Benny & Co: A strong, close-knit family
Jean, Yves and Elisabeth Benny’s Story
The eight Benny brothers started raising chickens in the 1950s when the eldest had to reinvent his line of business after the loss of his tobacco crop. “One of his friends that had a chicken coop was getting rid of his roosters, since they had a reputation for eating a lot and not gaining weight,” explains Yves Benny, vice-president of market development at Benny & Co. “So my uncle transformed his tobacco dryers into chicken coops to house the abandoned roosters.”
When the elder brother succeeded in profitably selling his chickens to the slaughterhouse, his seven brothers followed in his footsteps. In the space of a few years, the Bennys established themselves as major poultry farmers in Lanaudière. They then moved from farming to the construction of a grain mill so they could control the feed they were giving their chicks. Next they constructed their own hatchery and slaughterhouse in order to process their chickens and deliver them fresh to markets themselves.
It was Yves Benny’s father, a machine operator by trade and the youngest of the eight brothers, who got the idea to create an oven that could slowly roast their chickens without burning them. “After doing a few tests with the whole family, the three-hour process was unanimously approved,” affirms Yves Benny. Their first rotisserie saw the light of day in Joliette in 1960. A few years later, the brothers ended up dropping poultry production to devote themselves to the restaurant business, opening more rotisseries across Quebec.
“The second generation, which included Yves and myself as well as our cousins, didn’t waste a lot of time getting into the family business, given that we often lived on the floor above our restaurants,” explains Jean Benny, the CEO of Benny & Co. “As soon as we were big enough to use the stairs, we were big enough to help out in the restaurant!”
A unifying brand
Their first restaurants were founded with good intentions, but without an actual structure. Basically, the brothers bought the restaurants together, then shared their recipes amongst them. While they all used one logo, each brother would slightly vary “the sauce” when it came to the name, thus the chain did business under Benny, Ti-Coq, Au Coq, Coq Rapid, Coq Roti and Shawinigan B.B.Q. The brothers were operating around a dozen rotisseries when they gradually started handing over the reins to the second generation in the 1970s and 80s.
In 2006, Jean Benny and his brothers Yves and Vincent created the Benny & Co. brand. “We felt we needed to unify the family to take advantage of our greater purchasing power and better marketing power,” emphasizes Jean Benny. Furthermore, “a global brand also enabled us to offer all the services and advantages of a franchisor, such as an engineering department to facilitate the opening of new restaurants, as well as financial management,” mentions Yves Benny.
Over time and with the multiplication of restaurants, the branding also allowed them to standardize their recipes and processes and to ensure the transmission of their family’s values. The first five brand changes were made before 2010. The rest of the cousins followed suit with their own establishments from 2011 to 2014. “New restaurants opened afterward were under the Benny & Co. brand,” explains Elisabeth Benny, vice-president of marketing and public relations for the chain as well as the daughter of Jean Benny and a member of the third generation at the company.
As of 2020, Benny & Co. had 64 restaurants. Under the management of members of the second and third generations of the Benny family, the chain’s revenues have increased by 670 percent from 2009 to 2019.
A new generation deals with adversity
For around a decade, the second generation of Bennys have been following their elders’ example and making more room for their descendants. “They also grew up in the kitchen, and many came on board after finishing school,” explains Jean Benny.
The sheer number of family members that make up the third generation would be the envy of any family business: these 24 successors occupy a variety of positions based on their experience and field of interest. “We even have a young member of the fourth generation who just started working at one of our restaurants,” mentions Yves Benny. The trust accorded to the up-and-coming generation paid off at the start of the pandemic. “Even though we’re still running the business, they really proved their extraordinary leadership skills,” states Jean Benny.
All of the company’s services needed to review their operations. “We established a COVID-19 committee, which became the executive committee,” explains Elisabeth Benny. “We quickly changed our messaging to redirect customers to our drive-through and delivery services, and adapted our operations based on government announcements, which changed practically every day.” Amongst the numerous measures undertaken was the addition of a delivery service to restaurants that did not yet offer one, as well as an increase in the geographical range covered by other establishments that were already offering delivery.
Before the pandemic, the company had 1,800 employees. “While our employees were temporarily suspended at the start of the crisis, we had quickly called most of them back before the increase in demand,” adds the vice-president of marketing and public relations. In fact, the chain’s popularity necessitated the hiring and training of new delivery people.
The opening of five new restaurants also contributed to the creation of jobs during this period. “The chain was already in a good position, but the next generation, who quickly made some good choices and continued the implementation of our growth plan, despite construction delays, they made all the difference,” emphasizes Jean Benny.
It should be said that the chain’s delivery service and online ordering were already among its strengths. “The online service became an important channel, which saw major growth compared to the same time last year,” adds Elisabeth Benny.
Sales through the delivery service represented 35 percent of their revenue in 2020, compared to 27 percent during the same period of the previous year. And the proportion of sales made by the delivery service also grew, increasing from 23 percent of revenues in 2019 to 35 percent in 2020. This trend will probably continue, according to Elisabeth.
A greener future for the red rooster
The supply chain also became more complex during the crisis. While all the chicken for Benny & Co. comes from Quebec, that wasn’t the case for the vegetables. The team of third-generation Bennys had already started negotiating with suppliers in February, and the pandemic only accelerated the process. The chain now gets its supply of Boston lettuce from Hydroserre. “The tomatoes and cucumbers also come from Quebec, and the peppers should soon follow,” emphasizes Elizabeth. As for the cabbage, which plays a big role in the chain’s menu, it’s already comes from La Belle Province.
“Today, 80 percent of our foods come from Quebec, and 10 percent from Canada, for a total of 90 percent,” states Yves Benny proudly.
What’s more, Benny & Co. has become a partner of AecopaQ, which specializes in the design and production of biodegradable packaging. At the start of 2021, this Joliette company supplied the rotisserie chain with its first wood-fibre containers created specially for them.
“We’re also revising the interior and exterior design of our three new restaurants in Montreal, which will later be used elsewhere in Quebec and Ontario,” says Elisabeth. “In these three establishments, the ordering stations will be replaced with a solution enabling orders to be submitted by cellphone directly from the table, but which will not be replacing the human contact provided by the person serving the table.” Smart digital menus may also be tested out.
In 2021, Benny & Co. plans to invest $16 million, in particular to open between seven and ten new restaurants, which should create around 200 jobs.
Benny & Co. in Numbers
64: Total number of Benny & Co. outlets as of November 2020
200%: Increase in online orders since the start of the pandemic until December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019
$16M: Amount to be invested to open new restaurants in 2021
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Visit the Benny & Co. website
Main photo (from left to right): Yves Benny, Jean Benny and Vincent Benny.
Second photo (from left to right): Marc-Antoine Benny, Jérôme Benny, Elisabeth Benny and Jean-Christophe Benny.