Category: Archive

Selling Irish hospitality

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In 1900, his grandfather Benjamin Joseph Denihan left Milford, Co. Cork, and moved to the United States. He was 18 years old. Soon after, he married Denihan’s grandmother and together they opened a bed and breakfast and a laundry.
“That was the genesis of the hospitality business,” said Denihan. In 1916, they started a company called B.J. Denihan, Cleaner and Dyer. The B&B had long since closed. “My grandmother was a real driving force,” Denihan said. “She was one of the first business women.” The couple had six children and gradually, all six became involved in the family business.
By 1960, the laundry was forced to close down as the area was becoming more residential. The family decided to branch out and open a hotel. The result was an apartment hotel called Lyden Gardens. The name was a tribute to the original founder of the business, Denihan’s grandmother Lyons and the family name, Denihan. Around this time, Denihan’s father died and so Daniel joined the business.
It was always assumed that Denihan would work with the family. “Growing up, there was no question: it was the family business or the priesthood,” he said, laughing. The company continued to grow and between 1962 and 2002, acquiring nine additional properties, which include The Benjamin on East 50th Street and the Southgate Tower on Seventh Avenue.
“It was a gradual progression over the 40 years,” Denihan said. “We hope to expand even further and move into feeder cities, i.e. cities that provide us with a lot of business, like L.A, Chicago, Washington, Boston and Atlanta.” Denihan also plans to manage properties with a view to acquiring them.
There are still six family members working for the company. “We are a cousin, three brothers, a sister and one brother-in-law,” Denihan said. As for the next generation, there are 23 potential takers.
“We have a plan,” Denihan said. “You have to work in another business for at least five years, see how other companies operate, and it is only then that you can join the family business if you still want to.”
Denihan is a tall, ruddy faced man, sporting a Ballybunion golf jersey. He is married with five children, two of whom he thinks might have an interest in the family business. “Take Conor, for example,” Denihan said. “He is 24 years old and is planning to do a public speaking course, then an internship with an economist and, after that, he will work in commercial real estate for five years. After that, he can reevaluate.”
While there is great security in working with family members, Denihan admits that the normal stresses and strains of a working relationship can occur. “We deal with the National Family Business Council, who come in quarterly and give us advice. They help smooth out any disputes and provide solutions.”
The hotel group has 1,000 employees and 2,200 hotel suites. Its mission statement includes “risk taking, commitment and creativity,” although, Denihan said, part of the reason it has been able to last so well throughout the decades, particularly in times of economic recession, is a cautious, conservative approach.
“We will look at 100 deals before we agree to one,” Denihan said. “Figures are down across the board in hotels, but over the years, there have always been hard times and businesses bounce back. We have been around since 1916; we are here for the long haul.”
The corporate headquarters of the company have been on West 37th Street for the last 10 years. It operates as the nerve center for the whole set of hotels and includes a reservation center that receives up to 4,000 calls each day, a human resource department, a construction team that services the hotels, a computer data and records section, and a laundry.
On Monday, there were two firemen at headquarters to collect some laundry. Denihan’s company has been doing the laundry for three firehouses for free for the last 13 years. He said, “These guys go above and beyond, it is the least we can do.”
John Moser is chief marketing officer for the company. He has worked there for 20 years and attributes the success of the hotels to the staff. “They are all very committed,” he said. In line with its expansion plans, Manhattan East Suite Hotels plans to change its name in the spring, though Moser declined to reveal the new name. He said, however, it will afford the group an opportunity to spread the word about the Irish-American hotels.
“We would eventually like to have a unique selling point for each of the 10 hotels,” he said. “For example, one of our hotels does a lot of business with the United Nations; we might have an international theme. Or we have a hotel that is in an area with lots of wine shops and book shops. We are thinking about an aficionado’s theme there, people who appreciate fine wine, antiquarian books, etc.”
Denihan is a man of tradition. He still lives in the same area of Long Island where he grew up and he hopes to carry on the family tradition of high-quality hospitality. “We would definitely consider opening up a place in Ireland,” he said. “I go there every year and have lots of friends in the hotel business.”

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese