Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Nine Circle K stores for Ja - Mahfoods to grow convenience store franchise regionally

Published:Wednesday | November 13, 2019 | 12:08 AMNeville Graham/Business Reporter
Joseph Mahfood, head of Circle K Jamaica.
Joseph Mahfood, head of Circle K Jamaica.

In five years or less, Convenient Brands, the holding company for food franchises controlled by the Mahfood family, plans to build out a number of convenience stores across the Caribbean under the Circle K brand.

It’s starting in Jamaica, where two of the nine stores planned are already operational in Kingston and leases for four more stores have been signed. The precise locations were not disclosed, but all nine are planned for just two urban centres – Ocho Rios and Kingston.

Circle K Jamaica began operations in May of this year under the control of Joseph Mahfood, who says he plans to have the nine stores for Jamaica up and running by December 2020.Joseph is the son of Wisynco Group chairman William Mahfood.

“We’re starting in Jamaica and branching out to the rest of the Caribbean. We want to go into the Bahamas, Cayman, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominican Republic with a view to have at least one store in each of those countries in three to five years,” Mahfood told the Financial Gleaner.

The two Circle K stores in operation are located at Half-Way Tree Square and South Parade downtown, both of which employ 35 staff combined. The Half-Way Tree store is open around the clock.

“We have two now, but we also have four more leases signed. Therefore, in another eight months, we’ll have six. We’re working on three more leases, which will put us to nine by the end of 2020,” Mahfood said. He declined to comment on the size of the investment to be made.

Circle K Stores Inc is an international chain of convenience stores currently owned by the Canadian multinational Alimentation Couche-Tard. Founded in 1951 in El Paso, Texas, the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 1990 and went through several owners before being acquired by Alimentation Couche-Tard in 2003. They have 16,000 stores worldwide, but the opening of the franchise in Jamaica marks the first time the brand has entered the region.

There are Circle K branches in Honduras, the operators of which Mahfood said he formed a relationship while studying in Spain. That sparked his interest in the brand, so after finalising his master’s in Madrid, he reached out to the American owners of the franchise.

“After speaking with the owners in Phoenix two or so years ago, we invited them down. They loved Jamaica, and the rest is history, as they say,” he said.

Circle K’s business model is to provide convenient, ready-to-eat food that the customer can grab, pay and go. Mahfood said he specifically studied the Jamaican palate and came up with a range of items that would satisfy people who eat on the go.

“We have hot dogs, patties, fritters, soup, pre-made sandwiches, bun and cheese, and a whole range of snacks. We’re just launching a cereal bar, where patrons may mix and match different brands of cereal, and we’ll follow that with a donut station with product delivered fresh every day,” he said.

Circle K Jamaica gets logistical support from its association with Convenient Brands, which operates the local Domino’s pizza chain and, up to recently, the Wendy’s sandwich chain. The latter franchise was taken over by another Jamaican fast-food operator in October.

Mahfood says the nine stores for Jamaica are just the first phase of the build-out of the chain and that stores for places like Montego Bay are on the cards for later phases. Each new store will hire 10-15 workers.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com