The chances are you’ve almost certainly put money into his pocket. The chances are you’ve also never heard of him.
Yet Diljit Brar is one of the county’s most remarkable rags-to-riches success stories.
If you’ve bought a coffee in a branch of Costa in the county, it’s a fair bet it is, in fact, operated by his company. If you’ve dined out at Kaspa’s Desserts, well, he co-owns the fast-growing chain.
And that’s something of the tip of his business empire’s iceberg.
Because his Goldex company, based in Southfleet, near Gravesend, includes a property business which boasts a portfolio in excess of £20million, is about to launch a string of gyms in the county and even runs a holiday rental business.
During the course of our conversation he drops the name of a (very) famous business figure he and his family have just spent time with in Marrakech – but forbids me from writing about it for fear it makes him look like he’s boasting. “The last thing we do is show off,” he explains.
Likewise, ask when he made his first million and he’s rather coy – he was in his mid-30s but doesn’t want me to make a big thing of it. He doesn’t even like the idea of his age being published (but I’ll break his confidence on that one and say he’s 58, otherwise the interview teeters on being farcical).
You are most likely to have heard of him and his firm for spearheading the expansion of the Costa chain across Kent and, for that matter, the South East.
From Sevenoaks to Sandwich, Meopham to Margate and Headcorn to Hythe, he is the franchise holder for the coffee giant of 50 stores in the region.
Costa has been on something of a rollercoaster ride over recent years. Initially seen as a threat to independent traders and its arrival sounding the death knell for town centre individualism, as high streets realised they needed to pull people in as big retail brands headed to the nearest out-of-town development or simply out of business, then suddenly it was a key cog in town centre revivals.
But it’s been a sometimes challenging ride. And the father-of-four takes criticism of the brand’s success personally.
“I’m a local businessman,” he explains. “And if I just opened a coffee shop under my name, no one would say anything, but the fact we’re linked up to Costa, and Costa is the biggest coffee chain in the country, we do get a lot of flack.
“You speak to retailers and they’re so happy Costa is coming in. We are just a coffee shop but we pull in so many people into a town.”
So what does the franchise model mean for the uninitiated?
“Basically, it’s their name over the door, but we’re running it and they take a percentage of the royalties,” he explains.
It’s a tried and tested model which helped catapult the likes of McDonald’s to global dominance.
“We sell exactly what they sell. We learn the techniques of making the coffee and all of their rules and regulations about hygiene and staff training. They provide you with practically everything, including a design manual, the lot, to open a Costa store.
“Whether it’s a Costa, a KFC or a McDonald’s, all these great brands are franchise led – McDonald’s is now 99% franchised. KFC is 95%. Domino’s, Pizza Hut, are all pretty much 100% franchised models.
“They do all of the distribution and the marketing, you sell the product and they take a cut.
“Within Costa there are 35 franchisees and almost 3,000 stores. If you think of the size of the business, one body itself would have a real mission to try and run 3,000 stores. Can you imagine the infrastructure, the size of the team you’d need to control it all?
“If you franchise out, then franchisees do all of the headache work. And they have to handle just 35 people rather than 30,000.”
It’s not for the faint of heart however. The property has to be acquired – either bought or rented – by the franchisee, who will pursue all the relevant planning permissions to open. And they have to pay a one-off ‘opening fee’ to Costa to trade under their name.
For the customer, every Costa coffee in whatever branch will taste pretty much the same, as will the menu.
Not all Costa branches are franchised, however. Some remain what is known as ‘equity’ outlets – such as, for example, the one in Whitstable. These are owned and operated directly by Costa’s owner – the soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, which bought the brand from Whitbread in 2018 for a cool £3.9billion. But you’d be hard pushed to differentiate them from a franchise-run operation.
Having become something of an expert as a franchisee, Goldex is now proving an adept franchisor with the growing Kaspa’s Desserts brand. It already has outlets in Ashford, Broadstairs, Canterbury, Dover and Sittingbourne. More are coming soon in Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Gillingham.
His Goldex Gym business is just about to open its first outlet in Gillingham with another in the east of the county set to follow.
Workspace by Goldex is looking to open the first flexible office space building in Margate later this year, while if you want to holiday in Thanet then Goldex Coastal Breaks allows you to do just that.
Diljit Brar has, it’s fair to say, plenty of fingers in lots of pies and now sits at the top of an ever-growing empire. But it wasn’t always the way.
Having moved to Kent from west London when he was just five, his father worked at the Imperial Paper Mill in Gravesend and his mother at the Bata shoe factory.
“We lived in a council property when we were younger,” he explains. “And there tough times when we were kids, back in the late 1960s and early 70s. There was a lot of racism.
“I had minimal education and left school at 16. I didn’t go to college as I couldn’t afford to.
“So I went to work in east London as a market trader and within a year I was pretty much self-employed. But I always had ambition.
“I always had the work ethic. And I used to work seven days a week back then – 16- to 18-hour days, every day.
“It was never like I had to do it, I wanted to do it and I enjoyed it.”
His turning point was when he got a unit at the Lakeside Shopping Centre as a newsagent. He quickly expanded it to three stores – two in the centre and one in Bromley.
Then, never afraid of a challenge he opened the Post Office in Lakeside.
“I was the highest paid postmaster in the UK at the time from 2000 to 2003,” he explains. “But I absolutely hated Post Office work. It was awful.
“Then I sold those businesses in 2003 and went into property. I’d always been into property since the mid 1980s, but that allowed me to get into much more heavy-duty bigger properties and just rolled on from there.
“I started working with Costa in 2005 as I missed retail.”
And that first million? A property deal in his mid-30s.
So how did he cope with his new found wealth?
“It’s important to keep your feet on the ground and don’t get carried out with the financial side of it,” he explains.
“We do a lot of work in the community and that keeps us grounded. We see and meet people and you see life as it really is rather than get carried away living life in an ivory tower, for want of a better expression.”
Did the success it always craves deliver on what he always dreamt it would?
“It never seems enough,” he says. “It’s ambition which drives you. Everyone I speak to in similar circumstances has that hunger and desire to build that empire.
“You never really stop until you get fed up. While you enjoy what you do you keep on doing in. And the longer you go, the better you get at it.
“But yes, as you build success, it brings you everything you could possibly imagine and dream and 10 times more.”
He may be a name unfamiliar to many, but his Goldex company employs some 600 staff across its various ventures, with an additional 10 staff running its Southfleet headquarters.
And the chances are his success is set to grow.
“We just want to be the best at what we do – be the best food and beverage and leisure as we can be.
“I’ve surpassed anything I hoped I’d achieved.”
Photo Courtesy: KentOnline