Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay co-founder Ajith Jayawickrema has said the brand is trading “very strongly” out of 44 sites, two sites more than it had going into lockdown.

In terms of the current level of business, he said the Caribbean bar and kitchen is trading 50% more than in 2019, he announced at the Lunch show in London.

He said the fundamental proposition of Turtle Bay – that of having a good time in a Caribbean environment – had not changed. But over the past 18 months, due to Covid, the company lost much of its late-night trade which it has been able to replace with daytime trade.

“A lot of people decided to go out during the day and drink a lot,” said Jayawickrema, suggesting Turtle Bay spotted trends such as the growth in cocktails consumption, and the growth in rum consumption ten years ago.

About 65% of Turtle Bay’s customer base is female and in general customers are becoming younger. As a result, Turtle Bay has used its front-line teams to increasingly use Tik Tok and other social media platforms for marketing purposes.

Turtle Bay continued to communicate a positive, hopeful message with its customer base during lockdown. “Storms don’t last forever,” Jayawickrema said. 

“We tried delivery but it wasn’t a huge success for us,” he said when asked about extending the brand. “Turtle Bay is a socialising space, an opportunity for escape.” Delivery currently accounts for between 3-5% of total sales.

Turtle Bay had two sites in Germany which have now closed, but Jayawickrema still believes the brand has an international future. In the UK “it still has great growth potential”, he said, suggesting there are cities such as Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and others where having more than one site works.

Turtle Bay is currently “doing ok” in terms of front of house and bar staff and has looked to increase head count for skilled managers and chefs – using a combination of internal and external recruitment. “That is where the real battle is,” says Jayawickrema.

“As an industry we have got quite a lot to do,” he said when talking about recruitment, working conditions and diversity within the hospitality industry. Inflexible rotas, weekend work have been raised as reasons for why people leave the industry.

“Younger millennials are far more conscious of who they want to work with and who they want to work for, he said, suggesting that senior management in many major hospitality brands is “less diverse than the Tory Party currently.”

In terms of the current issues around supply, Jayawickrema compared the situation to “fighting in a boxing ring with our eyes blindfolded.” Deliveries are very erratic he said, with items going off menu and finding parts for kitchen equipment can be difficult.

“We are behaving like squirrels. We are hording parts, we are hording people and we are hording chickens, whatever we can get hold of, in case things go wrong.”