Kevin Murphy, Owner, Murphy Group of Restaurants

A Passion for Community

By Steven Chester

Kevin Murphy, Owner, Murphy Group of Restaurants

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
-John Donne

When John Donne wrote this famous passage nearly 400 years ago, the literary legend was observing how every one of us is an integral component in the fabric of humanity. Prince Edward Island restaurateur and businessman Kevin Murphy has found much of his success in this mantra.

Giving back to the community is a key to business success, says Murphy, whether it’s through his company’s frequent charitable work, offering employees schooling grants, providing bursaries through the local college, or his own involvement bringing business to the island through his role as past chair of the local Tourism Advisory Council.

With 13 locations ranging from casual to fine dining, as well as two hotel and brewery operations, the born-and-raised Prince Edward Islander has made his mark across the province in a big way.

Reaches turning point

It all started with one acquisition. After graduating with a business degree from the University of Prince Edward Island, Murphy spent six months working in the financial sector before the opportunity arose to buy a restaurant that was in receivership in June of 1980. Two years later, a hotel acquisition in Charlottetown followed – the ‘turning point’ for Murphy’s company, he says, when he knew it was entering the hospitality business in a big way.

In 1985 came the purchase and repositioning of the Mother’s Pizza brand in Ontario, his first steps into franchising. Several acquisitions and restructuring of both branded and independent locations followed, most in the Charlottetown area.

“From 1985 to 2013, I look at all that’s happened in the company, and it’s been an evolution of similar businesses and expansion in the hospitality and food section, hotels and brewing industry,” says Murphy.

Expands holdings

Today, Murphy Group of Restaurants all reside in the Charlottetown area. Locations consist of Castello’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, Daniel-Brenan Brickhouse & Marc’s Studio, Dooly’s, East Side Mario’s, Fishbones Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill, The Ganan House Pub Brewery & Mercantile, ISE’S Bar, Pizza Delight 1911 Jail, Pizza Delight – Express, Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, and The Merchantman Pub. There also two boutique hotels, The Great George and The Hotel on Pownal.

“There’s a historical component to our company now,” explains Murphy. “A lot of our businesses are located in historical buildings in downtown Charlottetown. We have the Great George Hotel, which is located in the historic district of Province House. Then our remaining restaurants are all in a two-to-three-block radius of what I call the restaurant district of Charlottetown.”

A reflection of Murphy’s business acumen, this year the Great George was nominated as one of the world’s top hotels by the World Luxury Hotel Awards. It was the first hotel in Atlantic Canada to receive this honour. Former guests, travel agents and tour operators are among those who nominated the hotel.

Beer is also business for the Murphy Group. The company owns a brewpub and microbrewery, The Gahan Brewery.

The company’s newest venture is The Prince Edward Island Brewing Company, a 25,000-square-foot facility which exports to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia. It also has tours, a retail shop and an event centre.

Similar ambience

Though there are many differing brands, restaurants in Murphy’s fold share a similar ambience.

“My wife, Kathy, has a phenomenal talent for design, creating a comfort and warmth in our restaurants,” says Murphy. “People will say we do it right; we make it comfortable, cozy and warm. We do a lot of reinvesting. We believe that the restaurant industry is moving very fast, and if you’re not on top of what’s going on and reinvesting in the physical properties that time will take over you. We’re always renovating and keeping the concepts fresh. More now than ever, the days that you leave your restaurant for 10 years without doing anything are gone.”

Staffing is also a key component. There are many perks to working in a Murphy’s restaurant, from health benefits to gym memberships, free golf at a local course and discounted cab fares for getting home.

“The educational component is also very real and dear to us,” Murphy says. “A lot of people in our company, they drift into the hospitality industry and they’re not very sure what they want to do. We try to mentor them and let them know that education is the key to success. At the end of the day, we have a very loyal and valuable staff – what we consider long-term employees.”

Family life key

Murphy and wife Kathy have been married for 33 years, and he credits his family life as one of his greatest achievements.

“For me, one of the biggest accomplishments that I think I’ve had is how successful Kathy and I have been in just life,” says Murphy. “We have three wonderful boys, 22, 24, 26, that have all contributed. They’ve gone to school and now some are working in the business, some are just finishing school.”

When asked if he has any tips for the rest of us, Murphy doesn’t hesitate.

“The thing I believe in business,” he says, “is as long as you continue to have the passion for your business, results will follow. Once you lose that passion, where you love what you do every day, that will trickle down to your staff. You should know when that happens, but a lot of times people do not, and then it just deteriorates. If you wake up every morning and love what you do, I think good things happen.”

For Murphy, it is precisely these kinds of family and community ties that help keep him mindful of his true purpose.

“When you’re from this island, where I grew up, played hockey, went to school and worked, there’s equity in that. I always say how fortunate we are to have a great family life as well as a great business life in a great little island.”

About the author

Steven Chester is the editor and social media community manager for Restaurant Central. His 13-year journalism background includes writing and editing for digital and traditional media. He is an expert in social media, online content and email newsletter development. Follow him on Twitter at @restaurantCRFN.

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