No easy journey
The journey in Barbados for the past 42 years has not been an easy one for operators of the local fast-food chain Chefette Restaurants. But they will tell you it was worth every investment; and they have even pledged to pump millions more into the local economy.
Yesterday, the company, which employs just over 800 people, was able to open its 15th branch, despite a depressed economy and somewhat contracted consumer spending.The new multimillion-dollar branch, located on approximately 6,000 square feet of land at The Walk in Welches, St Thomas, is able to seat approximately 120 people and has a colourful megaplayground. It is the first Chefette to incorporate LED lighting on both interior and exterior.
Managing director Ryan Haloute recalled some of the earlier days when the company’s founder and chairman Assad Haloute had the vision for expanding the company. He said that in 1996 his father had the option of taking the Holetown express branch and putting it in Warrens or Six Roads. At the time Warrens was far less developed with only a few major businesses and many people proposed that the express branch be placed in Warrens for that reason.
However, said Haloute, “at the last moment” his father decided to build a new restaurant in Warrens.
“Lo, and behold, look at Warrens when you fast-forward to today,” said a smiling Haloute.
“We fast-forward to today, Chefette, Welches, a similar situation we were faced with . . . and we are making sure this time we are going to win again. What we looked at was the Welches area is developing [and] the Warrens area is absolutely booming as we all know . . . so we said look we need to get another branch in this area,” he said, adding that the company wanted to be “one of the first” in the Welches area.
“We have the vision and we are moving in from early,” he added.
The businessman said when the announcement was made that the company would set up a branch in Welches, a lot of people took to social media to criticize the move. He said, however, when the branch opened its doors at the beginning of this month “only one customer” was critical.
Stressing the need for investment in the local economy, Haloute said: “We have the vision and we will continue with the other leaders in this community, and we are going to keep pressing. What better time than now when our country really needs this development; it needs this level of cash injection in the economy [and] preservation of jobs.”
Going back a few years, Haloute said 2008 was a “game-changing year” for the company. Acknowledging that people must eat, he also admitted that there were many options, and therefore Chefette would not lie down and play dead, since the company was not immune to the recession.
“Back in 2008 we did something that we have never done before and we actually sold a Chefette location in Holetown [St James],” he said.
Haloute explained that the move was in an attempt to make “giant leaps ten steps forward”.
“Lo, and behold, we fast-forward to where we are now.
“Look at what we have done in the last four to six years. We have renovated half our stores with new decors, we have opened new branches at Black Rock, and Welches here today, we have changed playgrounds . . . . We also went fully digital with our menu last year. All this is money we have pumped back into the economy at a time when we really need it,” he explained.
Haloute said: “Confidence in the country and consumer confidence are wavering. We want to, with other large companies in Barbados and people who are progressing forward, try and restore that confidence; help the Government and help the country come out of this recession. It has been long and it has been hard and has not been easy on anybody.”
Speaking of the company’s involvement in helping and giving back to the communities in which the branches were located, Haloute said the company had partnered with the four schools in the area –– Queen’s College, Lester Vaughan School, Sharon Primary and Welches Primary.
He also called on other companies to continue to invest and “give back”.
He also gave the assurance his company would continue to give local producers first priority, as he lauded the Chefette staff for their hard work and dedication.
Haloute said that in the past three years there had been no price increase “but in the last six years we have had one price increase and that price increase was actually Government-imposed [through] VAT”.
Chefette’s first branch was opened in Fontabelle, St Michael, in 1972.