With 95 restaurants in New Jersey, New York and Long Island, there's no "typical day" for Ed Doherty, president and CEO of Doherty Enterprises in Allendale.
"On an average day, we'll impact 76,000 people," Doherty says, quickly running the numbers in his head. "That's over a half-million people in a week and more than 27 million people in a year."
That kind of thinking comes naturally to Doherty, who seems to filter virtually every business thought through the prism of customer service.
"We aim to 'wow' every guest every time," he says.
Not surprisingly, the "wow" factor extends beyond his customers. In fact, it is an integral part of the company's culture. "It's about 'wowing' our people, our communities, our suppliers," says Doherty, who is affectionately known as the "restaurant franchise king" of New Jersey. The company is one of the Northeast's largest franchisees, operating dozens of well-known restaurant brands, including Applebee's, Panera Bread, Chevy's Fresh Mex and Carino's Italian Grill.
That success inspired Doherty to launch the company's first original restaurant concept, The Shannon Rose Irish Pub, in Clifton in 2007. A second Shannon Rose location opened in Woodbridge two years later, and a third will open its doors in Ramsey this winter. Created to "bring a little Dublin to New Jersey," the pubs prize authenticity in everything from architectural design and dÇcor to menu. Doherty credits his daughter, Shannon, vice president of new concept development, with the painstaking research involved in capturing an authentically Irish experience, right down to staples like shepherd's pie, Guinness beef stew, and quintessential corned beef and cabbage.
Shannon's siblings, Tim and Kerry, are also key players in the family business. "I had a rule that, after college, my children were required to work for four years for a large company before they came to work for me," Doherty says, clearly happy they chose to join the family business. Tim is vice president of development, and Kerry is working on another independent restaurant concept for an Italian wine bar. She can surely count on her dad, an enthusiastic wine collector with more than 6,000 bottles in his wine cellar, for advice and inspiration.
Hands-on experience came early for Doherty, who worked from the age of 8 in his mom's restaurant and nightclub in Brooklyn. Following graduation from St. John's University in Queens, he joined Mobil Oil Corporation, where he had his first foray into franchising: negotiating gas station franchise deals. His first territory was the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.
"No one else wanted that area, so it was easy to be successful," he chuckles.
A few years later, Burger King hired him to find new locations, and from there he joined Marriott, where he rose through the ranks in positions ranging from real estate and marketing to operations and franchising. By 1983, he was vice president and general manager of Marriott's Family Restaurant Division, responsible for more than 1,000 restaurants.
In 1984, he struck a "sweetheart deal" with Marriott to buy 19 Roy Rogers restaurants in Connecticut that, at that time, were losing $700,000 annually. The move would lay the foundation for his future in franchising.
"One day, I was a corporate guy and the next day, I had hundreds of employees and had to worry about making the payroll," he recalls of his decision to leave Marriott's corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Md. and live in Ridgewood.
Over the years, Doherty has navigated an ever-changing franchise marketplace with hardly a misstep. He calls his success a combination of "luck and hard work," but at its core, it comes down to how he treats his employees.
"Treat everybody the way you want to be treated," he says. "If you do that, you've lived a good life."
Doherty never loses sight of the responsibility he feels for each and every one of his 6,600 employees. Two years ago, the company established the "Wow a Friend Foundation," which provides emergency funds to associates and their families in a time of financial need. Funded entirely by voluntary donations by fellow employees, last year the foundation received $80,000 (matched by an additional $80,000 from Joan and Ed Doherty), enabling it to assist 50 employees in need so far this year.
What drives Doherty to connect on such a personal level?
"The best day in the world to me is a day I spend visiting the restaurants. It's so much fun," he says. "I'm not a golfer or a gardener. I work six days a week because I enjoy our business and I love being around people. If you don't like people, you shouldn't be in the restaurant business."
Doherty's charitable endeavors run the gamut, from children's programs to leadership initiatives to hunger relief to events that honor and support U.S. troops.
"Every restaurant manager is responsible for getting out in their community," he says, "and we encourage our servers to participate on a volunteer basis. It's important to teach them to give back to their community. We have to 'wow' our communities in big ways and in small ways."
Doherty also works closely with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots campaign, each year hosting a Breakfast for Santa at every Applebee's location on the first Saturday in December. In the past 10 years, the company has raised $2.5 million for the program, ranking Doherty's Applebee's among the charity's top 10 corporate sponsors in the U.S.
"Our only stipulation to Toys for Tots is that the money we raise remains in the local communities we serve," he says.
On Veteran's Day, the company provides complimentary meals to veterans and active-duty military personnel in 61 Applebee's locations.
"If you want to experience a great day, this is it," Doherty says. "The energy is so great. Of all the things I've done, this was my best day ever. On Long Island, there was a World War II veteran who could not attend. His daughter contacted the restaurant manager and, without consulting anyone, he delivered the meal to the vet's hospital room. To me, that is what it's all about. That is the culture we've created."
Doherty's 28 Panera Bread locations donate bread and other prepared food items to City Harvest and Island Harvest. Those donations top $1 million each year.
"We do this every single day," he says.
In addition to the big-picture programs, Doherty gives his team carte blanche to support a range of community fund-raising initiatives, including sponsoring local youth sports teams, providing countless "dinner for two" certificates for raffles and auctions, and working with 650 schools throughout the region to reward students for academic excellence.
Inspiring students is a particular passion. The Dohertys were so impressed by daughter Kerry's college – Elon University in Elon, N.C. – that they have served on the school's parents' council and have provided a $1 million endowment to establish the Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
"This school is known for actively engaging its students," Doherty, a member of Elon's Board of Trustees, says of the university's "Engaged Learning" ethos.
Whether empowering his employees, inspiring students or focusing on yet another philanthropic endeavor, Doherty is "wowing" an ever-growing crowd.
Ed Doherty, president and CEO of Doherty Enterprises in Allendale, at Applebee's in Garfield. Doherty was recently named by Applebee's corporate as franchisee of the year.