Love and doubles: Vendor's widow reopens business on Park Street
ONE OF THE greatest tragedies in the SME sector is when the sole proprietor of a business dies, and the business dies along with them because of a lack of succession planning.
This was the case for Naz Rampersad, the widow of Joe Rampersad, owner of Joe’s Doubles, a Port of Spain-based doubles business.
When Rampersad died of cancer in 2022, it seemed the Park Street-based doubles business would not reopen.
But Naz, 68, with encouragement from fellow businessman Jeffrey Mouttet, decided to bring Joe’s name and his doubles back to life.
Rampersad told Business Day at the Queen’s Park Oval that although there was no formal succession plan, she was poised to take over and carry on her husband’s name and business. She said she had everything she needed to bring back the same quality of doubles that Joe gave to the people of Park Street. The only thing she had to add was love.
Rampersad said she and her husband started selling doubles on Park Street in 1981, not long after the second of their four children was born.
Before that, Rampersad said they had been living off the $25-a-week wages from his job at a Central movie theatre. Although they were a humble family who made it a practice to be content with what they had, Naz realised that with two children, it was getting more difficult to make ends meet.
“I told him: ‘Honey, we need money.’ We decided to do something about it, because the money was coming in too slowly.”
Joe spoke to a friend who worked in Port of Spain, who told him that uptown PoS needed a doubles stand.
Rampersad said after a few months perfecting their recipe, she and Joe set out on Park Street to start their new business and it was a hit.
“Around that time people uptown did not know what doubles was,” Rampersad said. “Doubles was more popular in the countryside. People in town used to call it 'bake and channa.' We brought doubles to Park Street. That was where Joe started getting his name.”
She said Joe had a special recipe and method for frying barra, which set it apart from the doubles downtown.
“He had some of the softest barra you could get in Port of Spain,” Rampersad said. “He had a technique that would make it soft and fluffy, so that you could squeeze it and it would open back out in your hand.”
But it wasn’t the doubles or the location that made Joe’s Doubles popular, Rampersad said. It was the service Joe provided.
“We put love into our work. We loved the people that supported us. Joe was the type of person that would build relationships with his customers. He showed them love.
“Even when he was sick and he would stay home he would worry about his customers. He would worry about what his customers would eat.”
Rampersad said their doubles grew in popularity to the point that Mouttet called them to cater for a birthday party. It would be the first of many events that they catered. Mouttet was so pleased with the service and the food, he recommended them to the Queen's Park Cricket Club.
“Working at the cricket club was really something different,” she said. “You got to see the co-operation of the people. They appreciated us for what we gave. They never disrespected and looked down on us.”
She said it was always exciting to work at the Oval. When they were not serving at events at the club, they were in the Trini Posse section, serving during CPL games.
“That was an experience like nothing else,” she said. “You could really get the vibe of the people in the Oval.
"We were also able to work when an East Indian Bollywood star named Amitabh Bachan came to TT. It was a sold-out show. It was awesome.”
Joe began experiencing health problems in 1997, first heart issues, then cancer.
He was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney and had surgery in 2009. But in 2018, cancer began to develop in his remaining kidney. It wasn’t until 2020 that his illness got too bad to ignore, and he was told he had cancer once again.
“From the minute he knew that he had cancer, his health began to decline. Within the space of six months his health went down drastically,” Rampersad said.
The doubles business also took a turn for the worse in 2020, with the arrival of covid19 and the nation’s shutdown to slow its spread. Rampersad said the last time they served doubles before Joe’s death was for J’Ouvert 2020. They were out of business for two years.
Joe lost his battle with cancer on January 7, 2022.
Rampersad added that although her eldest son Rodney had been involved in the business and was the obvious successor to the Joe’s Doubles brand, he was fatally stabbed at a fete in 2017. At the time of Joe’s death, there was no one else able to carry on the business.
Months after Joe’s death, Mouttet, director of Caterers Choice foods, got in touch with Rampersad, looking for contacts and recipes for corn soup.
“I was hoping to get her contacts and reach out to them so I could get my items in,” he said. “One thing led to another and Rampersad suggested that I do doubles. I told her, 'I really don’t know anything about doubles, I knew Joe for over 30 years and that is all I know.'
"Joe was such a good man I felt that something should be done to bring him back. I asked her if she would be interested.”
Business Day was told Joe’s doubles will be back in town by March 3.
Mouttet said succession planning is key to planning an SME’s future. In his business, succession planning is part of the training given to staff.
“What a lot of companies do is get key man insurance,” he said. “They insure the proprietor of the business, so in case something happens, they would have the money to hire a successor.”
“My company has no key-man insurance, and I am going to be 82 in May. But I have people training to take over.”
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a 2021 family-business survey in the US, discovered that only a third of SMEs in the US have a robust, documented and communicated succession plan in place. Many family businesses, a lot like Rampersad’s, had informal succession plans in place, but few have them documented and effectively communicated to essential parties in the business.
“Those businesses that have not yet begun planning for succession could be vulnerable to significant risks,” the survey said. “Such as fractured family relationships, a successor who doesn’t have the capacity or credibility to lead and reluctance from external stakeholders who may not want to work with an organisation that isn’t governed by a good succession plan.
Mouttet said his succession plan involves training young, energetic people in all aspects in the business to ensure it is successful even when he is not around.
“The people I have know the business,” he said. “I could close my eyes and know that the business will run.”
As for Rampersad, she expressed confidence that Joe's Doubles would once again rise to the popularity that it had before. She said people are already excited about the March 3 reopening.
“The recipe is there, the customers are there – I just have to show the love,” Rampersad said.
"Love and doubles: Vendor’s widow reopens business on Park Street"