A local restaurateur is hoping to give other aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to get into the food business with plans to franchise his Caribbean/Greek fusion take-out restaurant next year.
“Challenging yet rewarding” is how Chef Kevin ‘KC’ Culmer has described his journey in the take-out business the past four plus years, having started the business out of his home to now preparing to launch two additional locations for his Tropical Gyros restaurant in the coming weeks. (We first met Chef Culmer back in 2016. You can check the original post) here.
The two additional restaurants, located downtown and Prince Charles Drive are expected to create another 30-35 jobs. Chef Culmer’s aspirations are even bigger still. He also has his site set on the US market, where well-known Bahamian restaurants such as Bamboo Shack and Bahama Grill already have a presence.
“A lot has changed in Tropical Gyros. We were able to open the Rosetta Street location March 25, 2017. We’re getting ready to celebrate two years in business at Palmdale. It’s been challenging and yet rewarding. We have been able to increase my employee compliment from 5 to 13 persons at Rosetta Street,” said Chef Culmer. He added: “We’ve been pretty consistent in our growth. We’ve been continuously humbled by response. It’s been amazing!”
The road to expansion has not been without its bumps Chef Culmer explained, noting that opportunities to secure investor funding had fallen through on several occasions. “Last year I was approached by a foreign investor who expressed a desire to inject some significant capital into the business. The terms however were astronomical”, said Chef Culmer, reiterating emphatically that he had no desire to relinquish control of his business. “I’ve been building this from my home since 2015. That last thing I’m going to do is give up control of my business. That left me in a quandary, having already secured the location at the Hilton. I had taken the profits I had made and pushed it into that development,” he told JustBiz.
“I looked at some other investors and right when they were getting ready to sign, there was the hurricane in the US and so this doctor who was lined-up pulled out. My mom, my brother and I subsequently decided to sell our family home and so I could use my portion to inject into the expansion,” said Chef Culmer.
“I was reading the newspaper the other day and saw a turnkey location on Prince Charles drive for rent. I’m a risk taker. Like any entrepreneur you need to be a risk taker. I wanted to get on Prince Charles at some point and so I jumped at the opportunity. Now we are going to open Prince Charles on March 27 and the Down town location at the end of April,” said Chef Culmer. Chef Culmer explained that the Prince Charles location will feature a walk-up window similar to Bamboo Shack but will also feature outdoor seating. Additionally, that location will serve as a production/ distribution centre.”
“We always needed a production distribution centre. The location is so big that it gives us that opportunity. Now all of our meats and seafood will be seasoned there, our dressings will be mixed there as well. The restaurants will order their products from the distribution centre and we would deliver it to them. The only thing the stores would have to do is cut their produce. Everything would come ready-made for them and that way I can control the consistently of the products. I think that this now puts us in the big leagues and allows us to look more closely at franchising. We would then have the logistical support and have the ability to move forward and support more locations,” Chef Culmer told JustBiz. “Tropical Gyros seems to have inspired other gyro restuarants, as prior to us marketing deliveries there were no specific gyro restaurants, however now there are quite a few. The interesting thing here is that certain restaurants were selling Gyros in their restaurants but with the advent of Tropical Gyros some companies have switched out completely from regular menus to having a Gyro centric restaurant. So we have become the innovators of this new restaurant,”he added.
“We’re hoping to give Bahamian entrepreneurs the ability to own a piece of the pie at a much lesser cost. I looked at franchising from different models and the one I like best is Chic-fil-A. What they do is charge for a franchise fee. They secure the location, build it out and charge the franchisee a percentage of their gross sales towards the lease of that unit and then they pay royalties on the back-end on their profit. They require their franchisee to work in the business. What we want is to create partnerships with our franchisees. Someone could come and open a Tropical Gyro franchise for under $20,000. It gives normal people the opportunity to get into the food business. We’re not trying to imitate anyone; we’re creating our own niche. When I decide to do this I wanted to bring something that was unique and a little bit healthier.”
“We do have some gyros that are fried like crack grouper and lobster gyros. Our number one seller is the jerk chicken gyro and jerk chicken salad. We’re striving to carve our brand recognition in this country. We see ourselves in the international market in five years. My whole goal was to have a location in the US in five years from the time we opened up in Palmdale.”
Chef Culmer noted that having a good team of people in your business is critical to its success. “We’re promoting from within. I’m promoting my Palmdale manager to operations manager. I’m creating team leaders in each restaurant and giving them more responsibility. We’re trying to create a family and make everyone feel like family. For the most part my employees have been with me for a while. We’re trying to do what we can to assist with employment and trying to do what’s best to get the right mix of people. We’re going to be implementing various trainings, Human Resource and customer service training.”