NJ Applebee’s and Panera Bread Honcho Started Out as a Busboy

Tim Doherty is president of his family's hospitality business, Doherty Enterprises, which owns more than 100 Applebee's and Panera Breads.

Tim Doherty of Doherty Enterprises
Tim Doherty's first restaurant job was at an Applebee’s in Paramus on its opening day in 1994. Photo: Courtesy of Doherty Enterprises

Tim Doherty wants New Jerseyans to know that those rumors about Applebee’s food being frozen and then nuked are total blarney.

The truth, says Doherty, is quite the opposite. “Applebee’s serves 100 percent fresh food, cooked to order, like any good restaurant,” he asserts. “And no place is more welcoming.”

Doherty knows restaurants. He grew up in Ridgewood within a family-owned hospitality business. Allendale-based Doherty Enterprises owns and operates more than 100 Applebee’s and Panera Bread franchises in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Georgia.

Tim’s dad, whom he calls simply “Ed,” founded Doherty Enterprises in 1985 with Roy Rogers franchises in Connecticut. In 1992, Ed established the Applebee’s in Tinton Falls and Piscataway, and 25 more Garden State Applebee’s ensued.

Jersey decor at Applebee's in Clifton

Jersey pride is present in the decor at a Clifton Applebee’s owned by Doherty Enterprises. Photo: Courtesy of Doherty Enterprises

Tim held his first restaurant job in 1994 as a Ridgewood High senior. “I started at Applebee’s Paramus on its opening day,” he recalls. “I was too young to serve alcohol, so I was a server assistant. OK—a busboy.” He went off to Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, but every time he returned home, “I was back working in Paramus,” he says. “Busboys see and hear everything in the dining room. I was all eyes and ears.”

But when Tim graduated, he set his sights elsewhere. “The Doherty family rule for my siblings and me was that after college, we had to go out and get a job working for other people. Later, if we wanted to join Doherty Enterprises, we’d have to prove our business skills,” he says. Tim sought out such a job at Allied Irish Bank’s Dublin headquarters “to explore my Irish heritage and use my finance degree,” he says, specializing in corporate lending to not-for-profits.

Following a year in Dublin, Doherty transferred to the bank’s Manhattan office for a three-year stint. “Ultimately, I realized I wasn’t passionate about finance,” he says. “I also didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the next 40 or 50 years. I was happiest working in the restaurants.”

Tim says that Ed decided in his favor because “I’d become someone he’d want to hire, family or not.” He jumped in with a month of management training at Applebee’s in Clifton. “It was intense and demanding, but I loved it,” he says. “Fact is, not everyone is cut out for hospitality. You have to thrive on meeting people, working on a team and being part of the community.” And that’s the baseline, he says. “You also need to be organized, unflappable and raring to go, every day,” he says. “For you, nothing less than the best is acceptable.”

The Shannon Rose Irish Pub in Clifton

The Shannon Rose Irish Pub in Clifton Photo: Courtesy of Doherty Enterprises

These standards apply to Doherty Enterprises’ other brands: Panera Bread, Chevys Fresh Mex in Clifton and Linden, Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton (Tim’s sister Kerry’s passion project) and The Shannon Rose Irish Pub in Clifton and Ramsey (sister Shannon’s baby).

“New Jerseyans have a huge choice of restaurants, and their palates are sophisticated,” Tim acknowledges. “When they want excellent, casual food at a friendly bar and grill, there’s an Applebee’s nearby. Our mission is to deliver deliciousness and warmth: what we call a ‘wow’ experience. Our staff is happy, our guest is happy. It’s been their perfect little getaway. And that guest will be back.”

Tim knows whereof he speaks: While Ed remains chairman of Doherty Enterprises, his former busboy is president.

Follow Doherty Enterprises on Facebook or Instagram.

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