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Douglas McVicars and his partner Dianne White, who just opened their fifth link in a chain of bakeries and patisseries in Antigua, turned out to have the right things when it comes to making a living on French bread and sandwiches. Doug, a former Home Depot executive in Toronto, and Dianne, a recent graduate architect, moved to Antigua in mid-2003.
Doug began working part-time for Franciane in January 2004 and was soon offered the manager position with full profit sharing, benefits and incentives, including shares in the business. Today Franciane’s sells around 300,000 sandwiches a year; this on an island with a population of just over 70,000 inhabitants. The business has now expanded to five stores in total with plans to open franchises on other Caribbean islands, including Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Dominica in the next year or two. Dianne, using her architectural training, designed the latest store. It was designed to serve as a prototype for the planned expansion.
Doug says he had to make a major change in the direction Franciane was headed after he took office. He felt the former manager was targeting the wrong clientele; expats, tourists, yachts. So the first thing he did after taking over was to make it a local place, targeting the locals. He bought more products on the island, while the former manager had imported a lot from France. Made drastic changes to the menu. Tuna, crab, turkey, roast beef and local salted fish replaced the pate and brie. This resulted in more hearty sandwiches, which were well received by the local population.
They have had competition from a new Subway franchise that opened six months ago, but it hasn’t affected their sales. Doug says it’s because they’re so expensive and sell items for $ 20 that Franciane’s has $ 10. Some customers were expected to lose, but others who were happy to see a shorter line at Franciane’s quickly replaced them.
Antigua also has its traditional types of breads, which are heavier and often loaded with canned butter, pork sausage, and cheese.
“That was one of my first experiences when I came here,” says Doug. “Dianne took me to Brownie’s (bakery).”
“Yes,” remembers Dianne. “I brought you a sandwich with chorizo and cheese.”
“It was different,” adds Doug, “but it was nice, very heavy. But don’t get me wrong, you can’t eat our sandwiches every day either.”
Some clients may disagree. The Franciane staff meet the regulars who eat the same sandwich every day or mix and match the fillings, yet they arrive at around the same time every day.
Dianne says. “They seem to like it, and what we’re trying to do is provide them with the right fillings that they want. Like salted fish and red herring. We will also carry the local cheese, because not everyone likes cheddar and Swiss cheese. They seem to be very attached to it. canned cheese. So we’re still trying to add to the menu. “
The people of Antigua were already familiar with French bread because there was previously a Swiss bakery located in a popular tourist section of the island along with another French bakery in the capital, St. John’s.
The slowdown in the pace of life in Toronto has been a welcome change for the couple. Doug and Dianne didn’t even realize how much their pace had changed, until a recent trip through Miami, when they were pacing to catch a flight, while the Americans beat them and glared at them trying to get to the plane. “After things like that,” says Dianne, “you start to remember why you left. Everyone (there) moves like every moment of the day counts. When you’re here for two years, you don’t realize how much you’ve slowed down. “.
Doug says that he is satisfied with the clothes and other items that he can buy on the island. Dianne might have a few more complaints as, like most women, she tends to crave a little more variety in terms of shopping. Nonetheless, he is content to take a flight to Puerto Rico whenever the need arises. Many locals do the same.
They have adjusted to the hours of the supermarkets on the island in terms of the availability of fresh products, which disappears quickly on weekends. Doug remembers the surprised reaction of some international students at a medical school, who frequent one of Franciane’s outlets, when they were told there was no lettuce for their sandwiches. “They told me, ‘What do you mean you don’t have lettuce?'” She relates. “And I asked them, well, how did they get here? And they told me, ‘By plane’. And I said, okay, do you see any roads leading from here to Miami? “
“Shopping on the island is not as easy as it sounds,” he says. “There are some tough times of the year, like November, when hotels reopen, and we may come up short.” They have learned to develop connections with local wholesalers, who will warn them of expected shortages in advance. The couple used to import a 20-foot one. container of authentic French bread and pastries once every three months, but the popularity of the business has now shifted to a container every 28 days.
Many people have expressed skepticism that a fairly young company has diversified so quickly, but Doug says Franciane’s shows no signs of slowing down and, in fact, they are planning at least two other stores, including one inside the airport.
Are you happy with your decision to migrate to the Caribbean? Give Doug the last word:
“I always said that I was going to live in the Caribbean when I was 40 years old,” he says. “And I said, you know what, if you never do, you never will. A good friend of mine in Toronto said, ‘you’re coming back.’ But I could go to another island, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I like being here. I really like it “.