TWENTY-ONE years after he established the Original Bar-B-Que Hut halal brand, David Bukhal is on the verge of franchising his business model.
Bukhal’s vision is to see his signs and logos all over the country and his product being enjoyed by barbecue lovers in areas other than San Fernando, where he is established.
In the near future, he said, he intends to pursue franchises in and out of the region.
“Just like we have KFC and Pizza Hut and McDonald's all over TT, similarly, within the next three years, that’s where I want to see the Original Bar-B-Que brand,” Bukhal told Business Day.
The 47-year-old entrepreneur, who built his business in keeping with the doctrines of Islam said, “Two to three years ago I did not know what the word franchise meant. Today, I think I am ready for it. It was always my dream to open different outlets throughout the country, but (a) franchise business is a better option.”
Coming from a farming community in Dow Village, South Oropouche, Bukhal was bitten by the barbecue bug while still attending secondary school. To supplement his cost of living, he started working after school and on weekends at two barbecue huts in San Fernando, on different days.
He worked as a cleaner and dishwasher, he steamed chicken and worked on the grill, worked as a salesperson and a cashier. Bukhal, who at that time had no planned career goal, decided there was opportunity in the barbecue business and grasped it.
“If gardening had money, then I would have stayed in it. If patchoi was not 25 cents and eight dollars as it is today, then my life might have been different. But I realised this is something I could do as a career, something I could build on and develop and so I started preparing to establish my own hut.”
For 11 years the practising Muslim worked for his two employers, observing and learning the trade, motivated by a vision to become the pioneer of halal barbecue chicken.
“Nowhere at that time was anyone selling halal barbecue for the Muslims. You could get chicken and chips, barbecue chicken and fries, but not halal chicken. The inspiration for me opening something like this was mainly for a Muslim to get halal meats.” Halal is an Islamic method of slaughtering animals or poultry during which a special prayer is said.
That dream was visualised in November 1997 when Bukhal, with the assistance of two friends and two of his brothers, opened the Original Bar-B-Que on rented premises at Bel Air, La Romaine under two tents, with four tables, one grill and five cases of chicken.
The introduction of fish, shrimp, lamb and beef steaks in a box with garlic bread and green salad, and different sauces became an instant hit. Customers he had served at his former places of employment started patronising his establishment. For six years the business blossomed, to the point where he needed to expand. An expansion opportunity presented itself when a three and a half-acre parcel of land became available at Cipero Road and Bukhal grabbed it.
He immediately built a structure for office space, a bakery, kitchen and stock room. He provided seating accommodation for approximately 70 guests to dine in, and put up 11 tents to give customers the open-air feel. The facility also boasts a large car park, which customers often use to lime and dine.
The establishment employs over 40 workers, some of whom have been with Bukhal from inception. He purchases most of his ingredients from local farmers and fishermen, only importing lamb and beef because of the quantity needed, and health regulations.
Over the years, the menu has changed to suit demands and tastes of customers, including non-alcoholic black forest cake and cheese cake, fruit juices as opposed to soft drinks, baked potatoes as an option to the fries, chicken and vegetarian samosa, macaroni pie, noodles, coleslaw, green salad, potato and macaroni salads as side dishes, a variety of sauces and barbecue lobster tails.
He attributes his success to hard work and dedication of his family and employees, his faith in God and his charitable nature. While the economy has caused a decline in profits, Bukhal said he has maintained the quality of his product.
“I worked hard for 32 years to establish my brand, I am not going to let the economic downturn cause me to mash it up like a piece of foil paper. The customer is not seeing what is in my kitchen, but God sees and knows all things. If you put God first, success will follow.”
It is his desire that his five children, two of whom are already involved in the business, would inherit and continue his legacy.
“But I have no intention of leaving the business. I will die here,” he said.
He said his foray into business with a vision and God’s grace could be emulated by anyone.
“Once you have good food, good taste, good manners, good service, you would succeed.”