Jenny Sharma

Jenny Sharma, owner of the eponymous restaurant on Cipriani Boulevard in Port of Spain, stands in the new bakery of her establishment with new pastry chef Aamil Kureshi, left, and manager Ricardo Bengochea. —Photo: Jermaine Cruickshank

INSTEAD of sinking into despair due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Jenny’s on the Boulevard is working on staying afloat by bringing innovation and creative thinking to the operation.

Located on Cipriani Boulevard, Port of Spain, the business has been in existence for the past 34 years, with an eclectic interior filled with antiques, providing an interesting backdrop to the unusual, but successful, blend of American steakhouse fare and Cantonese cuisine.

The owner, Jennifer Dan Sharma, in an interview with Express Business said while the pandemic has significantly impacted her business, new ideas on how to keep the establishment above water had to be developed.

“We recalibrated our business model to focus on what we believed would work best for us and our clientele, especially with such small resources, by looking at the spending power of consumers. We cut our profit margin on different items. We offered a cheaper express lunch buffet, free delivery and delivery with an extra 10 per cent discount to the public sector and emergency services,” said Sharma.

In addition, she outlined that a new add-on feature at the restaurant has been a home-style bakery, which is operated by an international chef who was brought into the country last year.

“Before Covid, we had the bakery but only desserts were sold to the customers. Now we have extended the line with a variety of breads and pastries, along with offering breakfast for morning meetings to help bring in revenue, especially when in-house dining was restricted.”

Restrictions

Sharma said with the announcement of alcohol restrictions on November 8 by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Jenny’s created a variety of non-alcoholic cocktails, while offering a 30 per cent discount for alcoholic beverages served curbside.

“I was shocked by the move to ban in-house serving of alcoholic drinks, because when customers come out to dine with their family or friends, they would order a glass of wine or cocktails to go with their meals. But our bartenders adapted and made non-alcohol beverages such as virgin martinis, margaritas and piña coladas,” Sharma said.

In terms of the response to the reopening of dining without alcohol, the restaurateur said customers have been trickling in. But she said she did not give a true picture as Divali was last Saturday and many persons were fasting. So a more accurate test of the response would come this week into the weekend.

Also joining in on the interview was her son 27-year-old Johnathan Sharma who is the chief operations officer at the restaurant.

Young Sharma, who holds a BSc in finance and economics from Manhattan College in New York, returned home five years ago after completing his studies, to assist his mother in the day-to-day operations of the business.

He said with all the incentives that have been offered to customers, the restaurant has seen a 55 per cent gross revenue increase and the aim of the game is to stay relevant in these uncertain times.

“As the business owner, you have to be in tune with how citizens are being affected by Covid and then adjust the prices to suit their pockets. When you lower your prices and give discounts this makes your restaurant the viable option, but not forgetting proper customer service.”

With regards to staff, Sharma said they were able to maintain all 55 workers.

“This was achieved by the introduction of multitasking, staff rotation, reducing work days and shortened work hours,” said Sharma.

Jennifer chimed in and said having her son as her business partner is a plus as he has brought innovative ideas that have been beneficial to the business.

Another innovation that the restaurant is introducing is a retractable awning to cater to the clientele with a preference for dining outdoors, due to the pandemic.

Johnathan is in charge of getting that project done, said Jenny, adding that she has also observed an increase in the number of young people visiting the establishment, which she described as “a major plus”.

She also highlighted the issue of the high maintenance cost of the restaurant building, which is listed as an historical site.

Sharma said when an official from the historical unit attached to the Ministry of Works and Transport visited the property two years ago, they said outright the Government had no money to help restore the building.

“I think the Government should intervene because I am doing all in my power to preserve the structure, but every year its becoming more costly and bulldozing and rebuilding is not an option being given to me,” Sharma said.

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