Life's a beach for Harry's Shack boss as he looks to expand empire
As the Year of Food and Drink 2016 progresses, Business Telegraph reports on the growth of a seaside restaurant, a snack deal and raising the profile of a meal staple
He's already hit the headlines for plans to open a new mobile restaurant along the Portstewart promenade, but Donal Doherty says he has much bigger fish to fry.
The Donegal restaurateur said he wants to take on the north coast's culinary scene and plans on setting up another three restaurants along the northern counties of the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Mr Doherty said he is currently looking at sites in Londonderry and Donegal and hopes to expand his chain with a further three bricks-and-mortar restaurants within the next three years.
Last week, it was announced that Mr Doherty had plans to open a "wagon" just two miles along the beach from his Portstewart restaurant.
This site will not require planning permission and has already been approved by the National Trust which is responsible for maintaining the coastline.
He currently runs two restaurants, Harry's in Donegal and Harry's Shack in Portstewart.
Mr Doherty said the wagon will make his life "easier" as he said he feels bad turning away so many customers during the busy summer months when tourist numbers soar in the area.
In the height of the tourist season, Mr Doherty said he was turning up to 300 people away from his Portstewart restaurant in a day.
However, he added that he would like to improve the area's tourist offering. He said: "We wanted to provide something for the people who we turned away and also give another reason to go to the beach and see the area. In July and August last year you wouldn't have been able to get a table without booking on the best days we were turning away 300 people. We're trying to develop the beach as being a good day out for all the family."
Despite the disappointing summer, trade still boomed at the Port and Mr Doherty is positive that better weather will come this year.
"I can't say when, but we will get a summer at some stage this year," he quipped.
The first restaurant, Harry's Bar and Restaurant, was founded in Donegal by Donal's father 25 years ago, while Harry's Shack has been open for just 19 months. The businesses currently employs 20 people in Portstewart and 25 in Donegal, as well as the extra staff who are brought in to cope with seasonal demand. During summer months, the two sites employ between 60 and 70 people.
Mr Doherty takes pride in sourcing his fish at nearby fishing town Greencastle and said he grows two acres of vegetables and salad crops near his Donegal restaurant.
The restaurateur said he feels that the first month of the Northern Ireland Year of Food has got people excited about breakfasts.
He said: "It'll take a few months before we see the full impact of it but already it has got lots of restaurants thinking about how to improve their breakfasts. I think as the months go on it will make restaurants consider how to bring other aspects of their menu up a level."
Despite only being in business for a short time, Harry's Shack already has a cult following, something Mr Doherty attributes to a glowing review in the Guardian. Overseas visitors now account for between 10% and 15% of its customers.
The restaurant has also worked alongside Invest NI to host journalists and bloggers from other UK nations Mr Doherty believes that by increasing its food outlets, the area it will encourage more people to see the area as a holiday destination again.
He said that while business was mainly seasonal at Portstewart, an increasing number of people were visiting over long weekends - even at Christmas time. Harry's Shack sits on the beach on on stilts 10ft above the sand - lending an element of novelty to diners.
John and Sally McKennas' Guides rated Harry's Shack its top eaterie for 2014, just a few short months after its August opening.
The 'wagon' is expected to cost around £40,000 to buy and kit out and should be open for business by April.
The new, smaller outlet will run a slightly shorter version of the Shack's menu and will feature healthier fast food options such as salads, something with Mr Doherty believes there is an untapped market for.