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A Recipe For Success

Natasha Sideris abandoned the fast food world to create a chic, fresh and scrumptious goldmine.




If you are a foodie and live in South Africa, you know the name Tashas. Regardless of which Tashas you visit it’s always busy and people don’t  mind waiting, I certainly don’t  as long as there’s a glass of Turkish Delight or Goats do Roam Red to keep me company.

After years of surprise birthday parties, dates, family get-togethers and business meetings at Tashas, an interview with the woman that started it all was long overdue.

Natasha Sideris is one busy woman and passionate about what she has built. Dedicated to maintaining standards, the interview was peppered with Sideris getting up to seat customers, hand them menus and tell the odd waiter to tuck in their shirt.

Given her jovial mood it was hard to believe it when Sideris described the day before as one of the worst she’s ever had. Her advice is to wake up the next day and get back to work.

Sideris’ journey into the food business began more than two decades ago. She worked part-time at her dad’s Fishmonger restaurant, while studying psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand. You could say this is where it all began.

Sideris spent years working in the fast food industry, but it wasn’t for her. She worked at Nino’s, an Italian-style restaurant franchise, helping the company open 12 new restaurants.  In 2001, the 24-year-old bought her own branch with help from the bank and her family.

In 2005, Sideris realized that all the market had to offer were themed restaurants and big chains; this is where she saw the gap.

“It was because of my experience at Nino’s that I realized there was such a gap in the South African market for this style of restaurant.”

There was a place for something niche and Sideris planned on being the first one to fill it.

The vision was clear, “authentic, old school, with good fresh food”. Sideris just needed the money to kick it off. Financing the first Tashas in Sandton in 2005 wasn’t easy. She found herself in front of a loan shark, leaving with less than she needed but more in debt than she was ready for. One can only guess what would have happened had the eatery not been a hit. Sideris didn’t draw a salary for almost two-and-a-half years.

Drawing on the success of the business, Sideris turned the Nino’s in Bedfordview, east of Johannesburg, into another Tashas. This meant another trip to a loan shark. Banks weren’t paying her much attention since all she had was an asset in debt.

“It was long, hard work but I knew I was onto something good and I persevered,” she says.

When Sideris went into business with Famous Brands, a food services company that stables some of South Africa’s best known fast food franchises, it seemed an unlikely relationship, but not to her.

“I was very, very cautious in the beginning when I did the deal with them [Famous Brands].”

What would happen to the niche, unique café style restaurants she had created if she got into bed with a mass producer, the fast food business she ran from? Looking at how it has all turned out, both parties have come out ahead.

Famous Brands may own 51% of the business but Sideris still maintains creative control. She gained valuable skills and Famous Brands in return has a unique product for its stable.

Famous Brands, as of its last annual report, has 2,378 franchised restaurants. The report also states that the group’s ‘premium offering’, Tashas, delivered 20% like-on-like growth for the period.

The franchise fee for Tashas is broken up into three segments: an initial $18,600 (R223,000) payment, 6% of the monthly turnover and an advertising fee of 2%. The company puts set-up costs at around $500,000 (R6 million), with $12,500 (R150,000)–$16,700 (R200,000) working capital required.

The trick is to have owner-operated franchises. Each possible franchisee needs to have a minimum amount of experience in the restaurant business, go through pre-screening, interviews and three months of training.

The variants in deco and menu choices give each branch a sense of individuality, allowing the customers to have a different experience in each store. The distinct décor and signature menus are determined by the area and customer base, from the Dutch look and feel in Pretoria to the Parisian-style Le Parc in Hyde Park.

The plan is to have no more than 15 stores in South Africa – there are currently 12 – in order to maintain control and not saturate the market. Sideris is looking for slow and steady growth.

“Everyone [the team] wants to do better, everyone thinks it can be better and everyone pushes.”

Right now the plans include a line of cookbooks, an online retail store with Tashas products and international expansion. Released in November, the first cookbook has made it to the top ten list at Exclusive Books. The secret is out, but Sideris says it’s not about holding onto the recipes because Tashas is more than just the food.

Sideris had some help in the form of her brother Savva. Sideris calls him her rock, a doer and true restaurateur, a dying breed in South Africa according her.

“We are not chefs, we are restaurateurs.”

Savva has been there since 2007 and set up the new operation in Dubai.

It is the success of the Tashas brand that led to Dubai. It was an intense three-year process that led to the opening of the maiden international restaurant in Jumeirah’s The Galleria Mall. The franchise was drawn to the country by its similarity to the South African landscape back in 2005 – Sideris wanted to take advantage of another gap further from home. The best South African staff

Keeping with the strategy of slow and steady growth, Saderis wants to open three or four restaurants in Dubai and explore places like Doha, Kuwait and Oman.

“We’re not going anywhere until we’ve got it absolutely right in South Africa and Dubai.”

Sideris was surprised by how well things took off in Dubai, admitting that although she was nervous she had no expectations.

Jeremy Sampson, the founder of brand consultancy firm Interbrand Sampson de Villiers, calls Tashas a fantastic success story. He says people tend to forget that a brand is about experience and that the challenge lies with making sure all the touch points are aligned.

How well will Tashas do beyond South Africa’s shores? Sampson says one of its strengths is its ability to tweak its offering and cater to the local culture; this he adds is not unlike the strategy global fast food giant McDonalds uses.

According to Sideris, “Hard work equals good luck”. You can argue she’s got plenty of both.


IN PICTURES | Truck Entrepreneur Drives Style Movement




Collaborations are key for the development of Africa’s sports economy

On a busy road in Soweto, in the southwest of Johannesburg, taxis go about their daily drill, stopping to pick up passengers outside the apartment-tenements of Chiawelo. Here, a truck of a different kind is stationed next to an old container and a car wash.

It’s owned by Siyabulela Ndzonga, a small entrepreneur dabbling in fashion, who has turned it into a concept store, on wheels.

Ndzonga,who brands himself Siya Fonds (S/F) – after a nickname his mother gave him as a baby, has been associated with the South African Fashion Week and with reputed designers such as Ole Ledimo, the founder of House of Olé, and stylist and fashion guru Felipe Mazibuko.

I didn’t even study fashion but it’s interesting how I’m actually making an impact and contributing a lot in the fashion industry, says Ndzonga. 

It was around 2011, when he sold second-hand clothes on the trendy streets of Braamfontein in Johannesburg, where only the cool kids would hang out.

“I was big on thrifting; selling second-hand clothes. I would thrift, resell,thrift, resell.”

His hard work earned him a stall at one of the flea markets in Johannesburg. At this point, Ndzonga was still employed at a retail store. After work and on weekends, he would be hustling on Johannesburg’s streets, all for the love of fashion and because people loved his work.

Ndzonga saw a business opportunity, quit his retail job and registered his brand in 2013. Later that year, Toe Porn socks contacted him and requested he consult for them.

“Brand consulting means that I come in and take their clothes and use them to translate the current fashion trends, translate them to how I think [people]should be dressing in terms of fashion. I actually became a designer because I set trends before they would trend. I would set the tone, narrative and navigate where fashion should go in the whole world, not just in South Africa,” he says.

His fame slowly grew and he started making clothes for others, traveling by taxi to CMT (cut, make and trim) factories in Germiston, 42kms from his hometown. 

“In 2015, that’s when I really saw that I am growing as a brand and that’s when I started consulting for international brands like Palladium Shoes, Fila and Ben Sherman.”

The business grew but he had to travel to others parts of country and that exercise was taxing.

He stopped making clothes and paused his business.

“The whole of 2016, I focused on consulting and saved money to set up a truck. I needed a store so people could come in and purchase Siya Fonds from the truck. This whole thing of delivering is not me, I can’t do it,” says Ndzonga.

“I initially wanted a container, but the truck was a better, fresher alternative. I’m not the first to do it, but I’m the first in Soweto. I set it up and people love it because it’s bringing popular culture to Soweto. I had to trust myself that’s it’s going to work and it did.”

The truck had been lying unused when Ndzonga purchased it, and he overhauled it with a lick of paint and an infusion of color and character.

I got another truck to pick it up and bring it to the current location in 2016.

In March 2017, the truck was launched as a concept store and he called it Block 88, as it encompasses other brands as well.

“Business was not so great after the launch. It only picked up after a few months of selling a few international brands that I consult for. We had seven brands in the store.”

He sells t-shirts, caps, jackets and jumpsuits. A two-piece suit sells for R1,400 ($97).

The next step for Ndzonga is to have stores in all the neighborhoods in Soweto and major South African cities.

Since the inception of his truck, he has also injected some vibrancy into the community.

He organizes art development programs and conversations around social issues on Fridays outside the truck, gathering youth and children.

“Conversation Fridays is like TED-talks. It’s bringing conversations to the township instead of having them in the city or suburbs and speak about what creatives are facing in the creative space and industry,” he says.

Now, he works as a consultant with a consumer agency and collaborates on a number of brands, also doing research for them. As the hustle and bustle quietens down at sunset in Soweto, Ndzonga’s trendy truck shuts shop. Tomorrow will be another day as a beacon of hope and vibrancy on a Soweto street.

Siyabulela Ndzonga of Siya Fonds. Picture: 
Motlabana Monnakgotla

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