Don’t call him Ishmael.
Terry Barbu might be the new owner of the Whale’s Tail in Breckenridge, but he already has plans to change the maritime theme. He bought the restaurant one month ago — the 57th restaurant he’s helped design or own.
“I knew I wanted to come back and own a restaurant here,” he said. “You could ask anyone, they all would say some day I wanted to return here.”
Barbu moved to Breckenridge at age 18 in the late ’80s, hoping to ski professionally. He worked as a bartender at Meeches Mogul and eventually moved on to own and operate restaurants across the country, most recently the largest nightclub in Atlanta, Ga. Now, he lives upstairs above the Whale’s Tail.
“When you own a business, when you work in Breck, you represent Breck,” he said.
The Whale’s Tail has never been renovated in its 40-year history, Barbu said. The old owners lived in Wisconsin, and it took a year and a half to convince them to sell, he said. They remain small partners in the business.
After the upcoming winter season, Barbu plans to do a complete overhaul of the Whale’s Tail, renaming the restaurant the Blue Stag Saloon. The theme will be turn of the century, late 1800s, which he said fits into the historic look of the town.
“I want to take it to the next level,” Barbu said. “We’re going to have period wallpaper, windows, lighting — everything you would have found back in the time.”
A going-away party for Whale’s Tail at the end of the season will see all of the old decorations auctioned for charity. Barbu said even in the last month, he’s made significant changes, including new chefs, service and a new menu. His goal is to open the Blue Stag by mid-June, but in the meantime, wants to make sure the Whale’s Tail still succeeds.
“This is an old mining town and the exteriors match that and have charm,” he said. “But I want people to come in here and walk back in time.”
At 48, Barbu has been working in the industry for the last 28 years. Small changes to the place right now include a new fire pit out front and increasing the number of taps from three to nine.
“So many locals don’t come here, and I hope they give us a chance,” he said. “It’s a smarter menu, more user-friendly.”
He has already doubled last year’s fall sales over the last two weeks. Barbu’s love for Breckenridge emanates in every part of his plan. He wants to become the mayor some day, but short-term, plans on winning the Christmas decorating contest with $3,700 worth of lights and decorations on the way.
“This is my retirement,” he said. “I want to focus on being part of the town and being in one place.”
The Blue Stag will feature wood-fired pizza and some game meats, as well as a larger focus on lunch. Barbu’s dream had not been without difficulty; already, the transformer went out last week, and the whole staff had to dig a new trench to get power back.
“It’s been a crazy month,” Barbu said. “I love this industry, and I hope people give us another shot, either now or when we turn over, or both.”
With renovation plans in the works, Barbu is focused on building a customer base and said he hopes the town will embrace the change.
“I always try to design a hug into a space,” he said. “I want this to be the best restaurant in town.”