O’Donovan is owner of Kilkenny House Restaurant & Pub in Cranford. When Hurricane Irene hit the area last August, O’Donovan’s establishment suffered major flood damage, with no flood insurance to fall back on. The losses amounted to about $300,000, which included damage to the restaurant’s flooring, office, electrical system, food preparation and refrigeration areas.
At first sight of the damage, O’Donovan thought it would take about six months to reopen. He found temporary jobs for his staff members and prepared for the hard road ahead.
A number of people from the area came together to help O’Donovan, who is known for always putting family and community first. Just six weeks after the storm, O’Donovan was able to reopen the restaurant’s doors. The quick restoration of Kilkenny House gave members of the community inspiration and a place to meet as they continued their own repairs.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is honoring O’Donovan with the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Disaster Recovery. He will receive the award on May 21. O’Donovan said he is proud and humbled by the honor, and insists the award isn’t just for him, but for all of Cranford. He also gives much credit to his “incredible” wife and insists that “behind every good man is a good woman rolling her eyes.”
O’Donovan spoke to The Star-Ledger about the restaurant business.
Q. Did you have any prior business experience before Kilkenny House?
A. I have been in the bar and restaurant business all my life. I originally came to America, from Kilkinney, Ireland, in 1979 to visit my brother. I took a job at a restaurant as a busboy, and didn’t even know what the job was at first. I thought it meant I had to drive a bus.
Later I worked at Joyce’s in Manhattan and owned Henry Grattan’s Restaurant & Bar and the Judge & Jury in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Q. When did you become owner of Kilkenny House?
A. When my children were born, I decided to move to Cranford. I knew if I worked in Brooklyn I would never see them. So I sold everything, my restaurant and bar, and moved to Cranford.
When we moved here, I discovered Cranford to be a town where a lot of children were named Kevin, Maura and Bridget, Irish names, yet it didn’t have an Irish pub. We opened Kilkenny House on Sept. 10, 2008, with the idea of being a place where families could come for dinner, rather than a bar that would be packed at midnight.
Q. What helped you reach such a short deadline?
A. Everyone was so willing to help. The Small Business Administration and Kathy Cook were a huge help. They came in and checked everything out and expedited a loan to me for the work to be done. You would think dealing with government would be a bunch of red tape. But they seemed to cut right through it.
My contractors were willing to work overtime. Volunteers came in to help, even my staff came in to help me. It was important to have the building department willing to work with us. When we wanted something inspected, they were there ASAP. We were able to open with help through Irish spirit and a Cranford heart.