Known in lunchtime circles as ‘The Roti Man’, Francis Lawrence has filled a niche for many searching for the perfect midday meal. For seven years he has managed from home a business that delivers scores of rotis to schools and businesses too numerous to mention. With concentration on maintaining just the right formula and standard, Francis’ rotis are taking the city circuit by storm.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS
Francis: I run a catering service that specializes in different kinds of rotis. What makes it different is the wide variety of rotis on offer. We make beef, chicken, snout, herring, turkey, lamb, vegetables, fish, shrimp, and more. Anything our customers want in their roti, they can get it.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO SET UP THIS BUSINESS?
Francis: At the rate of how things are going in this country, there are no jobs. Nobody is offering work, and you can’t wait around for someone to give you something to do. Even when you work for people, sometimes they want to pay you peanuts. I decided no, I’ll do my own thing. We make amazing rotis so I decided to put them on the market.
HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT TO START THE BUSINESS?
Francis: You’ve got to have patience, that’s for sure. You will get criticism when you start, and it’s not going to go fast. What I’ve learned is this: just let people get to know you as you go along, and don’t give up. Continue to do what you do, and maintain the standard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. We’re not trying to put out a big amount of rotis, we work with manageable numbers. We have our formula for our rotis, seasonings – we stick to that and maintain it.
HOW MANY ROTIS DO YOU MAKE IN ONE DAY?
Francis: Sometimes 150, sometimes more. It depends on how many orders we receive. We have various customers in the schools and different business places. People call us to make their orders, and we deliver. We’ve done work with some of the bigger businesses here, and they loved it. We’ve also worked with some of the major carnival bands here, which meant that around carnival time we put out 600-700 rotis in two days. We also do catering for different occasions, including funerals. We always include complimentary juice with our orders.
HOW MUCH DO YOUR ROTIS GO FOR?
Francis: We started selling our rotis for $10. Then people started saying, not everybody would have $10 for the day. So we cut it down smaller, and started selling it for $6, and still gave a free drink.
DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY ON THE ROAD.
Francis: We peel the potatoes at night and get everything ready. Preparing the rotis starts at 4 a.m. I leave home at about 10.30 a.m. and by that time I’m already getting calls like crazy. Before I even start delivering, we have to go through the process of packaging. People call, and I deliver. I stop and people buy at random as well. Our rotis are always really hot when we deliver them, you’d swear we had a cooker in the car! We carry them in a new cooler, and package it very carefully.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?
Francis: Some people can be very discouraging but you really don’t pay them any attention. Persevere, and go about doing what you do. If you have to worry about people you will stay behind. I also encounter a lot of people when I’m going around who just want things for free. I have to tell them, you have to work for the things that you want. Sometimes I give but, at the end of the day, it’s a business. I look at them and I tell them this is work. I’m working right now. I’m not running a charity. We have to get up and do this thing every day, and I can’t go out there and give it away. Even with the price cut, people still ask for things for free but, so far, we still have a lot of clients.
DO YOU PLAN ON EXPANDING?
Francis: If you’re happy with what you’re doing, you can expand, but then you have to start looking at overheads. You have to find a place, and get people to come in, and sometimes you can’t get people to do what you want. Sometimes your standard goes down by asking people to come in to work with you. They don’t always get it right. It’s not an easy thing. We’re trying to be careful, and maintain what we do.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE THIS?
Francis: Right now I’m retired. When I was younger I worked with McNamara for 21 years, as a solicitor’s clerk. I also worked in the field of customs brokerage with Harris Paints for 10 years.
WHY DID YOU MOVE INTO A NEW FIELD?
Francis: You end up doing things like this because there are no jobs around. It’s hard to find a good job with a fair salary. What many people are paid now in this country is to pay their bills, and they are unable to save anything. The cost of living is expensive here. Sometimes you have to go to the supermarket every day, and every day the prices are different. Nothing is stabilized here. At the end of the day, I’m trying to stay afloat like everybody else.
HOW EASY IS IT TO DO BUSINESS IN SAINT LUCIA?
Francis: If you are going into business, anything you’re going to do, make sure you do it right. If you do it right, you’re going to get around, and people will see that. You can’t come in any arrogant way – come straight from the heart. Once you’re dealing straight from the heart, things will happen the way that they should. That’s how it is, and I am dealing straight from the heart.
Hungry? Contact 487-3955 to make your order today!