THE HOYOS FILE: Chefette’s dominance
Chefette’s local heritage and our Barbadian legacy are something that all of us can be very proud of. – Managing director of Chefette Restaurants Ltd. Ryan Haloute, announcing the building of the company’s 15th outlet, May 23.
I remember a time when there was no Chefette in Barbados. It was the glorious 60s, and we were just getting used to the thrill of having our very first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, which was so small that perhaps only ten customers could get in there at any one time. And it was a squeeze.
I also do remember going to its just-opened home-grown competitor at Fontabelle, where I would often see Assad Haloute himself, smiling at his customers. Ah, the vision of the gentleman. There always seemed to be a certainty, an inevitability, that Chefette would take the leadership position in the fast food market.
Do you remember the great debate over which cooking process was better – broiled (Chefette) or fried (guess)?
It was the early 70s when we got our first taste of Chefette (1972) and the following year, our first taste of really home-focused journalism (The Nation). These two brands, along with perhaps a handful of other smaller ones, helped define our Barbadian personality at a time when our country was in the early years of nationhood.
Edge in the market
One of these days somebody could do a great study on the similarities between the two (both making perishable products fresh every day) and differences (you eat one and read the other) and how they diverged: The Nation now part of a regional publicly-held media group and Chefette still privately-held and claiming to be the largest private employer in the country, with staffing of 800-plus once the new outlet at Welches is open.
Over the years I may not have been the most popular journalist with Chefette, to my chagrin – I mean, who doesn’t want to be loved? – perhaps because I have been outspoken about wanting to see more variety of choice in the local fast food market.
Today, friends, Bajans and countrymen, I come to praise Chefette, not bury it (as if I could, anyway). The policies which in my view gave Chefette and KFC an edge in the market – import substitution and nationalism in business – have been turned on their heads by market forces, consumer demand, changing lifestyles and, ironically, the very success of these two fast food behemoths.
Chefette, by its own admission, is doing very well. I don’t think KFC is hurting. But they can’t employ everybody and they can’t own every food outlet.
Fast food – which has now expanded to include Chinese,Trinidadian, Indian, Italian and halal-prepared food, not to mention Subway, Burger King franchises, as well as perhaps hundreds of vendors in mini-vans selling Bajan macaroni pie and chicken – is now what most of us eat.
Yes, some of us are still able to enjoy home-cooked meals, but going to quick-service places for lunch or in the evening to lime or take the kids on a treat, is just part of how we live now.
In many, many families the women work just as hard as the men outside the house and they are no longer only “homemakers,” or “stay-at-home” moms.
So the market has expanded by leaps and bounds, which is why Chefette continues to expand and do more business even though there is so much more choice in the marketplace than there was in times gone by.
In his remarks, managing director Ryan Haloute summed it up well, paraphrasing the line you hear as you depart your airline flight: “We know there are choices out there and we appreciate you choosing us as your No. 1 destination for food.”
Step up their game
What is remarkable about Chefette is that it never used its size, market position or dominance to get lazy, or to veer away from its service-and-quality sweet spot. In talking up the new outlet, which is opening at Welches Plaza in December, Ryan said something which, were it not absolutely true and borne out by my actual experience over years and years of going to Chefette several times a week, one might write off as just a boss saying the obligatory about the workers.
He said: “The staff are the ones who are out in the field every day, with the passion and dedication and commitment to Chefette. They are the ones who are pushing out there to excel in service, quality, cleanliness and they are the ones who should be praised today – our 800-plus staff out there.”
I don’t know anything about what goes on inside the Chefette management system, like how they train and incentivise people, or how they ensure their facilities are always up to standard, but I can tell you it is one of the best-managed businesses, from top to bottom, in Barbados.
I have come to this conclusion by the use of my own management ratio: the quality of food and service divided by the number of customers they are dealing with at any one time. It always stays at 100 per cent.
If the number of customers goes up, the staff step up their game and the quality remains the same. I have seen it happen too many times to count.
It is quite amazing. And that is why I agree with the quote at the top of this column today, and look forward to many more Chefette outlets and a continued superlative performance by this Barbadian enterprise.
Assad Haloute can be proud that, not only has he built a business and empowered staff to run it so that it is continuing to dominate its industry after 41 years, but that in his two children, Ryan and Janine, the company’s human resources manager, he has found the right people to continue the work he started.