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.
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