By Abutu Agada
Just at the corner of the neighbourhood, at a very conspicuous location, it sits proudly in red and blue, welcoming. As you walk in from the gate through the door into the cosy environment of the restaurant, a warm, homely ambiance serenades you. Whether you place order for your favourite pizza or choicest ice cream, a wholesome experience not just for the taste buds but for the entire senses join in a joyful chorus to welcome you to Cold Stone Creamery and Domino’s Pizza.
Interestingly, Pizza has grown to become a household name in Nigeria and Domino’s Pizza, its generic name. Same goes for ice cream and Cold Stone Creamery. This however was not the norm before 2012 until Eat N’Go stormed the Quick Service Restaurant, (QSR) scene with the two global brands. The company is a restaurant group with the vision to becoming the premier food operator in Africa. It aims to achieve this through outlets like QSR, Fast Casual, Casual Dining, Fine Dining and Coffee Shops.
It commenced operations with the first location officially opening on September 18th 2012, on Victoria Island, carrying both Cold Stone Creamery and Domino’s Pizza, then set up as a pizza delivery service focused restaurant. It was quickly followed by a second location on September 25th, 2012 in Lekki, Lagos.
Next month, both the Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery brands will be celebrating five years of existence in Nigeria. Not many people believed that these brands would have recorded the level of successes they had in the last few years. They were bringing unfamiliar brands to an even more unfamiliar and relatively new terrain. Pizzas were non Nigerian food and ice cream were treats for very special and reserved occasions for kids and maybe some ladies. The outcome in Nigeria was a “good surprise” to the global brands as it has subsequently become one of the busiest markets in the world.
The anniversary celebration will, according to Timelehin Lajubutu, marketing coordinator, Cold Stone Creamery, be one of a kind. “The celebration will be a fusion of experiential and in-store activities to make our anniversary. There will also be a CSR angle to it and lot of giveaways. That is key for us this year.
“We are a fun brand and we are known for quality. What you should be expecting will be innovation, lots of activities full of fun, celebrations and more happy moments.”
Antoine Zammarieh is the Managing Director of Eat N’Go in Nigeria. He speaks of the success story of the two so far. “We have been able to make the pizza and ice cream a household name in Nigeria. This is great feat for us given the fact that pizza is a foreign meal while ice cream was not such a big thing. I have been in the country for a long time; never have Nigerians accepted pizza and ice cream like this. All of a sudden, people now love it.”
Marketing Director for the group, Amalia Sebakunzi added that the company was innovative with its pizza and ice cream brand, developing local recipes specially for the Nigerian palate. “We have some flavours that are locally sourced for the ice cream. We have the chicken suya pizza which is a very big success. We knew that the people will like such thing and when we tried it, it became such a huge success that it is now a reference for other global members.”
Despite the recession that trailed brands at the latter part of 2015, through 2016 and earlier part of 2017, Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery were the only QSR brands that were still expanding when other players in the industry were struggling and shutting down. Antoine puts this down to the core values and operational philosophy at Eat’N’Go that he calls FIELD.
“Our core values are encompassed in FIELD-Fairness, Integrity, Excellence, Loyalty and Dedication. We defined our culture with that. Of course it took us time to get to this. In the first few years, it was to be the best food operators in Africa, a message the company was given from inception which we were planning to succeed with.
“We are ABC as well, which is Anti Bribery and Corruption which is very important for us as well; we don’t want to associate ourselves with any such thing. We are a transparent company and we do our business based on that.”
The company has developed world class brands that address the needs of the African market by serving up tasty portions of food and drinks like, Pizza, chicken, ice cream, cakes and more. Cold Stone Creamery offers super-premium ice cream, made fresh every day, and served up with choice of mix-ins. Some of its products are its Signature Ice Cream, Ice Cream Cakes, Shakes, Smoothies, American Coffee, Cappuccino, Cupcakes etc. Asides chicken, drinks and hot-melted choco pockets as desert, Domino’s Pizza offers the popular Chicken Suya pizza, the classic Pepperoni, the Extravaganza full of toppings and the new kid on the block: the deliciously thick & rich Pan Pizza crust.
Antoine said that the company’s competitive edge is its people-centric approach to operations, its high standards and the choice of its locations. “From the beginning, we are a people’s company and we pay our staff and take care of them in a way that we give them incentives. We do not just employ them, they are part of the company.
“The second one is very important of course, and that is keeping high standards. It is relatively easy to open something successfully in Nigeria. Now, three years down the line, whether you will be able to keep that standard is another story. So, we were able to keep our standards and make it a culture in our company that the standard is there to stay and it has to be improve continuously.
“We are ISO 9001 certified. This is to show you that in five years, we did go beyond what is expected of us.
“On the other hand, we are very specific about our locations and about the way they are designed around operations and around the consumer. We want our guests to be able to see everything we do. We are very transparent.”
Hygiene for the food industry is very germane to sustaining the trust of the average consumer out there. That is why members of staff at Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery are trained thoroughly and retrained consistently to keep up with the hygienic standards globally.
“We have invested a lot in the area of hygiene. We ensure that our workers go through extensive training every six months. It is not just about selecting the best people. We are always looking for new talents but, we are always demanding of who we select and how we train them. We are very strict with them. We are very strict with our processes, the hygiene, the training, being faithful and honest. We are very strong on that.
“Maintaining discipline in our operations here is one of our strengths. Everyone operating in Nigeria knows how hard discipline is. It is not easy to duplicate because it takes time to build. We selected the right talents and we are investing in them,” Amalia explains.
The team in Nigeria pushes itself, constantly upping the ante, performing above the brands’ global standards. It comes as no surprise therefore that one of its staffs, Funmi Imoru won the award for best training manager in the entire Europe, Middle East and Africa at a Domino’s worldwide rally held in Las Vegas, United States. This feat is what Antoine puts down to training, consistent monitoring and auditing.
“Training is very important for us. We have at the moment, three training centres in Nigeria: two in Lagos and one in Abuja. We train more than 300 people in a month. We train the new staff and retrain the existing ones, re-certifying them. Without this certification, they cannot work.
“On a monthly basis, we visit all of our stores twice and do internal and external audit. We go beyond the audit level imposed by the international brands and we rate it. Whoever doesn’t comply will have to undergo re-certification.”
Amalia explains the nature of its audits for outlets. “The audit consists of storming the stores unannounced. We check everybody over, their grooming, if they have washed their hands, their outfits, etc. There is always a procedure for everything.
“We test the sanitisers to make sure it is the right formula. We also measure the temperature of each ingredient to make sure that it is in the right temperature zone to avoid any food health issues. Of course, no food is left out for no purpose. It is either in the fridge,being prepared (dough has to proof for several hours before usage) or cooked and served-nothing in between. If there is anything lying around, that is a very big violation and that is a big problem. This audit system has really helped us a lot.
In driving consumer engagement, Domino’s Pizza for example has fashioned out an innovative concept where consumers are privy to how their meal is prepared as it is done in their presence. Amalia puts it like this: “people sit around our kitchen in Domino’s Pizza where the dough is stretched so that they can see and engaged with the preparation of their meals, just like watching a show.”
“We also make sure we treat every consumer as equal and as royalty as they have done us the honour of coming to our restaurant.
“Whenever our customers complain, we try to make it right for them. We make sure we understand what the complain is and resolve it for them.
The group sees itself as a part of the neighbourhood. It is a people-centric company with most of its workforce being Nigerian. This is not unconnected to the fact that the group is playing its part in combating unemployment in the country. Amalia says, “We have to emphasize the fact that we are a neighbourhood store. We like our neighbours. When we go to a new location, we contact all the churches, mosques, schools and the business environment to tell them we are here not just to do business but we have some social responsibilities.”
Antoine collaborates: “We started in 2012 with only two staff. And now, five years down the line, we have 1,300 plus employees. This is a big success story for Nigeria and for our expansion. What we have done is that we have created a sort of people’s company where we are investing in the people.
“All the managers of all our stores are Nigerians. We have close to 50 stores and restaurants, all managed by Nigerians. We have a couple of expats in certainpositions and in the head office, but 99% of our employees are Nigerians. That is a big success story for the Nigerian employment market.”
The brands also have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives where it visits orphanages and donates to worthy causes. More to come on that in the future.