” wrote one of Conley’s customers. “I always bump into friends and neighbors there.”
Another pointed out that Conley’s is a setting that embodies what is most cherished about a neighborhood bar: "Not only is it a good place to bond with friends, but it’s also a place to bring a family and unwind with them."
As for its owner, Stephen said it’s pretty simple: he pays taxes to Watertown and serves Belmont families, “regulars” at the bar and functions for all manner of community events in the room at the far end of the restaurant.
From the library to the kitchen
Stephen’s path to becoming the owner of Conley’s Pub & Grille was not totally expected.
He grew up in Madison, N.J., and graduated from Hamilton College.
For about a year and a-half after school, Stephen worked in sales but quickly discovered it was not the profession for him.
“It was awful,” he said about the job. “And it became apparent to me after a very short time that I wasn’t going to sit at a desk or wear a tie everyday.”
So Stephen moved to Belmont 22 years ago because his sister lived in Cambridge and a good friend from college lived in the area.
He and his friend, Jack O’Brien, got jobs running the kitchen of the former Continental Café in 1989.
“I took my history degree and put it to good use working in the local watering hole,” Stephen joked, adding that such a career move was much to his father’s chagrin.
When the so-called “Conti” was sold in 1991, he and Jack bought Mama Gino’s in Somerville’s Union Square.
But when McFly’s on Belmont Street came up for sale in 2001, Stephen bought out his partnership in the pizzeria and decided to make a go of running a restaurant and bar on his own.
The early years were extremely hard work for him.
Stephen expanded the space and performed extensive renovations. In fact, the whole place was re-done.
But, from Day One, Stephen knew he made the right move.
“I always knew the tempo of this place,” he said about the years he worked in the kitchen at the former Continental Café. “We still have regulars from the Conti as well as different crowds in each of the three sections.”
Creating a sense of family over the years
Stephen said his establishment offers food that is well beyond ‘pub fair’ and that all are welcome in any form of dress.
“This is Belmont’s local restaurant and watering hole,” he said. “Ask any family that comes here and they’ll tell you that we bridge the gap between a bar room and a family restaurant.”
Stephen is a ‘Jack of all Trades’ as the owner of Conley’s and can be found sweeping, setting up Christmas lights, fixing a leak in the ceiling, pouring a draft, ordering food or greeting customers who have become his friends.
“It’s always on your mind,” he said about being the owner of a restaurant. “But I no longer need to micro-manage because I have a good staff and they know the systems.”
It’s nice for Stephen to know he’s helping the youth in Belmont by hiring a number of Belmont High School students who he said often to continue to work at Conley’s when they come home from college.
And three of his children work at the restaurant: 21-year-old Erica is a waitress, 16-year-old Liz (who will turn 17 in a few weeks) is a waitress-in-training and buses tables while her twin brother, Kyle, “wears many hats in the kitchen.”
There aren’t many new faces in Conley’s work force, Stephen said.
“The staff is like family,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
Giving back to the town
Stephen firmly believes that his Belmont establishment, as part of the community, should share its good fortune.
To that end, he participates in a number of events such as sponsoring the Youth Hockey Team and taking out advertisements in sports programs including those for rugby, hockey, basketball and football.
In October, Conley’s gives 10 percent of its nightly income on Mondays to Making Strides for Breast Cancer and in September does the same for the Pan Mass Challenge/Jimmy Fund.
The fundraising for the Pan Mass Challenge culminates with a fundraising evening, organized by lifelong resident Neil J. Fay who works at the restaurant, where there are raffles, giveaways and matching gifts.
“It works out for everybody,” Stephen said of the fundraising events at Conley’s. “It brings business to the restaurant and allows me to be charitable to the community where I have lived for over two decades.”
In addition to medical causes, Conley’s sponsors a hole each year for the Belmont Firefighters golf tournament that raises money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
And Conley’s donates food for the firefighter’s annual Sept. 11 Remembrance Dinner, to Belmont High School’s Art Auction taking place on Dec. 17 that will benefit the Advanced Placement’s art trip to Paris this year and donates a $250 dinner to the annual fundraiser of the Foundation for Belmont Education as well as gift certificates and funds to the Lion’s Club annual fundraiser.
As important as money, Stephen devotes his personal time to the BHS girls’ varsity basketball team as an assistant coach.