Rasta-raunt Chain

Levi Roots to roll out up to 40 restaurants in 5 years

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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BRITISH-JAMAICAN entrepreneur Levi Roots yesterday announced that he has signed a partnership deal to roll out a chain of restaurants under his famous brand name.

Roots, speaking on the opening day of the Caribbean Competitiveness Forum at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston, said that the plan is to launch 30 to 40 outlets in five years

"The first one will be in 2015," he said, adding that it will be at a location in Brixton, a district in South West London.

Roots did not wish to reveal the identity of the partner at the moment but told the Business Observer later that the party is behind "one of the largest restaurant chains in the UK".

There are over 50 different products under the Levi Roots brand, including juices, snacks, pastries, books and the popular Reggae Reggae line of sauces.

Roots rose to prominence in January 2007 when he appeared on the BBC television show Dragons' Den, which allows aspiring entreupreneurs to present their business ideas to wealthy investors. Roots memorably sang about the virtues of his Reggae Reggae sauce and, in exchange for a 40 per cent stake in his business, secured the support of millionaires Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh for £50,000.

According to Roots, his brand is today one of the most widely distributed brands in the UK. He noted that the formation of strategic partnerships has been critical to its growth, highlighting that the company deliberately decided not to build a factory in the UK.

"Whenever we think of something to do, we find the best licensing company to do it with," Roots said.

"We partner with some of the most fantastic businesses in the UK," he added, noting that the brand has forged deals with fast food giants such as Subway, Domino's and KFC.

Roots, who developed his sauces with inspiration from the Jamaican culture, said one of the aims of the latest partnership deal is to promote Caribbean cuisine in the UK.

"Caribbean food has gotten to a point where it needs a large restaurant chain to promote it," Roots said, adding that the stores will be branded 'rasta-raunts' as opposed to 'restaurants' in a homage to his Rastafarian faith.

Roots described opening a branded store at Devon House in Kingston last November as his "proudest moment". He also announced yesterday that he plans to manufacture products out of Jamaica within the next few years.

"I am working to try to manufacture products out of Clarendon. We are at the forefront of trying to sort that out," he said, noting that most of his ingredients are imported from the country.

"It is important to actually do something here that employs Jamaicans," he said.

Born Keith Graham in Clarendon, Levi Roots migrated to England at the age of 12. The chef and musician has said that he learned to make jerk sauce from his grandmother in the village of Content.

The two-day Caribbean Competitiveness Forum is being hosted by the Caribbean Centre for Competitiveness of the University of the West Indies in collaboration with the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica. At the forum, Roots encouraged Caribbean entrepreneurs to remain true to their culture, saying that it has been key to his success.

"My pitch on Dragons' Den is perhaps the worst ever," he said. "It was about me. I came up the stairs with my guitar and remained who I am, I never sold out."

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