Duffy’s Sports Grill

The fan favorite in sports-theme, casual dining in south Florida
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Sean Barr

For 30 years, Duffy’s Sports Grill has been a frequent destination for coworkers, friends and families of all ages to sit back, relax, enjoy a delicious meal and tune into the big game. With 28 locations from Miami to Orlando and soon to be more, Duffy’s is one of the largest privately-owned and -operated restaurant chains in the state of Florida, backed by family ownership and a commitment to quality food and memorable hospitality.

“Our concept is to take fine dining level of quality food and serve it in a comfortable, casual dining atmosphere,” explains Jason Emmett, second-generation president and owner of Duffy’s. “We’re not your typical sports bar and I think people who have never been before are surprised by the quality of our food because they think ‘sports bar’ and think the food will be sub-par. But everything we make is chef inspired, prepared in-house with fresh ingredients. Our mission is to bring this level of quality in a value-focused environment with very reasonable prices.”

Play by play evolution

Although vastly different in concept today, Duffy’s has always been a local favorite. The original Duffy’s, then known as Duffy’s Drafthouse, started 30 years ago by two childhood friends in Lake Park, Florida.

In 1985, the original Duffy’s had plenty of $1 beer choices, but only four items on the menu: smoked fish, hot ham and cheese, the sausage “Texas Squealer,” and most notably, a half-pound cheeseburger. All of these original items were served with potato chips so there was no need for silverware or even a fryer. But even with a limited menu, word spread and Duffy’s became known for the coldest beer and best burgers in town.

“Over the course of the next 16 years the original founders opened three more restaurants,” recounts Emmett.  Then in West Palm Beach, Jupiter and Greenacres, Duffy’s became an integral part of each community, something the company still prides itself on today.

As the concept grew, the menu followed and some of the restaurant’s signature items today, such as slow roasted BBQ baby back ribs and jumbo chicken wings, have been menu staples since the early days. The company continued to evolve and in 2001, Paul Emmett, a successful restaurateur with New York City-based Restaurant Associates, bought out one of the founding partners.

“My father got involved and started re-conceptualizing Duffy’s,” says Emmett. “The brand was well liked but needed a refresh. This is when the ‘sports grill’ idea really came into being. We added TVs and started capitalizing on the huge sports following in southern Florida. We took the menu from the basics such as burgers and wings to much more diverse offerings – steaks, salads, seafood, pasta, and more.”

Today Duffy’s serves more than 28 communities throughout southern Florida as the largest of its kind in the privately-owned niche. “There are currently two more locations in the works, which will bring us up to 30,” says Emmett. “Our most recent opening is in Waterford Lakes, near UCF in Orlando. We are looking forward to opening our 30th restaurant as we celebrate our 30th year in business – it has a nice ring to it.”

Sports-themed casual meets a chef-picked menu

But Emmett says Duffy’s is in no rush and the focus remains on great food and hospitality, something the company controls by owning and managing each location directly. “Our culinary team is led by our corporate chef, Eric Parker,” says Emmett.

In addition to holding the American Culinary Foundation’s Certified Executive Chef Accreditation, Chef Parker has been classically trained at the Florida Culinary Institute.  “He’s been with us for more than 20 years and he has personally designed every item currently on the Duffy’s menu,” adds Emmett.

In addition to Chef Parker, each individual Duffy’s location has an executive chef, leading a team that is active in hands-on trainings every month at local culinary schools. This attention to detail and constant training has resulted in numerous recognition and awards naming Duffy’s as “Best Burger”, “Best Wings”, and “Best Value” in many publications throughout South Florida. “Chef Parker recently won a national contest sponsored by Heinz that led to Duffy’s first appearance at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival exhibiting our award-winning burger alongside national Food Network celebrity chefs,” shares Emmett.

Thanking loyal fans

Not only does Duffy’s go above and beyond to offer its customer the best dining experience possible in terms of food, the restaurant also rewards patrons for their loyalty. “We have a well-established MVP Loyalty Program,” says Emmett. “The program is widely popular with nearly half a million active members.”

As a registered MVP, customers accumulate points for dining and drinking at Duffy’s locations. Members also enjoy the perks of preferred call-ahead seating, complimentary birthday meals and afternoon discounts ranging from 20 to 50 percent off regular menu items.

A lasting memory

As Duffy’s marks its 30-year anniversary, it is a bittersweet time for the company, after the passing of Paul Emmett in February 2015. He was a restaurant industry and South Florida business leader, responsible for the transformation of Duffy’s, taking the company from a small chain to a fixture in 28 communities.

His vision for Duffy’s was to create an environment that combined the best in food and sports entertainment. “We want to make sure my father’s vision lives on,” says Emmett. “Our plan is to do a month-long fundraiser, every February [the anniversary of his death] or March [his birthday month] and raise money to benefit the Dana Faber Cancer Institute or other cancer related charities to remember him in a positive, productive way.”

In keeping with his father’s vision, Emmett continues to ensure Duffy’s continues to be centric to each local community each chain resides in. After 30 years in business, Duffy’s Sports Grill is a home run in casual yet exceptional quality dining and fun, friendly ambience.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Seva Direct Inc.