Grilled, braaied, cocktailed, you name it – South Africans love their prawns. But before they became a restaurant staple, they were a luxury item that few people could afford to feast on regularly.
It was in the late eighties that experienced restaurateur Jimmy Christelis decided it was time to find a way to make this delectable seafood item available to a bigger audience.
“My goal was to bring down the price of a decent portion of prawns so that it would equal the cost of a good steak,” he recalls. “Now we import from Thailand, India and Ecuador, but when I started the franchise in 1991 I bought well-priced prawns directly from Maputo. The response was phenomenal.”
Inspiration can strike in the most unexpected places, and often, the best creative ideas occur while we’re sleeping. Christelis’ idea for Jimmy’s Killer Prawns had its origin in a dream.
He had developed a love for Mozambican food during his many holidays in the country, and especially for the prawns served at a restaurant called the ʻPeri Peri’.
“They used to set up a long table for my friends and I and serve us huge platters of the most delicious prawns. In my dream I was looking down at the same scene from above, but it was my restaurant. I woke up the next day and knew that was the way to go. Luckily, I had just bought an old restaurant in Germiston, and I had been wondering what to do with the site. I now had the answer.”
The first Jimmy’s Killer Prawns was opened in Germiston, and Christelis took the opportunity to completely change the way people ate the crustaceans.
“We moved away from the traditional way of eating prawns, which was quite formal in South Africa. Instead, we served big platters and encouraged customers to eat with their hands. Business people would come in, take off their jackets, roll up their sleeves, and things would get messy. The ambience was incredible, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.”
The franchise concept grew and branches opened throughout the country. By 2008, however, it became clear that Christelis had to change the business model.
“Along with the effects of the global economic turndown, we also had to contend with spiralling costs,” he says.
“It was becoming too expensive to set up new stores, electricity costs were soaring, and the rental fees were also increasing rapidly. Operating a profitable new restaurant had simply become too expensive to be worthwhile for many prospective franchisees.
“We needed a new concept to co-exist alongside our existing brand that would enable us to grow the business.”
Making the move to fast food
That was when Christelis began to change and adapt the ʻkiller’ concept to changing market needs, although always remaining true to the original concept of an exceptional product priced at a level which delivers value to its customers. He started to investigate the fast food sector, and opened the first Jimmy’s Killer Fish & Chips store in 2011.
“It has been highly successful because it is in line with our quality philosophy, which emphasises delivery of quality products, adherence to our systems, cleanliness, commitment, passion and community focus,” Christelis says.
“We have defied the usual traditions and stereotypes in the takeout fish and chips industry and we’ve put a modern twist on an age-old family favourite. Jimmy’s Killer Fish & Chips are not served in newspaper or grease proof paper, but in a good quality, thick corrugated cardboard box. The food remains warm as a result, and it’s easy to eat.”
Christelis also has a strict hygiene policy in place and Jimmy’s Killer Fish and Chips stores have cleanliness, health and hygiene as top priorities.
“When we investigated the industry, it was obvious that many existing stand-alone, non-franchised fish and chips outlets were missing the boat,” he says.
“The stores were not attractive, and the product was inferior. Our approach was to up the standard of takeout fish and chips by using only the best ingredients. We have controlled the cost of doing that by maintaining proper systems.”
Today, there are 51 Jimmy’s Killer Fish & Chips stores, with more on the cards. But it has not always been easy. Christelis points out that the price of hake, for example, was R32,95 six months ago. It’s now double that amount. Added to that, rising labour costs continue to challengethe business.
“We face these challenges head on by making sure that systems and processes are meticulously adhered to,” he says.
“Jimmy’s Killer Fish & Chips has a low set-up cost, enabling more people to enter the franchise sector, and it also provides a unique opportunity for people who have no experience in the food industry, simply because it is easy to operate. Furthermore, the brand behind the concept is incredibly strong, which makes it easier for new franchisees to enter the market with confidence.”
New flavours, new customers
Following the success of the brand’s first forays into the takeaway sector, franchisee Zimo Amod conceived, designed and developed the Jimmy’s Killer Grill concept that Christelis rolled out in 2012.
Amod now runs the Killer Grill brand as master franchisee and it has grown to 22 stores. Like its predecessor, the concept offers an opportunity for both first-time and experienced operators to become a part of a big brand.
Jimmy’s Killer Grills has takeaway and sit down options and targets the middle to higher LSM income groups with a menu based on burgers, steaks and chicken.
“To compete in this sector, quality and taste are critical,” says Christelis. “Our burgers might cost a little extra, but they are top quality. Our other differentiator is that we have a wide range of unique sauces, including some with a more eastern flavour. They are proving to be very popular with our customers.”
Cornering a slice of the pizza market
An exciting new addition to the Jimmy’s brand is Jimmy’s Killer Pizza, launched just eight months ago with three stores in operation. The concept has been developed to achieve maximum profitability from a store and system designed to be extremely simple to run, while achieving maximum profitability.
“A Jimmy’s Killer Pizza is the ideal opportunity for a first business as its simplicity and ease of operation ensure the highest possibility of success,” says Christelis.
“The menu has been designed to include the most popular pizzas sold in South Africa. The pizzas are extremely easy to prepare, and the costing has been done in such a way as to ensure the highest possible gross profit for franchisees, even though they are selling at prices that are attractive to customers.”
From the franchisee’s point of view, a Killer pizza outlet requires only a small space, starting from 35m2. Gas ovens help to keep running costs low, and few staff are needed as the operation is so simple.
Looking ahead, Group director Aneez Amod recently signed a deal with an Indian partner to open 35 stores across the three new brands in India.
“The challenge of establishing stores overseas is that you have to cater to local tastes. We have an agent in India who monitors the market for us and keeps us informed of demands and new developments.
“Locally, we are aiming to open another 40 stores in the next 12 months. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but watching the growth of our brands is immensely exciting.”
What Jimmy’s looks for in franchisees
The Jimmy’s brand is popular among consumers and prospective franchisees, and remains committed to franchising as its predominant way of doing business, with the key to its success being a solid base of franchise owners.
An ideal franchisee has the following characteristics:
- A person with high professional and business integrity
- Preferably business background, with special emphasis on interpersonal skills, team leadership and financial management, or compatible experience
- A willingness to personally devote full time and best efforts to the day-to-day operation of the restaurant as an on-premises franchisee (owner/operator)
- An entrepreneurial spirit and a strong desire to succeed
- The ability to successfully complete a training and evaluation programme.
- The flexibility to relocate within a large geographic area for a franchise opportunity
- The ability to meet the financial requirements.
Jimmy’s Killer Pizza oven
A revolution in the making
It has been said that there is no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap. One of the world’s most popular takeaway items, there is no shortage of pizza outlets in South Africa. So what has Jimmy’s done to stand out from the crowd.
“We sell the fastest cooked pizza in the world, thanks to an oven developed in South Africa and called The Flaming Oven,” says Christelis. “It cooks a pizza in 59 seconds.”
Each pizza outlet has two ovens, making it possible to cook two pizzas in less than one minute. The oven runs on gas and is extremely efficient, resulting in low running costs and takes a chunk off the electricity bill.
“As popular as pizzas are, research has shown that people will often order other foods instead because of the waiting time. We’ve removed that barrier, making it much easier and quicker to pick up a pizza.”
Christelis highlights one other key success factor. In Italy, the home of the pizza, pizzas are cooked in ferociously hot wood-fired ovens, at temperatures between 700°C and 800C°.
“There’s a misconception that the wood creates the taste of a good pizza, but it is in fact the extremely high heat and speed of the cooking that makes a pizza taste great. Our ovens generate an enormous amount of heat and allow us to create the best pizzas in the true Italian tradition.
“Once the pizza has been prepared, it’s placed in the oven on a rotating stone. Cooked at extreme heat, very quickly, the ingredients remain bright and fresh, and the result is delicious.”
“The rapid growth and success of the group is attributed to the hands on management of directors Aneez Amod and Costi Lambros, as well as our entire, highly motivated head office team,” says Christelis.