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P.E.I. expansions into Halifax helping grow new generation of entrepreneurs


Published on July 26, 2017

Operating partner Mike Roberts showcases some of the gourmet flavoured doughnuts offered at Murphy Hospitality Group’s new Grounded Coffee Bar in Halifax, which gets its beans from Charlottetown’s Receiver Coffee Co. Roberts is also general manager of the neighbouring Gahan House brewery and restaurant on the Halifax waterfront.

©MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

HALIFAX, N.S. - A warm and welcoming smell of coffee being roasted mixed with freshly baked gourmet doughnuts greets the thousands who walk through the Historic Properties everyday.

While the comforting atmosphere at the Grounded Coffee Bar may be associated with a well-deserved caffeine break for many, it also shows the potential for P.E.I. entrepreneurs in the busy city.

The Murphy Hospitality Group’s (MHG) coffee bar opened in June to positive feedback and has only seen its customer base grow after the completion of a floating boardwalk in the area earlier this month, says operating partner Mike Roberts.

“People are loving the doughnuts,” said Roberts. “We have talented bakers… and everyone loves coffee so it just kind of made sense.”

The opportunity came when the previous tenants vacated earlier this spring.

TO SEE LARGER IMAGE, PLEASE CLICK/TAP PHOTO: Halifax friends, from left, Cory Withrow, Derek Simon and Brennan MacDonald, enjoy a cool beer at the Gahan House located on the city’s waterfront. Having operated successfully in Halifax for the past three years, the Murphy Hospitality Group also has plans of expanding the brewery into Saint John and Moncton, N.B.
MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

The location was seemingly perfect, being next to the Gahan House on the Halifax waterfront, which Roberts manages.
The P.E.I.-based craft brewery has staked its claim in an exploding industry.
“We’re one of the few (breweries) to have the restaurant side of it, too,” said Roberts, noting that the area’s breweries have grown from two 15 years ago to now about 40.
However, the brewery has another special quality.
“It’s got one of the best views in (Halifax),” said regular patron Derek Simon, while chatting with friends on the waterfront patio. “Good view, good people and good beer.”
MHG’s expansion into Halifax in the past few years has not only grown the company but also provided an opportunity for young entrepreneurs like Roberts.
It’s MHG president Kevin Murphy’s way of handing the torch to a new generation after entering the business world himself when he was only 23 years old.
“Nowadays, it’s tough for a person to get in business when you’re 23,” said Murphy. “We’ve already built our businesses and have all the support; we can say ‘OK guys, lets have some fun here.”

A combination of growth, entrepreneurship and mentorship forms the basis of MHG’s partnership program, which enables managers in the company to become an operating partner with an ownership stake.
By offering MHG’s already existing resources for things like accounting and payroll, Murphy said it allows the operating partners to focus on the guest experience and front line matters.
“It really means a lot,” said Roberts, who noted that starting his own business without Murphy’s support would be difficult.
Murphy said he views entrepreneurship as an opportunity to grow and sees the model as key to the company’s future.
“We wouldn’t be growing if we didn’t have this program and I don’t really need it. I look at it now as you can help young people get into business and give back a little bit,” said Murphy. “They’re still awfully young… their best years are still ahead of them.”
In total, MHG has six operating partners, with Roberts and Jason Morais being the two newest.

Morais left his previous career as a lawyer in P.E.I. to join the company.

He hit the ground running when he opened the Two Men and a Truck moving franchise in Halifax this June, the busiest month for the industry.

“It’s a new adventure and a new path, but I’m really excited with the opportunity and I’m hoping to grow it from here,” said Morais. “(Halifax) is a happening city right now, too, which is exciting… everywhere you go, the streets are packed.”

The expansions are also offering a number of Islanders an opportunity to work in a more bustling city close to home.

MHG’s Halifax locations collectively employ about 175 people in the summer season, with many having previously worked for MHG in P.E.I.

The company also is looking to expand into New Brunswick, with Gahan breweries planned for Saint John and Moncton.

Penny Walsh McGuire, executive director of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce, praised P.E.I. business owners who are able to expand into Halifax, noting that it’s a signal they’re already doing well in the current market.

“It’s certainly encouraging, both that the opportunity is there but also that the next generation of entrepreneurs want to take on the challenge,” said Walsh McGuire, adding that the expansions also help boost awareness and create a new distribution channel for other Island products.

“We’re supportive of these types of expansions, it’s great for the Island and for our partners.”

The potential for expansion in Halifax seems only to be growing, with Roberts expecting that all the area’s shops and restaurants will receive a boost with a new convention centre opens later this year. 

He also has high hopes for himself.

“I hope to have more opportunities with Kevin down the road. Having him back me up is incredible. I’ve worked for him for eight years and have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” said Roberts. “(Right now) we’re focused on Grounded and the Gahan, but it’s extremely exciting to see where we’re going.”

Murphy Hospitality Group

- Started in 1981 with a single Charlottetown restaurant and has grown to multiple locations in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia, with plans to soon expand into New Brunswick

- Practices a model of enabling growth by mentoring young entrepreneurs. The company develops its key senior employees through a partnership program that enables management staff to become operating partners.

- The program began in 1997 with the hiring of Trent Hayes at The Lone Star Brewery, which is now The Gahan Brewery on Sydney Street. Hayes is head brewer and operating partner.

- Other operating partners include Craig MacMillan (SIMS Steakhouse and Oyster Bar), Jeff Squires (P.E.I. Brewing Company) Mike Roberts (Grounded Coffee Bar) Ben Tsang (planned Gahan House in Saint John this September) and Jason Morais (Two Men and a Truck Atlantic Canada franchise)
- President Kevin Murphy credits his operating partners as well as his three sons Ben (COO of the Restaurant Group), Sam (of Barrington Steakhouse and Oyster Bar) and Isaac (of Bar 1911 in Charlottetown) as well as the rest of the senior team for the company’s current growth and success