Sat | Jan 25, 2020

Overwhelming appetite for UBTR - KLE upbeat as London restaurant forced to implement reservation system

Published:Wednesday | October 31, 2018 | 12:00 AMSteven Jackson/Senior Business Reporter
Gary Matalon, CEO of KLE Group Limited.

Gary Matalon, CEO of the KLE Group, which operates the Tracks & Records restaurants co-branded with partner Usain Bolt, is more upbeat about the franchise, based on better than expected sales at the first foreign casual diner now operating in London.

Matalon partly ascribed the reception to the latest UBTR restaurant to the power of brand Jamaica.

"Right now if you want a table in there you have to wait a couple of weeks. That is the level of demand," Matalon told shareholders at KLE's annual general meeting in Kingston on Tuesday. "We expected it to be well received but I don't think any of us expected or appreciated the power of Jamaica in those international markets."

The UBTR restaurant opened for business in the United Kingdom on October 10 and was booked solid a day after, requiring its managers to hire additional personnel to handle the flood of reservations.

"The demand that we have had at that location since the 10th of October has been nothing short of overwhelming. So much so that we had to take on additional resources to deal with the influx of emails and phone calls. There was literally 300 to 400 emails a day for bookings and reservations," said Matalon. "On the 12 of October the soonest reservation that we could offer was for the 5th of November."

The UK franchise is operated by the SME Group, which also operates KFC, Pizza Hut, Home Delivery, Costa Coffee and Warren's Bakery franchises, as well as hotels. SME had planned initially to use a vehicle called Casual Dining Restaurants Group to hold and operate the Jamaican franchise, but later changed course.

Matalon said that arising from the increased demand, the SME Group is relooking its timetable for opening additional restaurants. The UK franchisee agreed to set up 15 locations by 2022 but that target will likely be attained sooner, as SME Group CEO Aly Esmail has now kicked his site search into high gear, Matalon said.

KLE made flat profits of $5.05 million from $58.7 million of revenue in the June quarter. The royalties earned from the Tracks & Records franchise flow to FranJam Limited, which is owned 49 per cent by KLE Group and 51 per cent by Downsound Records CEO Joe Bogdanovich.

Three UBTR locations already operate in Jamaica - in Kingston by KLE, and in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay by separate franchises. South Florida in the United States, and Toronto, Canada are the most likely areas for new franchise operations, Matalon told shareholders.

At Tuesday's meeting, KLE Group also gave an update on the longstanding real estate development of the Bessa villas being pursued in partnership with Sagicor Group Jamaica. The units will include a mix of studios, one bedroom units and large villas, with prices ranging from US$200,000 to US$750,000.

The development is set for completion in 2020 but units will go on sale later this year.

The Bessa project has increased in scope from the initial 58 to 88 luxury seaside and riverfront suites to be built on an eight-acre property in Oracabessa, St Mary that was acquired by KLE for US$2 million and will cost US$22 million to develop. KLE holds a 25 per cent stake in the project while Sagicor Life has the remaining 75 per cent.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com