Shaking up the tree

Recognising a gap in the market for cafes offering healthy cuisine two sisters from New Zealand opened The Lime Tree Café, which has witnessed a succession of expansion moves since its inception

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By  Lynne Nolan Published  September 1, 2006

|~|lime-tree-body-2.jpg|~|The Lime Tree Café on Jumeirah Beach Road in Dubai is centred on its counter display, rather than a menu style format. |~|Opening its doors in 2001, The Lime Tree Café on Jumeirah Beach Road is the brainchild of New Zealand sisters, Jacqueline and Corinne Bowker. Wanting to offer the market something different, the outlet is centred on its counter display, rather than a menu style format. “I was quite concerned the concept would fail as people in Dubai generally don’t like queuing. However, rather than ordering from a menu, customers choose their food from the counter so it gives them more flexibility and choice,” comments Jacqueline Bowker, managing partner, The Lime Tree Café. Setting out with professionals as their target clientele, the sisters were surprised when the cafe attracted high numbers of families, with customers coming from as far away as Abu Dhabi. As such, a second Lime Tree Café opened in December last year at Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall. With increased competition, the company is also rolling out a series of ambitious plans. This month sees the launch of the company’s corporate and event catering division, and a retail line will be unveiled in October followed by a website in November. But despite increasing its business, Corinne and Jacqueline still want to maintain the same standards as when they first started. “The fact that we produce our own food means we can control the product and ensure there are no chemicals or preservatives going in to the food,” reveals Corinne Bowker, managing partner, The Lime Tree Café. But having products readily available and to a high standard has proved a tough task. Located on opposite sides of the city, the two outlets are served by the main kitchen at Jumeirah Beach Road, with refrigerated trucks transporting dishes to the Ibn Battuta outlet three times a day. “We have a catering manager and a restaurant manager who travel between the two outlets. The head chef also checks all the dishes before the food leaves the kitchen at the Jumeirah Beach Road outlet,” Corinne explains. With a constantly evolving approach to the business, likewise so is the menu selection. Aimed at increasing repeat custom the cafe boasts an eight-day rotating menu, and new products are a priority with the latest offerings including cheese quiche, spinach and bacon cheesecake, mushroom cheesecake and ‘the bloke’s wrap.’ But it has not all been plain sailing; the siblings have faced a number of challenges, such as complying with municipality regulations, rent increases, and labour costs. However, they say cutting food costs is not a consideration for them. “We try to choose products of the highest quality, even if it means a higher food cost. We also do quality checks, so if we don’t think the food is good enough we change it, as well as constantly monitoring the produce from our suppliers,” says Corinne. ||**|||~|limetree-body-1.jpg|~|“The fact that we produce our own food means we can control the product and ensure there are no chemicals or preservatives going into the food,” reveals Corinne Bowker, managing partner, The Lime Tree Café.|~|Sourcing food has been an obstacle, and when the cafe first opened suppliers had most items but the quality was dubious. But although finding some food items like quality sliced meats is a continuous battle, the pair agrees there are now more organic and free-range products entering the market. Corinne and Jacqueline are also researching Fair Trade and organic products, yet they say it is a huge supplier and cost challenge, and admit it is dependent on whether customers are prepared to pay the price. “We eat here ourselves so we try to be conscious of what’s going into the food, like minimising the quantity of oil being used and offering organic produce,” Jacqueline comments. As well as ensuring the food is of the highest quality, recruiting the right team members was vital for Corinne and Jacqueline.Recruited through advertisements in Australia, New Zealand and the UAE, staff members come from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, and have all undergone a number of internal training programs. “We have rigorous hygiene training for the staff as well as modules in customer service, barista and food; including how to put food down properly, to what people might ask for. Service is really important to us, so we continuously monitor the staff,” Corinne says adamantly. Hikes in rent and the cost of resident visas for employees has affected the business. But the company’s annual turnover is increasing year on year. “We probably don’t have a profit margin as high as other places, but this was an interest for us and something we were passionate about doing,” says Jacqueline. “We are very much a breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea provider, so I don’t agree with cutting costs too much,” Jacqueline adds. But with cafes constantly opening across the region, the pair is aware of the rivalry ahead and say they expect business to reach a plateau. “As far as expansion is concerned things are really moving. We take notice of feedback and the market; but that’s the charm of staying small,” adds Jacqueline. ||**||

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