Interview: the ingredients of Shakespeare and Co.'s success
When Cyrus Graesslin joined Shakespeare and Co. five years ago, as Regional Director of Operations and Franchises, the company’s portfolio comprised just eight restaurants. By the end of 2016, its repertoire will span 50 stores across the UAE, the wider Middle East, North Africa and the United States. Graesslin explains: “We are a Dubai-based, home-grown brand and all of our stores outside of the UAE are exclusively franchised. My role is to oversee the operations both here in the UAE, as the café restaurant component represents the core of our business and the focus of our development strategy. We’re also focused on expanding our presence in other territories. Currently we have franchised branches in Lebanon, Iraq, Qatar, Egypt, Oman, Jordan and Iraq, as well a few company-owned stores in the United States. When I joined in 2011, we had an aspiration to open 35 stores by this year - and we exceeded it. I think if the conditions are right and we can continue to roll out stores in the UAE, while encouraging the development of our franchise territories, I believe 100 stores worldwide by 2018 is well within the realm of possibility.”
This phenomenal growth, he says, is a result of its traditional menu and décor that doesn’t change every time there is a new culinary trend, coupled with consistently high standards in every single restaurant. He says: “We don’t believe in trying to reinvent the wheel. I think a lot of concepts try too hard to be the next big thing, whether it is creating the next frozen yoghurt or the ‘it’ gourmet burger. Here in Dubai at the moment, it's all about Peruvian food. Our mantra is simply good food, great service in a comfortable atmosphere – but most importantly, to deliver those things consistently. We're not pretentious. We serve comfort food and we serve classics that people never get bored of and appeals to everyone. If you look at our menu, we've got everything from French toast, Eggs Benedict, to fish and chips and grilled baby chicken. It’s the kind of food that is universally loved and accepted across all cultures and discerning palettes.”
Graesslin highlights the crucial nature of consistency many times. “The problem a lot of brands face when they become large-scale operations is they are not able to sustain the level of consistency they were able to achieve when they had just a handful of stores. For us, adapting our operation as the number of branches grew presented an enormous challenge. But we've been able to achieve a good level of consistency courtesy of our central production facility which is the hub of everything that we do - the kitchen, stores, purchasing department, pastry kitchen and design department. Centralising the operation is the key to consistency. Our suppliers also play a great role in maintaining a high level of continuity. Some products we have no control over whatsoever, such as our ready-to-serve beverages. Any disruption in the supply chain can directly affect our customers. However a perfect example is Horeca Trade, who supplies our marquee water AcquaPanna and San Pelligrino – it has been incredibly supportive in ensuring uninterrupted product supply, offering new and improved products and providing us full support for all our initiatives. Ultimately, we see the results in our mystery shopper reports, comment cards and social media channels - people appreciate the fact that it doesn't matter which branch they go to, they're able to get the same taste and quality they expected and become accustomed to.”
Added to the quality food is the atmosphere that Shakespeare & Co. creates for all its restaurants. It believes in the personal touch, and this is something that keeps the customers coming back. “Even though we've transitioned from a family-run business to a corporate structure, we still run it as a family business. A lot of the team members including myself have been here a minimum of five years and we are a very close-knit team. And that family atmosphere extends to the restaurants themselves, where they start treating customers like family members and people love coming to our restaurants. We have relationships with them and become like the neighbourhood watering hole.” The Victorian period-inspired décor helps to cement this warm, friendly feeling – plush furnishing are much more inviting than the industrial, minimalist style favoured by many restaurants. Graesslin adds: “For us, staying true to the basic principles of good food, a clean restaurant, nice atmosphere and great service; I think that's the hallmark of our success.”
As well as expanding its franchise network beyond the UAE, Shakespeare & Co. has also identified other revenue streams it can capitalise on. The first of these is an outside catering division, which it operates within Dubai. Graesslin says: “Catering is a tough business, it can be a lot of work for very little money. But for us, everything's already set up, so why not make the most of the opportunity?” The catering team works on small and medium-sized events, anything from a small garden party of 10 people to a buffet for 150 people, all the while with the focus on top quality: “One gentleman wished to impress his fiancée so we organised a private dinner on the beach. We focus on the niche sectors of the market which the bigger brands tend to shy away from.”
The second additional string to Shakespeare & Co.’s bow is its patisseries – it became obvious that running its own pastry kitchens within company-owned sites was more practical, which it started back in 2006. Graesslin explains: “The problem with pastries is that it's really only a success if based on economies of scale, because the waste can exceed what is sold. We're not like other stores where we keep cakes for days, while we also insist on keeping our fridges full. From an aesthetic point of view, empty displays look unappealing. The downside of those two philosophies is that we suffer from an inordinate level of wastage.” However under the guidance of a very highly-regarded French Executive Pastry Chef, Pascal Dupuis, who has been with Shakespeare & Co. for 10 years, the pastry operation has grown as its footprint has expanded, and is now one of the most profitable facets of the business, third in sales behind food and beverage.
Attracting – and retaining – the best staff in this way is something Graesslin speaks very passionately about, with emphasis on staff working their way up within the company. “I've worked in the business 18 years and a lot of companies preach to promote from within, but very few put it into practice. This is the only company that I know of and that I have been a part of that does that. We hire everyone into entry-level positions, irrespective of their level of experience. This is not brain surgery, you're not auditioning to be a NASA scientist. This is a people business – we are selling emotions and experiences. Our only requisite is you are exceptionally friendly and have a passion for hospitality. That is why we hire everyone in entry-level positions and grow everyone within the company. When we need a new position, we look within our own ranks. The majority of our managers and chefs have been with us over 10 years – they know if they work hard they'll get rewarded and no one will ever go above them. We don’t just offer them a career – we provide a future for themselves and their dependents.”
Read the July 2016 issue of Business Review Middle East magazine
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.