BY DIANE C. WALSH, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
TIM DOHERTY IS ALL ABOUT the “Wow.” He’s President and COO of his family’s business—Doherty Enterprises—a regional powerhouse in the franchise world. It owns more than 150 restaurants in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Georgia. The business was started by Tim’s visionary dad, Ed, back in 1985.
Today, Doherty Enterprises is an award-winning franchisee of four national brands—Applebee’s, Chevys, Panera Bread and Quaker Steak & Lube. It also owns and operates two highly acclaimed independent restaurants, The Shannon Rose Irish Pub, and Sputino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas.
“Our mission is to wow our guests, wow our people, wow our community, wow our suppliers and then we can wow ourselves with our profits,” explains Tim Doherty. The wow philosophy also extends to the workers— all 8,000 of them—because in a service business they are the keys to success.
“We want to make sure our people feel safe and cared about—that’s A-No.1 for us,” says Doherty. Their commitment is the underpinning for the Wow A Friend Foundation— an emergency fund that workers can tap into if they are faced with a hardship or a crisis outside their control, such as a natural disaster or unexpected medical expenses.
Since the foundation was started in 2007, it has helped more than 1,700 people with donations exceeding $3.2 million. Last year 209 employees were the recipients of a total of $547,000 in aid.
The foundation’s impact on the company and its employees led the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ) to designate Doherty Enterprises as its “Extraordinary Champion of Good Works” at its annual Companies that Care celebration. The event is a tribute to corporate philanthropy and generosity.
CIANJ President Anthony Russo said from the moment Doherty explained the foundation at a talk before the association last summer, it was the obvious choice for the 2020 award. As a statewide business advocacy group, CIANJ started the Companies that Care program seven years ago to spotlight the often-untold stories of corporate kindness.
A small committee of employees screens all the applications, but Doherty said he reads each one also. “Every story is heartbreaking and sad. It gives me great pride that we are giving money to people going through unique events outside their control,” he says. Doherty declined to give specific details on donations because he did not want to betray his employees’ confidences. But he said in many cases where employees were victims of natural disasters, the foundation was able to cut a check within 24 hours. “They have the money as quickly as possible to help them get through.”
One worker in Florida expressed her gratitude on social media. Sheryl said she had no insurance when Hurricane Irma wrecked on her home. “I appreciate from the bottom of my heart, the nice things Serrin (her general manager) said about me and the confidence she has in me, to be given this donation. Thank you all so very much. You have no idea how this help me.”
Before the foundation was set up, Doherty said employees facing a hardship would sometimes go to his father and ask for a loan. He said Ed would help. But the family wanted to create an impartial and more structured way to offer financial assistance. The foundation was established as a way for employees to help employees. Initially, 700 employees enrolled and raised $42,000 among themselves. Within three years, it grew to 1,000 and they raised $50,000.
Then Ed Doherty issued a challenge. He wanted more employees enrolled and greater donations. As an incentive, Ed promised to match the employee contributions dollar for dollar if they hit his mark. That has never been a problem. Every year the employees have met Ed’s goals. Ed and his wife, Joan, started 2020 by writing a $256,648 check to the foundation.
“It’s extraordinary for a family to do that for their employees, especially to that extent,” says Jordan Glatt, director of strategic partnerships for the Community Foundation of New Jersey, which manages an array of philanthropic funds.
At Doherty Enterprises, a special committee of hourly employees and restaurant managers, chaired by Tracy Pryde, an executive assistant, review all applications and decide who should receive help and how much. Doherty said the committee has full autonomy but there have been times when the members asked the company’s board for guidance.
Over the past 13 years, the foundation raised more than $4.3 million and now more than 87 percent of the workforce contributes to it. “We are a team,” Doherty says. He credits the foundation for helping his company attract and retain good workers.
“The restaurant business is an experience business. The only way to differentiate yourself is service. We have to wow our guests every time. We have to make sure we work as a team.”
Glatt said the community foundation has found that emergency funds like the Wow Foundation “create an immeasurable amount of goodwill for the company.”
“We hope that other companies steal shamelessly from it and set up organizations like it,” Doherty said.