Family recipe: After 1 year as restaurant firm’s president, Tim Doherty talks his past, business’s future

By Meg Fry
Allendale | Feb 25, 2019 at 7:00 am
From our print edition

Shortly after graduating from Lehigh University — and after years spent working part-time in his family’s numerous franchised chain restaurants — Tim Doherty took a job at a bank. In Ireland.

“We were not allowed to work for our family’s company until we got a job elsewhere, to both learn what we like and do not like, to give us an opportunity to spread our wings, and to work for a supervisor who was not our Dad or someone who works for Dad,” Doherty said. 

So, instead, Doherty moved to Dublin in 1999 to work for one year in the international corporate lending department of Allied Irish Bank, the largest bank in Ireland. He then was transferred back to the bank’s offices in New York City to work for another four years. 

“At that point, I needed to make a decision — what did I want to do for the rest of my life?” Doherty said. “I had great training and a wonderful experience, but I realized I was not passionate about the banking industry. I did not want to sit behind a desk for 10 to 12 hours, staring at the numbers on my computer, trying to make decisions as to whether I would lend people money or not.” 

His father’s advice to him, Doherty said, was to find what it was he loved and to follow that. 

“Over the course of time, over a few conversations, I found myself becoming more intrigued by our family business, our restaurants, our brands, and the people working within them,” he said. 

That, of course, was hardly surprising. Doherty had been working in the family’s business for as long as he could remember.

“Any time I was home for more than 24 hours, I would pick up shifts, as a server, a bartender, a food expeditor, a host, an assistant — anything,” he said. 

Those lessons proved useful, he said, as he is closing in on his first anniversary of being president and chief operating officer of his father’s company, Doherty Enterprises in Allendale, guiding day-to-day operations of the more than $500 million franchisee and restaurant owner across seven brands. 

“I see it as my job to ensure that, if you want a job in the restaurant industry, you can have a great one with Doherty Enterprises,” he said. “That is really my core passion today.”

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Doherty Enterprises is the 77th-largest restaurant company in the United States, according to Nation’s Restaurant News data, and the 15th-largest franchise owner in the country, according to Restaurant Finance Monitor.

It also employs 3,500 across 48 restaurants in New Jersey alone, bringing in more than $171 million in sales. 

Founded in 1985 by Ed Doherty, Tim Doherty’s father, the company has grown from 19 Roy Rogers restaurants to 149 restaurants and 9,000 employees across New Jersey, New York, Florida and Georgia. Its brands include Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, Panera Bread, Chevys Fresh Mex, Quaker Steak & Lube, Noodles & Co. and Doherty Enterprises’ own specialty concepts, the Shannon Rose Irish Pub in Clifton and Ramsey and Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton and Garden City, New York. 

“Our mission statement is to be the best food service company in the communities that we serve, one that operates with integrity, treats people fairly and gives back to our communities.” — Tim Doherty

Reaching the top of the company was not easy, especially in the beginning, Tim Doherty said.

He returned to Doherty Enterprises in 2003 to complete the manager-in-training program at Applebee’s, but he never assumed the role.

“I think that would have been a tough decision to make Ed’s kid an assistant manager,” he said. “A general manager would have to be very confident with themselves that I was not there to report to the big boss.”

Instead, he chose to become involved in real estate, training under his father to quickly become a key leader in the company’s growth through site selection, lease negotiations, construction, acquisitions and remodeling, becoming the vice president of real estate and construction in 2006 and vice president of development in 2010. 

He even got to work alongside his sisters, Doherty said, as they were integral in the creation of the Shannon Rose Irish Pub and Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas concepts in 2006 and 2011, respectively.

The experience was beneficial. 

“When you are with a franchise group, your role is to take that brand’s toolkit, whatever it may be, including marketing, operations, training and more, and execute upon it daily to the best of your abilities,” he said. “However, in our specialty division, we took the inklings of ideas and then developed our own toolkits, including determining our brands’ identities, and executing upon those. 

“That takes a whole different set of skills, but there is a lot more flexibility to do what we want, to be nimble and change as we see fit, and that is a heck of a lot of fun.”  

Doherty said that, while the company’s plan is to continue operating and growing its brands within already existing footprints, if an opportunity arises elsewhere — including an acquisition — the company is ready to expand. 

“We’re (currently) looking at other brands that may align with our vision and mission, hopefully at the beginning of their growth cycle, but not necessarily, that we can get involved in,” he said. 

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Doherty said he was trained to succeed Doherty Enterprises’ then-president, Ed Choe, upon Choe’s retirement in 2018. 

“It made sense for the succession planning of our business to begin training with him prior to,” he said. 

Today, Doherty maintains that his proudest career accomplishment thus far is growing the business to the point that it can continue to employ thousands of people. 

His other requirement, he said, is to continue to execute upon the company’s original vision.   

“Our mission statement is to be the best food service company in the communities that we serve, one that operates with integrity, treats people fairly and gives back to our communities,” Doherty said.

“For example, in 2018, we raised and donated in excess of $6 million for local causes through various operations — and, while we require that each restaurant get involved at least twice a year in its community, our managers surpassed that significantly by getting involved in nearly 750 community events.”

That is something Doherty has no plans to alter.  

“While it is our responsibility to change with the industry, whether that be responding to changing food tastes or incorporating better technology and marketing to help our guests consume food in the ways that they would like, what I think is critical is that some of the things that make great restaurants successful don’t change,” he said. “Those underlying factors of great service, great food, and of being involved in the community, are really the keys to long term success.”

As for working in a successful family business, Doherty said it can be challenging.  

“There is no good time to get away or take off, so you need to make sure you have a good underlying relationship with your family and also make sure you are passionate about what you do,” he said.

“Any family business is too tough if you are in it just to do something — you must wake up wanting to go to work every day, because you will always be thinking about how you can improve and best work with and alongside others to be successful.”

Are millennials really killing Applebee’s?

Tim Doherty, president and chief operating officer of Doherty Enterprises in Allendale.

Tim Doherty, president and chief operating officer of Doherty Enterprises in Allendale, said its largest brand is still Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar — which, contrary to popular belief, reported great earnings and growth throughout 2018. 

“Applebee’s is categorically the leading casual dining bar and grill restaurant in the nation,” he said. “Though multiple articles have stated millennials are ‘killing’ Applebee’s, I can tell you, that is an absolute falsity. In fact, Applebee’s conducted studies showing that, while nearly 60 percent of guests are Baby Boomers and of Generation X, 30 percent are, in fact, millennials, while the remaining 10 percent actually belong to Generation Z.” 

Doherty Enterprises currently operates 41 Applebee’s locations in New Jersey. 

“The brand appeals to guests across all socioeconomic demographics throughout urban, suburban and rural markets,” Doherty said. 

Conversation Starter

Reach Doherty Enterprises at: dohertyinc.com, info@dohertyinc.com or 201-818-4669.

Meg Fry | mfry@roi-nj.com | megfry3