KFC customers placing their orders at High Street San Fernando yesterday.

Prestige Holdings CEO Simon Hardy has defended his company in the face of allegations it benefitted from information it had ahead of yesterday’s restarting of KFC restaurants as food businesses reopened in phase one of Government’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

The complaint was made by KFC’s main competitor Royal Castle, whose management was upset after they could not open all their restaurants in time for the start of business yesterday because they could not get a full supply of chicken from their providers.

In contrast to Royal Castle, KFC was able to reopen the majority of their outlets and drew hundreds of customers who had been starved of it for month after Government closed all food business as part of the COVID-19 lockdown measures.

But Hardy said they were simply well prepared to restart and had made arrangements with their chicken suppliers, Arawak Limited, so once Government gave the go-ahead to reopen they would be ready.

“There is absolutely no truth to the allegation. We found out just like the rest of the country did, just shortly after 2 pm on Saturday,” Hardy said as he rubbished the suggestion yesterday.

“This rumour or allegation, I expect has started because people saw Arawak chicken trucks delivering chicken to our stores on Friday, which is where it started from. And what that is, is we were packing hampers for our staff – 2,700 hampers, that were paid for by the Victor and Sally Mouttet Foundation.

“So I was part of the team packing hampers on Friday with 100 other volunteers and we provided hampers to all our hourly paid staff – you know like powdered milk and rice and pasta and beans and those sorts of stuff. Just to tide people over during this difficult time.”

He said Awards sponsored half the cost of the frozen chicken for the employees and this was delivered to various restaurants on Saturday to be distributed with the hampers.

“That is the fact. Whether a Trini wants to go and believe that or figure that’s a cover story, that’s obviously up to public. I can give you the facts as I have them…From my side of view, categorically, we had no advance notice and there was no preferential treatment whatsoever,” Hardy said, adding KFC will deliver another 513 hampers to monthly paid workers on Thursday.

Prestige Holdings is the parent company of KFC, Subway, TGI Fridays, Starbucks and Pizza Hut.

However, a senior Royal Castle executive expressed grave concerns about their competitor’s apparent edge. The executive, who did not want to be named, said the company prides itself on supplying fresh chicken from the farm but for this to happen, suppliers have to deliver daily.

He said in the current scenario where the announcement was only made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Saturday, they were not in a position to mobilise to be fully ready for yesterday. The executive noted, however, that some other chicken operators were not in the same position.

“I find it funny that an announcement could be made to open fast-food restaurants and there were others who were prepared to open,” he said, noting that as late as midday yesterday, all Royal Castle locations remained closed due to a lack of chicken.

Based on information Guardian Media received, the first delivery to Royal Castle outlets from their supplier, Nutrimix, took place around 2 pm.

“I am very disappointed,” the executive said.

Director at Church’s Chicken Anthony Sabga Aboud also said they considered several scenarios ahead of the Prime Minister’s news conference to ensure they would be ready. He said because of this, they put key suppliers on stand by and brought out staff over the weekend to prepare the stores and warehouse.

“We were able to get chicken in time to open the stores,” Sabga Aboud said.

Guardian Media contacted Nutrimix to find out how much advanced notice is needed to facilitate large orders to a restaurant such as Royal Castle. In a situation like the current one, its vice president Shameer Mohammed said, “We would have received orders from Royal Castle today (Monday) and we met delivery today (Monday).”

He said the order would have had to be placed yesterday because their offices are not open on Saturday.

But Arawak marketing director Robin Phillips said they had workers on standby on Saturday as they anticipated “good news” for the foodservice sector from the PM.

“We were ready from the time we listened to the Prime Minister on Saturday,” Phillips said.

He said they got calls and made arrangements to deliver on Sunday and yesterday.

But the Royal Castle executive said they did not give their suppliers prior notice because “we did not know what he (the Prime Minister) was going to announce.”

He accused KFC of having information which enabled them to mobilise faster. Notwithstanding the chicken issues, he said everything else was in place to welcome customers. He said during the closure the company put things in place to ensure physical distancing, proper hygiene and sanitation measures would be in place for the reopening.