HISTORY OF NEWPORT HARBOR CORPORATION
Newport Harbor Corporation was founded in 1925 as Newport Oil Corporation. It was started by a group of local businessmen, led by J. T. O’Connell, to provide a reliable
source of gasoline for the city’s new bus service that was then replacing electrified trolley service (there were no wholesale gas suppliers on Aquidneck Island at that
In 1926, the company hired Jerome Kirby, known as “Rome”, as General Manager. He ran the company for over forty years, until his death in 1970 (one of his grandsons,
Kevin Kirby, serves on the company’s Board of Directors currently). During those years, the company grew successfully as a fuel oil and gasoline distributor, and acquired
a number of other local fuel oil suppliers. One of those acquisitions, Johnson Brothers, owned the property that now houses the Newport Yachting Center’s marina offices
and fuel tanks, and the Mooring Restaurant and parking lot. A coal and lumber company acquisition brought with it the property that now serves as the Newport Yachting
Center’s offices and adjacent parking lot.
When Mr. Kirby died in 1970, a long-time employee, Margaret Ryan, the Office Manager, kept the company running through a series of managers until J.T.
(Tim) O’Reilly, a grandson of Mr. O’Connell, joined the company as President of Newport Oil Corporation in 1977, and hired Phil Driscoll as its General Manager, Margaret
agreed to postpone retirement for six months to teach Tim and Phil how to run a fuel oil business.
Phil Driscoll was General Manager of the company’s petroleum operations for the next eighteen years. During this period, Newport Oil Corporation added
approximately a dozen fuel oil and propane distributorships in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts and became one of the largest distributors in the region.
The company also began diversifying out of the fuel oil distribution business, with the opening of the Newport Yachting Center in 1980, and the Mooring Restaurant in
1981. In 1995 the fuel oil businesses were sold to an out-of-state company and Newport Harbor Corporation turned its attention to the hospitality industry.
Entering the Hospitality Business
In 1979 the City of Newport revalued its waterfront property and the new taxes on the company’s property on America’s Cup Ave. in downtown Newport exceeded the
rents from the tenants occupying the property. A number of other uses of the property were considered. A large real estate developer proposed a retail/residential
development on the site (similar to the nearby Brick Market Place). A number of restaurant operators made proposals to buy or lease the Mooring location.
While these proposals were financially attractive, the company’s owners preferred not to build on one of the last remaining undeveloped properties on the Newport
waterfront if a financially attractive alternative use could be identified. This led to the acquisition of The Newport International Sailboat Show and the development of The
Newport Yachting Center as a permanent home for the show. The business also includes a marina and parking lot operation, and a variety of public gate events and
private corporate entertainment and hospitality functions throughout the summer season.
The Mooring had been operated for a number of years as a waterfront bar. It was one of the most attractive restaurant locations in Newport, yet the
company’s owners realized they knew nothing about that business. They formed a partnership with two local men, Len Panaggio and Michael Jenkins, with extensive
restaurant management experience. After a renovation of the building, the Mooring Restaurant reopened its doors for business on May 6, 1981. Michael Jenkins left the
company in 1986 and Len Panaggio ran the restaurant until his promotion to the position of Corporate Beverage Manager in 2003.
The Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)
The company had over 70 stockholders in 1995 when the fuel oil businesses were sold, all descendants of the original investors in the company. The heirs of J. T.
O’Connell held sixty percent of the ownership. Another large percentage was held in the family of Jerome Kirby; and a further large percentage belonged to the family of
Lawrence P. Sullivan, whose grandson, Tim K. Bye Jr., currently serves as a Director of the company. The remaining ownership was scattered among approximately twodozen
heirs of the original investors in the company, some of whom lived out of state and management had never met.
Some of the older stockholders had expressed interest in selling their ownership in the company for estate-planning purposes. Other stockholders, with no remaining ties
to the company or interest in its future, also wanted to sell their ownership interests. The Directors of the company looked at the possibility of selling the entire company to
satisfy these stockholders; they also looked for other means of buying out stockholders who wanted to sell their shares.
After considering these options, the owners adopted an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1995, which began acquiring stock in the company
from those stockholders who wanted to sell. Currently (as of 2006) the ESOP owns approximately 46% of the company’s stock. The ESOP is expected
to continue its annual purchases of stock from existing stockholders and eventually become the majority owner of the company. This stock is held in an
Employee Stock Ownership Trust (ESOT). Each employee who works a minimum of 800 hours in a calendar year earns an ownership interest in that
trust. The amount of ownership earned by an individual is based on the amount of salary or wages earned by an employee in that year. Employees
begin acquiring a “vested” legal right to that ownership interest after their third year of employment with the company. They accumulate vested rights at
the rate of 20% annually in the third through seventh years of employment, and acquire a 100% vested interest in their share of the Trust assets at the
completion of their seventh year of employment with Newport Harbor Corporation. A complete explanation of the ESOP plan is available to employees
Following the decision to become an employee-ownership company, Newport Harbor Corporation continued to grow. In mid-1995, the company took over operation of Castle Hill Inn. Since then the property has undergone extensive renovations, and operates as a luxury inn and restaurant with a substantial wedding, banquet and corporate-meeting business. The inn has been reviewed quite favorably in numerous national travel publications and newsletters, including the Hideaway Report, an international newsletter devoted to high quality inns and hotels, and was designated one of the country’s top 25 small inns by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine, and one of the country’s outstanding inns by Travel and Leisure magazine.
Newport Harbor has enjoyed exciting growth, both regionally and financially, since becoming an ESOP. In June of 2001, 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar and Grille, Newport’s first upscale steakhouse, opened downtown on Bowen’s Wharf, not far from the Mooring Restaurant. It expanded to include 22 Portside, an outdoor harborside bar, in 2003. The Boat House, a waterfront restaurant, opened in Tiverton in 2005. The following year, the company entered the Providence market with the addition of the Waterman Grille and the Providence Boat Show. In 2009, Hemenway's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar joined Newport Restaurant Group's impressive portfolio of restaurants.
In 2012, Newport Harbor acquired the celebrated regional Italian concept Papa Razzi. Conveniently located throughout the greater-Boston area and Rhode Island, guests can expect to enjoy the best of Italian scratch cooking at the following locations: Newbury Street, Boston; Burlington, MA; Chestnut Hill, MA; Framingham, MA; and Wellesley, MA.
In 2013, the company sold the Newport Yachting Center and it’s related event production arm in a move designed to focus and fuel growth in the restaurant sector.
The Company Today
Our current businesses consist of: Castle Hill Inn; Newport Exhibition Group; TRIO; Avvio Ristorante; 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar & Grille; the Mooring Seafood Kitchen & Bar; the Smoke House; the Boat House; Waterman Grille; Hemenway’s Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar; and 3 Papa Razzi locations. The senior management staff includes Mick Lamond, Chief Financial Officer; Casey Riley, Chief Operating Officer; Ken Cusson; Director of New Business Development; and Kristin Fahey, Director of Human Resources. These individuals report to Paul O’Reilly, President and Chief Executive Officer, who succeeded Tim O’Reilly as President in 2006.
As it looks to the future, the company plans to expand its restaurant operations throughout New England. Future success will depend on attracting committed co-owners of the company who want to be a part of our long-term success.
With committed employees who truly believe they are owners and the necessary profits to grow the company, Newport Harbor Corporation can assure its employee-owners an attractive financial future.