Behind Bars: Daniel McCarthy at Tatoheads Public House

Erica Thompson

On a recent karaoke night at Tatoheads Public House, owner Daniel McCarthy had a breakthrough. “I know that I found my voice,” said the entrepreneur, who sang Phil Phillips' “Sea of Love.” “Since then I've been singing every day. Internally, I've opened something.”

The sea change extends beyond singing for McCarthy, who opened the South Side restaurant in July 2014. Recently, he has been receiving positive attention from investors, and getting hugged at the end of business meetings. It's an upswing from the adversity he faced shortly after opening.

“There was a shooting across the street at a club,” he recalled. “Then, by January, my chef got shot. And then, by February, my truck was burglarized three times. Throughout that whole time, I fought back.”

McCarthy developed that tenacious spirit growing up a self-proclaimed “latchkey kid” in Chicago. He looked out for himself, and developed a passion for food, creating meals from what he could find in the kitchen. He got an early job at a local yogurt shop and quickly became assistant manager.

“I always went up the ladder,” McCarthy said of his experience working myriad jobs over the years. “I started at the bottom and worked my way up — usually within three months.”

But there were more setbacks.

“In 2003, I was homeless,” McCarthy said. “So from that point to now, I've come a long way.”

A relationship brought McCarthy to Columbus in April 2011 — “I'm not with that lady [anymore]. I fought through that,” he said — and he was running the Tatoheads food truck by September. Three years later, he opened the brick-and-mortar, putting the food truck on hiatus in 2018.

“I just decided to put my efforts here because there's a lot of opportunity,” he said. “I hope to have an arts and community establishment.”

McCarthy invites musicians to perform on the checkered stage, and hosts productions by the Actors' Theatre of Columbus. And the growing clientele is leaving its mark, literally, in the form of knickknacks behind the bar, including Mr. Potato Head dolls, “The Nutcracker” figurines and masks of U.S. presidents.

Maintaining an inclusive crowd is important to McCarthy, who cites his diverse neighborhood in Chicago as an influence. “I think that has been a big benefit to me because I made the world my family early,” he said. “I embrace people because they're in my presence.”

Potatoes aside, the restaurant offers the popular Chorizo Cheeseburger and The Thing, a deep-fried, potato-stuffed tortilla, on its menu of contemporary American comfort food.

“I feel a little limited at this point,” said McCarthy, who plans to re-open the food truck next door in 2019 and work on expanding the offerings inside the restaurant. “There's so much other stuff I want to do.”

In July, Tatoheads will be due for a first-ever anniversary party.

“I've been here almost five years, so I might as well start celebrating that I've survived this long,” McCarthy said.