Situated on a quiet street in Three Oaks’ downtown, visitors to the Harbor Country community can often find the inside of the small, white farmhouse-looking building packed to the gills on weekends, with lines sometimes extending out the doors.
The coffee shop known as Conway’s has established itself as a spot for locals and visitors to Three Oaks alike to gather for breakfast and lunch — and not just for the restaurant’s freshly roasted coffee or its selection of dishes from across The Pond.
Standing behind the shop’s counter one particularly busy Sunday morning, owner Kiran Conway appeared to be well within his element, deftly taking customers’ orders while explaining to them some of the more unique dishes on the menu, such as the Scotch eggs or the Cornish pastries. All the while, he cracked jokes and told stories about his shop and his past, including tales of his days growing in his homeland of Ireland, leaving everyone in the shop with grins on their faces.
“I always try to entertain the guests a little,” Kiran said. “People who know about this place often come in for that.”
The business’ philosophy can be found in the tagline beneath the sign outside the coffee shop: “Come in for the craic.”
“Craic” is a term that, among other meanings, is used by the Irish to describe something that is funny or entertaining. For instance, people often ask “where did you go for the craic last night?” in Ireland, meaning, “where you go to have fun?” Kiran said.
“The craic” is something that Kiran — a former singer and comedian — has infused into every part of his venture.
“One time, someone visited the local chamber of commerce and asked where they could find the ‘craic house’ they’ve heard so much about,” he said.
Originally hailing from Kilkenny, Ireland, Kiran moved to England and later to Africa before coming to the U.S. Living for years in the Chicago area, Kiran also owned a home in New Buffalo, and fell in love with the small town charm of neighboring Three Oaks, he said.
“This area reminds me a lot of Ireland, with all the farmland,” he said. “Except here we get a lot of nice weather, while Ireland just gets rain.”
Looking for a change of pace from the fast paced metropolis lifestyle, Kiran decided to make Harbor Country his home, purchasing the building where he would open Conway’s four years ago. Zoned for both commercial and residential use, Kiran decided to transform the property into a small coffee shop, much like the ones that line the streets in Ireland, he said.
“I figured that if the coffee shop thing didn’t work out, I could move my couch and TV inside and tell people ‘to get off my lawn,’” he joked.
True to his vision, stepping inside Conway’s is like stepping into a rustic coffee shop in a rural European community. While traditional Irish music plays in the background, customers sit at wooden tables or one of the couches, enjoying the gentle atmosphere around them. Keeping with the theme, dozens of antiques line the walls, all of which are related in some way to Kiran’s life, he said.
True to his sense of humor, several blackboards are placed on the walls with jokes written on them, such as “Pilates? I thought you said pies and lattes.”
While the shop’s quaint appearance may draw in curious customers, it is the food that keeps them coming back, especially the traditional scones. Freshly baked on the premises, customers may choose between several different flavors, with each scone served with a bit of butter and jam, the true Irish way, Kiran said.
“There’s nothing better than a scone and a cup of coffee to start off the morning,” he said.
For lunch, Conway’s offers standbys like soups and sandwiches, as well as quiches. However, what makes the place standout is its menu of Irish favorites.
These dishes include the cottage pie, a meat pie similar to Shepard’s pie, made with beef and veggies and topped with a layer of mashed potatoes. Another favorite is the Scotch eggs, hard-boiled eggs that are wrapped in sausage, coated in parmesan bread crumbs and deep fried, and served with beans and jalapeno mustard.
Conway’s is located at 1 East Central Drive, and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information people may contact the shop at (708) 369-2831 or online at facebook.com/conwaysofthreeoaks.