After graduating from culinary and hospitality schools in the late 1980s, young Owen Doyle of Buffalo, New York, was looking for a way to avoid corporate life. So, he took a job as a sous chef/deckhand aboard a private yacht that was headed across the Atlantic, although before he left port, he assured his mother this was a summer position only. Today, more than two decades later, Doyle continues to make his living off the water. In fact, this marine industry veteran just started his own business, Owen Doyle Provisions, a yacht provisioning and refit company based in Del Rel Beach, Florida.
Doyle’s experiences on that first private yacht gave him a taste for wanderlust. For the next 10 years, he did private yacht service and was able to see some of the more interesting places in the world, from Bermuda to the Azores to Gibraltar. “There was a period when I was doing summers in the Med and winters in South Beach,” said Doyle. “I’d manage hotels in Miami, but come April, I would get the itch. So, I’d hop on a plane and then walk the docks in Antibes to find work.” Then Doyle met his first wife in France, and the two came back to the US to raise their children.
Having made a home for his family on Florida’s East Coast, Doyle worked for a few local yacht owners, but then decided to do something different. In 1999, he took an office job at National Marine Suppliers in Ft. Lauderdale.
At the time, that company didn’t have a provisioning service. Doyle was instrumental in launching that branch of the business and growing it over the next 10 years. His considerable experience as a yacht chef was invaluable, as was his ability to carefully coordinate the shipment of perishables, a logistical science that at the time, said Doyle, had not quite been mastered in the marine marketplace. There were headaches and long, 15-hour work days, but in the end, the hard work paid off. “We created one of the largest yacht supply companies in the world,” said Doyle.
In 2009, he left National Marine Suppliers due to business differences with a principal. “It was time for me to go,” said Doyle. His marriage was at an end too. So, with a non-compete in place, he had some time to kill. Doyle went back to the place where he began his career: in the galley of a private yacht. He signed on as executive chef aboard the motor yacht Bad Girl and went cruising for about 17 months. “When I left National it was a shock to some people,” said Doyle. “Many wondered what had happened to me and where I had gone.”
As it turns out, his time aboard Bad Girl was advantageous in many ways. In fact, Doyle calls it the best lateral move he could have made. “Many people never realized my background as a yacht chef. It was fun for me, as a 43-year-old, to go back onto a 186-footer and prove that I could still cook with the kids and walk the walk.”
He spent the winter of 2009 in St. Barts and the summer of 2010 in the Med. The following winter, he was in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. “We visited all of the lovely places I hadn’t seen in ten years because I was behind a desk,” said Doyle. “And I learned quite a bit in the role of head chef again. I had to rely on provisioning companies worldwide. I got a sense of what I liked and what I didn’t like. Now, I know what I want to use in my own business. I’m armed with the information I need to educate my clients.”
Doyle returned from his travels recently and is now in the process of running his new business with the help of Nathalie Dubernet, whom he met at National Marine Suppliers (she was the marketing director for three years). The couple also is expecting their first child in September.
Owen Doyle Provisions, which opened its doors in May, is based in a 6,400-square-foot facility that was under construction when we spoke to Doyle. In the future, he hopes to involve his teenage children in the business, since they live nearby and are at an age where they can help.
Based in Del Rey, the company is positioned close to the critical ports of Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach, where drivers will be traveling most. “My mission has always been to provide my clients with quality provisions that are delivered on time,” said Doyle. “And I provide that service to all my clients, whether they’re running a 200-foot megayacht or a 40-foot sportfisherman.”
Doyle’s company will move both perishable and non-perishable goods to locations throughout North America, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America and parts of South American. He’ll also drop shipments at some locations in Europe on request.
“I think the key to building a successful provisioning company is to stay in communication with your chef,” he said. “I enjoy building a rapport with a chef because I’ve been one. I know that when they ask for a 6.5-ounce bottle of olive oil, they need that specific size because it fits into a certain cupboard. I get that.”
In his type of work, Doyle gets more than a fair share of special requests, but he says that’s one of the things he likes most about this business. “If the chef’s boss wants Alaskan king crab out of Dutch harbor, wagyu beef from Idaho or even a Paul Newman sauce from Publix, I’ll get it for him,” he said. “When I came out of culinary school, I avoided restaurants because I didn’t like the routine of that business. I like my chosen profession because I never know what’s coming at me on any given day.”
In addition to provisioning, Doyle’s new venture also offers galley refit services, a specialty he feels qualified for. Doyle is 6’5” tall. After a few years of banging his head on yachts, he decided there had to be a better way. About eight years ago, when many of his clients were rebuilding yachts and looking for ideas on galley design, they began to consult Doyle and also shared their ideas with him. “I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the subject, but over the years, I’ve educated my clients and they’ve educated me. It’s been a wonderful reciprocation of knowledge. Now, when we get into a refit, I’m passionate about it.”
This new entrepreneur seems to be the type of person who has strong and positive feelings about many things happening for him these days. Said Doyle, “If you keep your health and your humor, good things will come in life.” www.owendoyleprovisions.com
Jeanne Craig is an award-winning marine journalist and editor based in Rowayton, Connecticut.