Paul Emmett helped turn a chain of sports grills into the official restaurant for the Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, Miami Marlins and the Florida Panthers.
Among the 27 Duffy’s restaurants — from Coconut Grove to Orlando — Dolphins and Panthers fans can hop out of their seats for burgers, brews and wings ’n’ things at satellite operations at SunLife Stadium and BB&T Center.
Owner Paul Emmett, who died at 62 Tuesday of complications from bile duct cancer at his home in Palm Beach, mastered the sports bar concept. But he shrugged his shoulders when you gushed (or hissed) over the likes of LeBron James.
“I could care less about sports,” the avid tennis player said in a 2011 Miami Herald profile.
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But he cared about sports fans. His branches are often huge — the 24,000-square-foot North Miami Beach location, which opened in the summer of 2011, has 800 tables and a covered outdoor deck with five movie screens. Pop singer Katy Perry’s left and right sharks, and a whole sea of them, could have fit on the 200 televisions that displayed her recent Super Bowl halftime show. (Duffy’s Tavern on Red Road in Miami is not related.)
Duffy’s, established in Lake Park in Palm Beach County in 1985 by Stephen Cournoyer, had grown to four restaurants. But then Emmett, who moved to South Florida in 1999 from New York where he was president of New York’s Restaurant Associates and its popular New Jersey eateries, Charlie Brown’s Steakhouses, bought in two years later.
After assuming control in 2001, Emmett, who was born in New York on March 10, 1952, began expanding using his formula:
▪ Buy big. Sports fans like elbow room.
▪ Location. He specialized in purchasing failing restaurants that nevertheless served good food and had friendly staff because he could turn them around. “You’re buying the goodwill,” he said.
▪ Add a lucrative dining rewards card. Emmett treated his customers like sports figures. His patrons could advance from MVP to AllStar to MVP Hall of Fame depending on how often they used the cards.
“Our guests can’t get a black American Express card but they can get a black Duffy’s card,” he boasted in the 2011 Herald article. The food was tonier, too: the usual finger-food fare, of course, but also New York strip steak, Kobe burgers and seafood and pasta dishes at prices that touched down under $20 an entree.
Emmett, who served on the board of directors for the Palm Beach County Economic Council and Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is survived by his wife Geri, daughter Heather and sons Jason and Alexander, his father Jay and two brothers, Steven and Andrew. A celebration of life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Christ Fellowship, 5343 Northlake Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens. Donations can be made in Emmett’s name to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
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