Recession may be the word in vogue here, but for one Donegal man it’s upwards and onwards in New York City, where he has just opened a new multi-million dollar bar and restaurant, along with his business partner from Tyrone.
The ‘Beer Authority’ is located opposite the famous Port authority and just six blocks away from the likes of Madison Square Garden and a short distance from Grand Central Station. It fits in easily with their award winning “Rattle n’ Hum” establishment, the ‘number one beer bar’ in the Big Apple, purchased in 2008.
Joe Donagher, whose is a son of former Ballyshannon Town Commissioner, Paddy Donagher and who has a number of siblings in business at home in the Erne town, is now a player in the big bucks league.
Although born Stateside after his father emigrated there in the sixties where he met his Mayo born wife Pauline, the young family returned to Ballyshannon in the late 70’s.
Joe was educated at De La Salle College and was a popular playing member of the Aodh Ruadh GAA club, before he moved back over to the States to get work.
And the remarkable thing is that he has managed to do this, in a relatively short time frame. However, anyone thinking that it all happened by accident or good luck, would be badly mistaken.
“New York is a tough city to do business in. You have to work hard and be totally dedicated to what you are doing,” he told he Democrat.
In those early days, it was “crazy”, he admits as he was working six days a week and all hours of the day in construction, but remarkably within three months, he had the money to put a down-payment on a house.
What followed were the first steps of entrepreneurship success, which ultimately saw him buy a little delicatessen in Woodside, Queens in 2006.
He decided to make it into an “Irish deli” and it served breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as providing customers with Irish goods, but it was a hard graft in those fledging years.
“I would go in with the girls to get things started at 5.30am and at 6.30am , I would head off to my construction job. It’s the only way that you will get ahead in this city. At 2.30pm, I would finish my construction job, maybe grab a couple of hours at home, but then it was back to the deli, where I might start with the lunch deliveries to clients and then it was all go until 9pm, when we closed.”
In 2007 he opened ‘Fiddlers’ in Maspeth, another part of Queen’s in a large Irish neighbourhood. He describes it as a typical American “gin mill” a small local pub by Irish standards.
Again it was hard work and with closing time at 2am weekdays and 4am at weekends, it was a roller coaster ride. We realised that many of the Irish were returning to Ireland and the following year he decided to sell up the pub and the deli and move into Manhattan.
“It was a big move, but if you want to get on in life, these decisions have to be made. Queen’s was changing and Manhattan seemed the logical place for action in New York.
Along with business partner Eamon Donnelly, in September 2008, Rattle n’ Hum was opened, quickly generating a loyal following and becoming a leader in the rapidly emerging “American Craft Beer Revolution”, eventually gaining the title of the ‘No. 1 beer bar in New York City’.
Their newest venture The Beer Authority opened three weeks ago with the official opening last weekend.
Joe said: “The family came over from Ballyshannon and it was great. I can only describe the reaction to date as phenomenal. We have been packed, the Port Authority sees people passing through in their billions and we are near both the Grand Central station and Madison Square Gardens, so in terms of an ideal location, we could not have a better pitch anywhere in New York.
Joe already has plans to complete a roof deck at the ‘authority’ and when all is complete, he says that they will have about 100 people employed between the two establishments.
Any advice from Joe to the people of Donegal: “Don’t expect anything to come to you in life, it is hard work and a tough graft. You have to be determined and have a positive strategy. There will always be pitfalls and challenges on the way, but if you work hard enough, the rewards will come. Another important attribute is to have good people around you. They are absolutely essential to the success of any business, even if they cost you more. It will pay dividends.”
And if that is not a positive note to end on in an Ireland begging for optimism, this story illustrates all the good things about the determination of the Irish to not only survive, but thrive into the future. And Joe has not ruled out an investment back home, in the years ahead.