Business

Successful Ol' Joe looks to franchising

BY ALEXIS MONTEITH
Observer writer

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

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In 2013 Robbie Josephs, a well-known Montegonian chef and entrepreneur, and his son Robbie Josephs Jr were at a Chinese restaurant in Montego Bay lamenting the fact that there was nowhere similar in the city specialising entirely in Jamaican cuisine. The discussion led to an idea. That idea eventually developed into a plan that culminated with the opening of Ol' Joe in 2014, an “over-the-counter” style restaurant offering a wide variety of Jamaican food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Josephs Sr already had a sterling reputation as a restaurateur, having owned The Seahorse Grill at the Yacht Club in Montego Bay from 2009-2018, the very popular Brewery restaurant from 2002 -2009, and The Dock Bar & Grill during that same period as well as Nikita's restaurant on the Hip Strip. Before becoming an entrepreneur he gained valuable experience working for hotels such as Sandals, Seawind Beach, and Trelawny Beach.

His son, Robbie Josephs Jr, is a graduate of Drew University in New Jersey who also studied at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. It was not the intention of Josephs Jr to be involved in the enterprise but his father became seriously ill during the start-up period of the venture and the son took over the operation, allowing his father the necessary months that he needed to recover.

By the time Joseph's Sr had regained his physical health, his son was fully managing the company and had decided to stay on. With both of them working together they could manage both Ol' Joe and a restaurant at Montego Bay's Bellefield Great House, their other project.

Ol' Joe, which currently has two outlets, opened first in the Fairview Shopping Centre in the Freeport area of Montego Bay, and following on its success the second outlet opened on Market Street in the downtown area of the city in 2016. Ol' Joe's menu includes roast chicken, fried chicken, brown stew chicken, roast pork, brown stew vegetable chunks, curry conch, cowfoot, steamed fish, curried goat and much more for lunch and dinner.

Breakfast items include but are not limited to popular dishes such as ackee & saltfish, escoveitched fish, stamp & go, mackerel, sausage & beans, pork stew, brown stew chicken, cornbeef & cabbage and cornmeal porridge. Popular side orders for breakfast, lunch, and dinner feature Jamaican favourites such as yam, festival, plantain, bammy, rice & peas, johnny cakes, pumpkin, breadfruit, callaloo, sweet potato, green bananas, boiled dumplings, and pumpkin.

“We wanted to take it back to Jamaican roots with Ol' Joe,” explains Josephs Jr. “We wanted to be more than just Jerk, which everybody associates with Jamaican cuisine, and we wanted to offer a full range of local items. Consistency was something we pushed for, as a lack of consistency when it comes to Jamaican food was a common complaint in the city.”

The Jamaican focus goes beyond just the food on the menu. Josephs Jr explains that while many food services in Montego Bay are of foreign origin or have overseas connections and linkages, their local company aims to support Jamaican farmers and producers and works closely with Rural Agricultural Development Authority to find farmers all over the island. It is a way of collaborating with local producers and promoting their produce.

“A very big selling point is the availability of fresh vegetables and ground provisions such as yam, sweet potato, pumpkin, etc, and also the availability of fresh juices, as we are aware that most consumers are very health-conscious,” Josephs Jr points out. “So we work hard to provide healthy options from farm to table as affordable as possible.”

The company currently employs 50 workers, all of whom are Jamaican, including the management, and supports youngsters beginning to make their way in the industry.

“We work closely with trainee programmes such as HEART,” reveals Josephs Jr. “We also work with the Christian School for the Deaf and have one employee from that institution who has become a permanent member of our team.”

The “over-the-counter” service offered by Ol' Joe has been immensely popular with the Montego Bay community and it has also grown to serve a number of corporate clients. Bank of Nova Scotia, Sam Sharpe Teachers' College, Radiology West, National Water Commission, and Doctor's Hospital are just some of the entities that order meals from the restaurant.

The Josephs reveal that due to the ongoing success of the restaurant, a number of business people have approached them with an interest in purchasing franchises. This is a direction that the father and son team have now just embarked on but believe that it must be approached carefully because they would require assurances that production standards and values can be adhered to by other entrepreneurs.

“Consistency has always been the factor when deciding to franchise or not,” states Josephs Jr. “Trying to ensure that each franchisee will follow recipes and the supply chain is something that will have to be monitored carefully. The support would be given to each location and it may be a case of certain production being done from the head production kitchen and then dispatched to the locations — something that most franchises do.”

“That is one of the main reasons the decision to franchise took this long,” he continues. “A system had to be identified to maintain consistency.”

According to Josephs Jr, a franchisee has the potential to earn over $30 million per year with an average 30 per cent to 40 per cent ROI based on current trends. However, the ROI and the level of investment will depend on capital investment and location in particular, with factors such as traffic, infrastructure, targeted businesses available in the area and external business opportunities such as catering being key.

In the meantime, as the company explores franchising opportunities, its objective is to strengthen its public image as a 100 per cent Jamaican brand and continue its success so it can be an organisation that Montego Bay can be proud of.

“Montego Bay continues to grow as a leader in tourism, and many of our citizens are contributing to areas such as business and popular musical culture, just to name a few,” declares Josephs Jr . “The city is now poised to be an even greater contributor and Ol' Joe wants to add to that energy and add value to our people and Brand Jamaica.”

By filling the demand for a consistent and wide variety of local cuisine in a city that is the largest tourist destination on the island, Ol' Joe is doing just that by supporting Jamaican farmers and producers and promoting the taste of Jamaica to Montegonians and tourists alike.


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