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Danny Murphy outside one of his many Tim Hortons franchises across Prince Edward Island. (Nathan Rochford for The Globe and Mail)
Danny Murphy outside one of his many Tim Hortons franchises across Prince Edward Island. (Nathan Rochford for The Globe and Mail)

Timbit Titan: The story behind PEI’s entrepreneurial Murphy clan Add to ...

By the late 1980s, Kevin wanted to run his own business, and Shawn had a growing law practice. In tiny PEI, his practice kept bumping into conflicts with his brothers’ expanding operations. And so they amicably split. Danny devoted his energies to quick service, and Kevin focused on his great passion for full-service restaurants and fixing up heritage buildings. He invested with other family members in an old downtown hotel property that became the Great George Hotel, a boutique inn now consisting of 16 buildings on a city block.

Danny owns the biggest business in the family, with 1,400 employees and revenue of close to $80-million a year. But Kevin’s growing enterprise grosses about $20-million. These are not big businesses by global standards, but huge in PEI. And they don’t include all the other Murphy-related interests across Canada, because the family keeps drawing kindred spirits into its orbit.

One of those spirits emerged when Danny visited Toronto for a Wendy’s advisory meeting in 1985, and he got to know another franchise owner, a divorced Alberta woman named Martie Tollestrup. The two courted by long distance and married – not just a wedding but a fast-food merger, for the now Martie Murphy owns the two Fort McMurray units of Tim Hortons, as well as a brace of Wendy’s outlets in Alberta. The couple have built a stone mansion on a 50-acre estate called Gingerwood near the Atlantic Ocean where they raise horses and hold charity events – for the Murphys are also known for giving back.

Last fall was a rough time for Danny, who was laid low by a mysterious virus and grappled with an outbreak of the Norwalk virus at his Stanhope Beach Resort, which forced an early closing to the seasonal inn. But his health is back, Mr. Murphy insists, and the resort is ready for its regular opening next year.

And what about the next generation of Murphys? Danny’s widowed mother Kathleen, now 85, has 28 grandchildren who are just starting to make a mark. Danny, who has six children but none yet in the business, recently took on an associate, Shawn’s 31-year-old son Paul, a lawyer and accountant who is his chief financial officer. Having Paul as the “go-to guy” frees Danny for the deal making that he still loves. He hands a lapel pin to a visitor with the imprint of the numbers “20-30-40.” It sums up his new dream, to own 40 hotels in the Atlantic region by 2030. He already has eight.

Hotels are a business like fast food – built on customer service, location and aligning with strong brands, with the added charm of a real estate play. And Danny knows the customer: These are the baby boomers who grew up with Tim Hortons, and they have made him rich. Now they are moving into retirement with money to spend and an appetite for travel. He is betting that some of them end up in his Atlantic hotels.

But Danny Murphy will never ignore the business that got him here. He despairs of franchise owners who just coast on the Tim Hortons brand name and don’t keep their premises clean and their operations efficient. “We look after the golden goose and make sure it is profitable and shiny,” he says.

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THE MURPHY MACHINE

Danny Murphy

His company, D.P. Murphy Inc. of Charlottetown, owns:

– 20 Tim Hortons in Prince Edward Island.

– 10 Wendy’s in PEI and Montreal.

– Eight hotels in Maritimes under various brands.

– Leon’s furniture store in PEI.

– Stanhope Beach Resort, PEI.

– Dalvay by the Sea, PEI.

– Oak Acres Children’s Camp, PEI.

Revenue: $70-million to $80-million.

Martie Murphy (wife)

– Two Tim Hortons in Fort McMurray, Alta.

– Six Wendy’s outlets in Alberta.

Kevin Murphy (Danny’s brother)

With his wife, Kathy, their Murphy Group of Restaurants includes:

– 13 restaurants in PEI. Among them: Fishbones Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill; Daniel Brenan Brickhouse; Gahan House Pub; ISE’S Bar; Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar; Dooly’s Kent Street; Dooly’s Summerside; Merchantman Pub.

– Also, Great George Hotel and the Hotel on Pownal, Charlottetown.

Revenue: About $20-million a year

D’Arcy Murphy (brother)

– 14 Tim Hortons restaurants in Saint John.

Stephen Murphy (brother)

– 10 Tim Hortons outlets in Orleans (east-end Ottawa).

Joe Murphy (brother)

– Eight Tim Hortons, based in Kanata (west-end Ottawa).

Mary Jane Murphy (sister) and husband Mike Cassidy

– Charlottetown Transit, the city bus system.

– Recently launched Maritime Bus intercity transit.

– Operate Trius Tours charter service.

Gordon Pitts

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