By JOHN T. WARD
From the moment it opened in Red Bank in 1969, what’s now known as Danny’s Steakhouse has been the alter ego of its creator.
By next month, however, restaurateur Danny Murphy will have begun “transitioning out” of the Bridge Avenue establishment he’s run and lived above for more than half a century.
Murphy has a deal to sell the popular restaurant to a partnership led by Kyle O’Brien, who co-owns 18 eateries in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey.
O’Brien told redbankgreen he expected the transfer of the liquor license to occur Wednesday.
At O’Brien’s request, Murphy, now 78 years old, said he plans to stay on for several months as a management consultant, helping knit his loyal employees in with the new management, he said.
“I told Kyle, ‘you’re not going to find crew like I have off the street,'” Murphy said. Many of the 20 or so employees have been with him for a decade or more, he said.
O’Brien confirmed the arrangement, noting the strong association between Murphy and his customers.
“That guy can operate the room. He’s still going to be a fixture,” O’Brien said. The arrangement allows Murphy to ease out and O’Brien to ease in, “so it’s mutually awesome,” he said.
While building modifications are planned, there’s no plan to change the name of the restaurant, O’Brien said.
The decision to sell had been looming, Murphy said. After cancer and multiple joint replacements, his body no longer responds automatically to physical challenges, he said. “I can’t just carry a case of beer around the way I used to,” he said.
Plus, the building needs an overhaul that would be his eighth since he bought the place from what was Lou’s Pizzeria, Murphy said. He’s just not sure he has the focus to oversee that kind of project, he admitted.
The restaurant had survived the coronavirus pandemic by switching to takeout-only, generating just enough income to pay the staff and other expenses, Murphy said. Now, the business is once again packed with customers several nights a week, he said.
In the interim, though, Murphy suffered a bout with COVID-19 that lasted weeks, during which he left the management of Danny’s to his daughter and longtime assistant, Lori Cenilli. And he could see it taking a toll on her.
“I said, ‘when you’ve had it, and you’re done, let me know, and we’ll sell the place,'” he recalled. “And then one day, she walked in, and she looked tired. I said, ‘are you done?’ She said, ‘I’m done.’ So I picked up the phone and called a real estate agent.”
He met O’Brien and his team through his accountant, “and right off the bat, I was very pleasantly surprised. I felt there was a real connection.”
Murphy said he was just as pleased that O’Brien asked him to stay on for while. “Because I could just imagine moving into an apartment and having nothing to do,” he said. “I’d go insane.”
Murphy got his start in the food biz helping his mother, the late Mary (nee Zino) Murphy make pizzas in the kitchen at Brothers Restaurant on West Front Street. After college and a five-year career as a court reporter, Murphy bought what had been Lou’s Pizzeria, renaming it Danny’s Pizza Hut and, later, Danny’s Italian Restaurant.
With some interruptions during two marriages and divorces, the apartment upstairs served as his home.
And being a restaurant, things break daily. So Murphy said he’s already taken the buyers out on road trips to meet not only food vendors, but all the electrical and plumbing supply retailers he relies on.
Meantime, he’s also leased a new residence, just a block away, at Grandville Towers. But he hopes to spend more time entertaining friends and family on his 38-foot boat, which he docks at a marina on Sandy Hook Bay in Highlands.
And letting go of the business that’s been so much a part of his identity? Is that hard?
“So what?” he said. “Was I concerned about it at first? Just a little. If I handed over the keys and went and sat in my apartment, I’d be upset.” But because of the transition plan, “I’m actually OK with it,” he said.
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