Since 1968, Royal Castle Ltd have been tempting Trinidadian taste-buds with their pioneering fast-food chain. We spoke with Sandy Roopchand, Managing Director, to learn more about the brand’s history and what it is that keeps them thriving in a market of growing competition.
Trinidad and Tobago are bustling hubs of industry, but they are also booming with colour, culture and good food. The beautiful Caribbean islands are home to music, flavours and festivals, combining celebrations and cultures from their broad mix of heritages, including African, Arabic, Indian, Spanish Jewish and European backgrounds. Perhaps the most famous of these festivals is Carnival, brought over by French settlers and celebrated across the islands last month, but spirits are also high for Christmas, Eid, and a colourful slate of Indian celebrations including Diwali, Phagwah and Shivaratri. This global melting-pot has developed a reputation for inclusive culture, flavoursome food and a strong local pride: therefore, to thrive as a local restaurant chain, a company needs to represent all three.
Royal Castle Ltd (RCL) was founded in 1968, making it the first locally owned fast food chain operating in Trinidad & Tobago. Now there’s some local pride! The company’s family-friendly, quick-service restaurants offer a mouth-watering menu, focusing on delicious Trinidadian chicken but also celebrating fish and vegetarian options. We spoke with Sandy Roopchand, RCL’s Managing Director, and it soon made us hungry: “Our primary product is our succulent fried chicken and crinkle cut fries. We offer other savory options such as rotisserie chicken, fried chicken breast sandwiches, fish fillet sandwiches, veggie burgers and fish fillet meals, along with an array of sides including potato salad, coleslaw, fresh green salad and newly added corn nuggets. We also have our famous pepper sauce, along with other sauces such as barbeque sauce, honey mustard sauce and tartar sauce to complement our meals.”
Yum! Whilst other locally owned fast food chains have since come into being, RCL began life competing purely against large chains from overseas. In both contexts, it has thrived, now operating 42 restaurants in total. Of this figure, 32 restaurants are owned by the company itself, whilst the remaining ten are franchises, four within Trinidad & Tobago and the other six overseas in Guyana.
With business busy on the small islands, friendly competition is full-on, but RCL were fortunate to get their foot in the door early and they seem to be here to stay. Sandy explained that the last ten years, in particular, have seen many rival chains rise up, but few have had the sticking power to survive the test of time. So, what is the appeal of Royal Castle Ltd – beyond the tempting menu? Sandy told us: “Our aim has always been to provide products of impeccable taste and great quality at an affordable price while embodying a warm customer centric environment.”
For Sandy, the most pressing challenges are competition from overseas and a fluctuating economy. The chain has weathered both through its tight links to the islands, creating beneficial and essential relationships with local farmers and suppliers, therefore supporting Trinidad & Tobago’s economy as well as making themselves securely tethered in it. “We pride ourselves in being able to support our local economy by sourcing approximately 95% of our products locally. We have built relationships with numerous farmers, chicken producers and other local bodies for a supply of quality products for our operation.”
“All our suppliers have been key supporters of our success, as they understand our commitment towards quality products and ingredients for our customers.” As well as supporting local suppliers, especially in terms of farm produce, the brand also works closely with popular international sellers such as Nutrina, Fine Choice, Kiss, Cavendish and the ever-popular Coca-Cola. However, it is this local support that is so important, both for the quality of RCL’s food and their position as an important cog in Trinidad and Tobago’s economic machine.
As well as this fresh local produce, local representation and a genuine passion between themselves and their customers are key for RCL: “Our culture and our taste are represented in our brand. Our selection of quality ingredients, combined with our well-trained, multi-racial, cultured staff make our customers’ experience a unique, tasty and unforgettable one. There is an emotional connection between our brand, our products and overall customer experience which represents a true sense of our rich Trini culture.” RCL offer all of this with enthusiasm, and at an accessible price. “Our ability to live our value proposition has really been a resounding factor.”
RCL currently employ over 500 members of staff, and the company has invested heavily in their training and well-being, from floor workers to those in managerial positions. “We continue to recognise and reward our employees – they are our greatest asset.” The company also puts a heavy emphasis on internal promotion, recognising the potential of their employees and not putting a cap on how far their ambition and dedication can take them. “Without such an investment in our employees, we understand that we would not be able to uphold our value proposition, nor ensure that our customers receive a good service experience.”
For Sandy, responsibility for the success, quality and happiness of her employees lies with her. “I strongly believe that an organization’s relationship with its staff must be mutually beneficial. I understand my responsibility in building and maintaining conditions that make service excellence possible and worthwhile. Knowing that is a culture change, and one that will create long term success. I also hold myself accountable to my staff as I build trust, earning their respect whilst being authentic and aware of what’s happening at the various levels.”
Sandy Roopchand has been with the company for just under 13 years. In that time, she advanced from a managerial position in the finance department to Managing Director of the chain: “I have been privileged to lead such a dynamic business with supportive, diverse staff.” Over the years, she has seen Royal Castle’s market begin to shift, or more accurately, broaden: “Our mass market generally consists of customers aged 30 and older, due mainly to tradition. However, we have seen a steady growth of younger customers in the last five years.” In part, this could be due to the high levels of customer service that Royal Castle pride themselves in providing. It could also be a bonus of their other focus: expansion.
Within the last two years, RCL have conducted major renovation works on several of their outlets, in order to provide a more up-to-date, welcoming and on-brand appearance. They have also opened five new restaurants: “Our company is expanding rapidly as we continue to invest in opening new restaurants at various locations to make our products accessible to all. Our aim is to enhance and continue to give our customers greater access to our products by convenience of locations and an appealing ambiance. We also continue to review our product offerings and do our best to excite our customers with additional delicious product options.”
As well as increasing their reach and keeping their menus and atmosphere fresh, RCL are eyeing up greater changes. Firstly, they are increasing their appeal to young families by adding playparks to a selection of their restaurants, making Royal Castle a trip out instead of a ‘drop in’. They are also eyeing more international goals, hoping to grow their chain’s presence overseas, and even more ambitiously, to provide their iconic pepper sauce on the local and international wholesale market. The latter is no small feat, requiring RCL to first invest in new a bottling plant to produce the product in enough quantity – and they’re expecting demand!
“Our Culture, Our Taste” – RCL’s slogan says it all. It is fitting that Trinidad and Tobago’s first locally owned and run fast food brand has remained so locally minded; even as they begin to scope out distant shores, the value of home-sourced ingredients and a representative workforce has not been forgotten. As they expand, it seems that Sandy and the RCL team plan to remember what has always been important to this chain, offering the world a fast but authentic taste of Trinidad.