Harry’s Shack owner says Northern Ireland ready for food and drink initiative

Donal Doherty, the man behind the food outlet on Portstewart strand, is getting ready to open a second beach outlet

Donal Doherty of Harry’s on Portstewart strand: admits that, like many other restaurant businesses, the first Harry’s Restaurant struggled during the downturn.

Donal Doherty of Harry’s on Portstewart strand: admits that, like many other restaurant businesses, the first Harry’s Restaurant struggled during the downturn.

 

A Donegal businessman who transformed a former shack on one of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful beaches into an award winning, critically acclaimed restaurant, is getting ready to unveil his next venture as the Northern Ireland Year of Food and Drink gets under way.

New venture

Donal Doherty, the man behind Harry’s Shack on Portstewart strand, is planning to launch a new venture further down the two-mile beach.

Doherty, who together with his head chef Derek Creagh has conjured up a kind of culinary magic, believes that the Year of Food and Drink initiative, led by Tourism NI, could not have come at a better time – both for him and for the local economy in general.

“I think Northern Ireland is ready for it. Two or three years ago, people outside of Northern Ireland really didn’t know what local producers were doing. Everybody in the area did, but I think there was this idea – wrongly – that Northern Ireland was behind some other places and, of course, that wasn’t true.

“But now everybody, in Ireland and the UK in particular, rightly knows about its world class produce and products like Abernethy Butter are well known, as are the fantastic people involved in the industry, like Peter Hannan, the owner of Hannan Meats,” Doherty says.

Tourism NI hopes its 12-month initiative will generate £10 million of “positive PR” in Ireland and Britain and boost export sales of locally produced food and drink.

Official figures for 2014 show overnight visitors spent an estimated £751 million during their stays, with around one-third of this specifically on food and drink, and tourist chiefs want to grow these figures substantially.

John McGrillen, chief executive of the tourism body, also believes there will be an important legacy as a result of what he says is “essentially a £2.75 million investment from government in the initiative”.

But Doherty for one is expecting to see a more immediate return from his investment plans. Harry’s Wagon on the National Trust-owned Portstewart strand will feature a custom-built trailer with beach-style benches.

He might not stop at the wagon either. Depending on what transpires over the next couple of weeks, there might be other exciting culinary adventures in store for Doherty, who is determined to build on both a family tradition and his own hard earned reputation.

Doherty, a former accountant by profession, has first hand experience in the restaurant business. His father started Harry’s Restaurant in Bridgend in Donegal 25 years and it is still a family-run firm.

Today he lives in Donegal and drives hundreds of miles between his two bases, seven days a week.

Doherty admits that, like many other restaurant businesses, the first Harry’s Restaurant struggled during the downturn. It was a challenge to maintain what Doherty describes as its massive commitment to what “makes it special and different” – sourcing only the best local ingredients and cultivating a walled garden where they grow all their own vegetables.

Redemption

In one way, he says, the opportunity to develop Harry’s Shack in Portstewart could have been a redemption of sorts for a family restaurant that needed a boost.

“When the National Trust first contacted me about it, I told them there was no way I was going to open a place in Portstewart. I just wasn’t interested. I only agreed to have a look at it as a favour for them because I had been involved in something in Derry with them that hadn’t worked out well and I had lost money on it.

“But when I went up there on the day and saw the Shack and saw Portstewart beach, I just thought ‘God, look at this’. I just couldn’t pass it by. I just took the chance and it has just all pieced together beautifully. Now our walled garden is supporting two restaurants.

He says the Donegal restaurant will always be his HQ, but that is not to say he does not plan to expand.

There may be a restaurant or two that he currently has his eye on as the next stop for the Harry’s brand.

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