Franchise stores like McDonald's and Applebee’s are usually all the same in customers’ minds. But Jamaican restaurateur Marcia Hawthorne rejects the cookie-cutter model.
Hawthorne owns three franchises of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill. Her family owns the 120-store Caribbean food empire. Her creative thinking has made her eateries in the Bronx wildly successful among the Caribbean residents who live in those neighborhoods.
“I’m always thinking about what we can do to entice the customers,” says Hawthorne. She went into business for herself when she was 21, after working in her mother’s own franchise. “We have about 70 food items between breakfast, lunch dinner.”
Golden Krust, which was originally a bakery, is known for its beef patties and baked goods, like breads and buns. Its restaurants also carry popular Jamaican breakfast and dinner items.
Most of the other locations focus on typical dishes like oxtail, curried goat and fried chicken. Hawthorne’s stores also offer less traditional items like shrimp linguine and sweet-and-sour chicken to capture more than just Caribbean diners.
“My partner was the driving force behind this type of restaurant,” says Hawthorne of her husband. “He said ‘Let’s come up with more items, like American food or vegetarian stuff, which most Golden Krust stores don’t have.”
But even though she is branching out, Hawthorne is careful not to alienate the Jamaicans who patronize her business.
“We’re a Jamaican restaurant with a lot more flavor," she says. "Even with the American-style dishes, we give it names that would make Jamaicans feel familiar with them.”
Her store is also different from others in that she carries traditional items that Jamaicans know from home. They can’t usually find those items in the United States, unless they make them themselves.
“Our thing is just to try to stand out among the competitors and other stores in the neighborhood,” says Hawthorne, whose stores are in high-traffic areas near schools and bus stops. There are around eight other restaurants near each of them.
She says she’s won over at least 25 to 35 percent of her competitors’ business by using this strategy of catering to a wide variety of people, while still maintaining her business’ identity.
During the recession, she kept customers streaming into her restaurants by running special promotions. She offered smaller meals for $4, for instance, when most dishes run around $8. With her lower price, she got more business and took less of a hit.
As of now, she’s not planning to open any more stores. Instead, she wants to focus on improving her current restaurants.
“I want the business to thrive, we don’t want to become complacent,” she says. “I think we’ve thought of everything so far.”
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