(Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories that will feature the companies and industries creating jobs in the region.)
By Rebecca Keister
A dropped glass, broken on the kitchen floor, isn’t an uncommon restaurant, dinner-rush occurrence. Neither is the ensuing scuttle to clean it up or for waiters to call out a warning loud enough to trickle to the dining room.
But patrons at 22 Bowens Wine Bar & Grill in Newport may from time to time overhear something slightly off the normal track as staffers there shout a single word that signals the need for mop or broom. At this waterfront eatery the catch phrase is ESOP, an acronym for Employee Stock Ownership Plan that means something like, “Be careful, you actually ARE paying for that glass.”
“People yell [that] because that’s their money breaking on the ground,” said Jamie Laplume, the restaurant’s senior general manager. “That’s really where the [company] pride comes in and the core values. We really live by them.” 22 Bowens is one of eight restaurants in the Newport Restaurant Group, a division of the Newport Harbor Corp. that soon will include the Papa Razzi restaurants in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Newport Harbor has 450 employees, a staff that expands to approximately 1,000 during the summer season with part-time employees. It has thrived through recession with the help of strategic expansion, such as Providence’s Hemenway’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar, which Newport Harbor purchased in 2009, the year some argue was the peak of the country’s economic crisis that counted the hospitality industry among its most scarred victims.
And the company has relied on steady performance from longtime area favorites, most notably perhaps the Castle Hill Inn, a popular and somewhat famous wedding venue in Newport.
Newport Harbor, which also maintains the Newport Yachting Center in its enterprise, has grown annual revenue by 39 percent since Paul O’Reilly became CEO in 2006 and expanded its full-time-equivalent employee base by about 60 percent. Its seasonal staff has doubled in that same time.