Business

'Big corporation' approach turns 'mom and pop' restaurant into household name

BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator richardsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 26, 2014    

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A heavy rush of midday customer traffic packs the restaurant in the heart of Half-Way Tree. People queue up in front of the cashier to order their choice of Jamaican cuisine for lunch. Many customers dine in while others take-out.

But this is not just your traditional 'mom and pop' cook shop. The exterior of the building bears a popular trademark among the working class in Kingston — a winking hen with the name 'Chicken & Tings' emblazoned across its stomach.

After years working in restaurants as a chef, Emelio Madden decided to branch out on his own and, along with his brother Larenzo Douse, founded Chicken & Tings in 2007 at the Half-Way Tree location — 3 Hope Road, across the road from the informal bus terminus.

Madden has overseen Chicken & Tings' tremendous growth over the last several years, tripling both its number of restaurant outlets and staff complement, behind a carefully crafted strategy that has basically seen it carve out a name for itself in Kingston, in a local quick service restaurant industry boasting big local and international brands such as KFC, Burger King, Island Grill and Mother's.

"For me, it's all about, if you think cents, you'll get cents, and if you think dollars, you'll get dollars," Madden philosophied during an interview with the Business Observer on Monday.

"So, even though it was just a restaurant, I approached it like it was a big corporation," he added, as uniformed staff members extend services, which also include deliveries, to customers.

Positioning has been key for Chicken & Tings, which in addition to a variety of different types of chicken meals such as fried or roast chicken with rice and peas or white rice, offers traditional Jamaican dishes such as oxtail and beans, cow foot and beans, ackee and saltfish and stew peas.

Geographically, the restaurants are located within some of the Corporate Area's busiest commercial districts — Half-Way Tree, Cross Roads and Manor Park — but in relatively inexpensive commercial spaces that allows it to maintain low prices geared at attracting the mass working class traffic. Its prices range from $300 to $400 for a lunch, and breakfast from $190 to $350.

"We attract the lower-income earners who are looking for high quality, affordable food," Madden said.

"The first thing we thought about was minimum expenses so that we could produce the food at a reasonable price while not compromising the quality," he noted.

Innovative marketing tools aimed at that mass market has also been a major factor behind the restaurant's huge popularity. And, according to Madden, there is no better way to reach that market than with entertainment.

Two -- Half-Way Tree and Cross Roads — out of the three Chicken & Tings locations, feature bars. The restaurant had

hosted a regular after-work-jam on Fridays and a month-end party which featured top local entertainers.

"That was my way of making Chicken & Tings a talk about name in the dancehall industry," Madden said.

Now, on weekends the stores are transformed into a "club experience" for patrons.

"R & B/hip hop on Fridays, dancehall on Saturdays and old hits reggae on Sundays," said the Chicken & Tings boss. "Guests can dine in a party experience while whoever feels like 'bussing' a move are free to do so... thus our slogan 'Good Food, Liquor and Good Friends'".

The restaurant also has a constant presence on social media, through its constantly updated Facebook page, which has a sizable following.

Madden is firmly focused now on spreading the brand's footprint across the Corporate Area and growing its staff complement from the current 15. He recently opened the Manor Park outlet, having transferred the operations of a branch on Half-Way Tree Road to that location.

"We were no longer in need of two stores in Half-Way Tree as we already had a foot-hold there," he explained. "It was best for us to transfer that to somewhere else and one of the major towns we thought was in need of a good Jamaican restaurant was Manor Park."

Madden has a lofty target for a new Chicken & Tings location every two years.

"We know Portmore is next, then it will be downtown (Kingston), then probably Papine," he said.

Madden said that numerous persons have approached him enquiring about franchise opportunities, but he declared that it's not something he is ready to do now.

"We are just coming into our own and prefer to spend some more time before we think about franchising," he said.

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