Hunger for growth — the Chicken & Tings story
NOW preparing for the opening of an outlet in Duhaney Park, St Andrew, Chicken & Tings CEO Emelio Madden has described the move as a return to his roots — a familiar place where the seeds of his entrepreneurial ambitions were watered at his alma mater, Edith Dalton James High School, in the same community.
In fact, Madden believes that aside from familiarity, the new location will serve as fertile ground for the quick-service restaurant chain’s growth plans to blossom.
“The possibilities are endless because our aim is to grow out of Kingston to other parishes,” Madden shared with the Jamaica Observer, cautiously noting that he along with his brother and wife, Terry-Ann — the other directors of the company — are seriously considering expansion to the municipality of Portmore in St Catherine.
This becoming the brand’s fifth location in what seems a fast-growing company, and following on the heels of the commissioning of Chicken & Tings Grants Pen in November last year, is but a small part of a journey that began 20 years ago when Madden and his brother Larenzo Douse opened their first restaurant in Half-Way-Tree, the St Andrew capital.
Armed with just a few years’ experience working in a Chinese restaurant and just their salaries as starting capital, the brothers opened the first Chicken & Tings restaurant in 2005 at a gas station next to the post office in Half-Way-Tree, with two women serving as cashier and server. At the time, the CEO recalled, their paltry capital was only enough to cover a day’s supply.
“That could jus’ gi wi goods fi one day or half a day ’cause we used to have to jump ‘pon bus and go downtown like one o’ clock go get more goods and come back, and di same ting inna di mawning next day,” he said.
Still the business grew, and the brothers embraced the name Chicken & Tings which was thrust upon them by their landlord who operated a similar establishment under the brand. Within a year, the restaurant relocated to Central Plaza within the same business district and resettled at a container opposite their first location.
Again the restaurant would relocate in Half-Way-Tree, to 3 Hope Road, which has to date served as the flagship of the Chicken & Tings brand. The location meant that initially it attracted conductors, bus drivers and security guards and then after high school and university students, corporate employees and families. Operating an 18-hour workday, the restaurant sold and continues to sell breakfast, lunch and dinner in an environment known for its pumping music and disco lights.
Though Madden concedes that the music is a deterrent to a lot of the restaurant’s older customers, he contended, “That’s how we used to get our name out there…it a bring crowd and yuh need crowd to do business. At midnight we closed off the restaurant and turn it into a party. So we used to keep party called ‘Month-end Fridays’ every last Friday of each month.”
Moving to increase the visibility of the Chicken & Tings brand, the co-founders began sponsoring parties, and growing in popularity from their efforts, they opened an additional location in Cross Roads, St Andrew, in 2012. Though the area had heavy foot traffic and adequate parking nearby for motorists, Madden said that location did not fare as well as the team expected.
Two years later Chicken & Tings added a third location in the high net worth Manor Park area of St Andrew, but with the Government moving in to purchase land for road expansion, the company had to shutter its operation there.
Looking back, Madden said in addition to opening, moving and shutting down restaurants, the company has been beset by challenges such as finding reliable staff, sourcing capital, and crime and violence.
“We had to beef up security and try to think forward to secure ourselves and the cash,” he told Business Observer, adding that security costs are “significant” given that the company has had its fair share of break-ins.
Now headquartered at 27½ Half-Way-Tree Road, Chicken & Tings has found stable footing, and as the brand grows, Madden said that offers for franchising and financing from financial institutions are now more forthcoming than in the early days of operations. On this note, the businessman credited the capital offers to growing media coverage, especially from the Observer.
One of those offers came from Lasco Financial Services Limited acting as a microfinance partner of the Development Bank of Jamaica. The sum, $10 million, at a rate of 4 per cent, was used to reduce the company’s headquarters’ dependence on the national electricity grid and convert to a solar power supply.
“That solar system cut our JPS [Jamaica Public Service] bill by 75 per cent and…the savings from the loan covered bank payments and still left a lot of money to put in the business to grow,” Madden disclosed.
Following the media exposure from the opening of the Grants Pen store, National Commercial Bank (NCB) came knocking and offered a business credit card and a credit line of $5 million.
Fuelled by these new offers from Lasco Financial Services and NCB, the possibility of opening a new location in Duhaney Park became a reality. Madden also revealed that while he was not anticipating expanding there so soon, the opportunity was proposed to him and his co-directors while accepting the credit facility at NCB.
In addition to financial partners, Chicken & Tings has also secured supplier and co-branding partnerships with Jamaica Broilers and FesGas.
While the directors are bullish on expansion, Madden is also cognisant that having the right governance structure will augur well for the growth of the company. Madden serves as CEO, Douse as head of operations and Madden’s wife Terry-Ann as human resource director.
“We are structuring as we speak,” he told Business Observer, noting that the company is not ready to take on private equity or franchising opportunities, but is now putting in place a governance board.
Restaurateur Peter Jason Wright of CRU Bar, Chillin and Tacbar fame and Demetrie Adams, partner at Tavares-Finson Adams Attorneys-at-Law will serve as independent directors.
Still hungry for growth, Madden believes that opening one store per year is a feasible strategy.
“We have wi eyes pon Portmore and Ocho Rios,” he said.
The new Chicken & Tings location in Duhaney Park, which will span 1,200 square feet is set to open across the road from the Duhaney Park plaza mini mall. Serving as a pickup and go express outlet, the location will offer residents “The rich taste of Jamaica” the restaurant chain is known for. Although the area has a number of food establishments, Madden said the company’s aim is not to compete, but rather “add value”.
Rather, he said that his only competition is sleep.
With this new location the company’s staff complement is set to increase from its current size of over 70 team members, and even more as the company expands its footprint and its catering business line.
“You have to have bigger dreams for yourself, but at that time [when we started out], mi neva have such a big vision or dream — mi just know seh mi did want mek money. But when you start mek money you realise there’s bigger things than the money,” Madden related.