Natasha Sideris is in high spirits. It’sday five of her new job – managing executive at Famous Brands – and she stillcan’t believe she’s here. The exuberant 33-year-old is the brains behind one ofJohannesburg’s hippest daytime eateries, Tasha’s.
Currently consisting of two restaurants,one in Atholl Square, Sandton, and the other in Village View Shopping
Centre, Bedfordview, foodies will be pleased to know that Tasha’s will beopening in Melrose Arch, Morningside and Pretoria early next year, with furtherexpansion set to take place in the course of 2009.
What makes Tasha’s different in the crowdedrestaurant sector is that it offers upmarket, casual daytime eating in a finesetting. That’s what caught the attention of Kevin Hedderwick, COO of FamousBrands. A regular at the Bedfordview store, he watched Natasha and her equallyhardworking brother Savva (28) in action. “I was fascinated by the energy ofthis young brother-and-sister team, so I asked them what their hopes and dreamswere. Natasha said she would like to turn the concept into a franchise. I wasdrawn by their passion and vigour, so I suggested we do it together.” In July this year, Famous Brands acquired a51% controlling stake in the business which has subsequently been convertedinto a franchise. Famous Brands is the largest quick service and casual diningfranchisor in
Africa and has over 1 500 franchise restaurants across a brand portfolio thatincludes Steers, Wimpy and Debonairs Pizza. “It was not a case of ‘I like it so let’sbuy it’,” says Hedderwick. “We are a commercial company and the purchase wasvery much part of a deliberate strategy to take us into the premium end of thecasual dining market where we have no representation at all. Added to this isthe fact that Tasha’s competes in a space of its own.”
With Famous Brands’ muscle behind it,Tasha’s is set for the big time. For a youthful, new business, the transactionbrings access to a finely-tuned infrastructure. Included in that is brandstewardship; the provision of a full turnkey service to the Tasha’s brand andits future franchise partners (including the drawing of plans, appointing ofcontractors and project management of all new restaurant openings, revamps andrelocations); manufacturing services; logistics expertise; development andprocurement expertise; and access to all “back of house” functions.While many of the franchise systems in theFamous Brands stable have around 300 restaurants nationwide, the plan forTasha’s is different. No more than 20 to 30 stores in premium locations areplanned for the next four years. Hedderwick says the company has no desire tocommoditise the brand. Where Famous Brands would normally find a concept, buyit from the creator and wave goodbye, the objective here is to grow thebusiness with the two young entrepreneurs and give them the systems to matchtheir drive.
“Without the capital and the businesssystems we provide it would take Natasha and Savva years to accomplish theirdreams for Tasha’s,” says Hedderwick. “At the same time, the quality and stylethat defines Tasha’s is dependent on their commitment to the ongoingdevelopment of the brand. There is perfect synergy between what they bring andwhat we have to offer. That is why we did not buy the business outright, butchose instead to partner.” Natasha and Savva concur. “Almost overnightwe have gone from yelling at waitresses to being a fully-fledged businesssystem,” says Savva. “We are excited about attending our first strategy meetingand budget planning session. Budgeting is something we simply had no time to dowhile we were running the restaurants.”An SABMiller veteran, Hedderwick points toa lesson that can be learnt from the beer giant. The public knows SABMillerlargely for its Castle Lager and Carling Black Label beer, but future growth in the beer business will come from brands likePeroni. Having identified this trend, SABMiller is actively investing inpremium beers.“It’s similar thinking that motivated ourinvestment in Tasha’s. Whether the economy is up or down, there are people whohave money to spend and lots of it. We see great scope for growth in upmarketdaytime dining.”
South Africa has many mainstream consumerswho want a bit of luxury but are often intimidated by upmarket environments.Tasha’s, says Hedderwick, manages to be exclusive without excluding, thanks toNatasha’s emphasis on creating a warm environment. He cites an interesting development withWimpy. “The brand became universally known for its frothy coffee, but with theglobal evolution of the café society, there were customers who wanted somethingmore exclusive. To maintain their loyalty, Wimpy upped its coffee offering withthe introduction of premium blend coffees which have proved to be a hit. In thesame way, Tasha’s makes it possible for people to have a more exclusive eatingexperience without having to go to hugely expensive restaurants.” Natasha, who comes from a restauranteurfamily, has been in the food industry for 14 years. “My dad opened Fishmonger’sin Rivonia while I was at varsity and I helped him with the launch,” sherecalls. “From that first night, I knew that this was the industry I wanted to be in. It’s a hard business, butit was in my veins.”
She continued to help her father run therestaurant throughout her studies. On completing her degree in sociology andpsychology, which she says has come in handy on more than a few occasions, shejoined the Fishmonger head office group as operations manager.
From there, she opened her own fast-foodfranchise with the help of a financial backer. She describes that business as a“nightmare”. “Customer interaction is what really drives me,” Natasha says.“Being stuck behind a counter and having little opportunity to talk to peoplewas not at all enjoyable for me. It was, however, an excellent learningexperience.”
The willingness to experience as much aspossible is what has propelled her ahead of any potential competitors. Riddingherself of the fast-food store, she joined Nino’s and was instrumental inopening many of its Italian-style coffee shops. She then bought and ran her ownNino’s store for five years in Village View Shopping Centre.
It was during this time that she came torealise there was a massive gap in the local market for daytime eating. “Thereare loads of coffee shops where you can have cappuccinos, croissants andsandwiches, but I wanted to create a beautiful environment in which peoplecould have great, restaurant quality food,” she says. “It was during my thirdyear of owning the Nino’s franchise that the Atholl Square property developerscalled and offered me the opportunity to open a store there.” And that’s where Savva came in. An interiordesigner who had designed several Nino’s stores, he had also worked alongsideNatasha in Bedfordview, and had subsequently bought a Baron’s restaurant with hisfather, just down the road. Savva played an integral role in taking theTasha’s concept to fruition. The brother and sister team agreed that theywanted a brand that would be consistent, with a solid foundation. At the sametime, their aim was to develop something that would never be static, butconstantly evolving.
Natasha went to an interior designconsultancy and outlined the idea. “I asked them to give me something thatwould feel like our space; something that would not age or tire. We wanted amodern feel, but not so modern that it would have to be changed every year. Theidea was to create a vibe that was fresh and organic, with a feeling ofheritage underlying it.” The design team delivered, and the resultis a concept that allows food to be showcased. The Atholl Square store waslaunched in 2005, with the second opening a year ago. While the two existingstores are unique, they have in common a creamy colour palette that is warm andstylish. The atmosphere succeeds in being elegantly serene even though, asregulars will tell you, things can get quite chaotic at lunchtimes and onSaturday mornings when the queues stream out the door. One customer reportedlytold Natasha that being at the Atholl Square store was like floating in acappuccino.
Natasha says the plan is to ensure thateach new Tasha’s has a unique flavour to maintain the boutique feel that is somuch a part of the brand. Maintaining consistency and quality is key,and is not always easy to do in the transition from restaurant to franchise.Natasha is adamant, however, that nothing will change. “Tasha’s is aboutquality meals made on order. We do not pre-prepare our food, nor will we set upa central kitchen. Everything will continue to be made onsite by people wholove food.”
Ask Natasha how she originally financedTasha’s and her eyes widen. “With great difficulty,” she replies. Glibnessaside, she not only found a silent partner, but also ended up borrowing a lotof money from the banks. “One of the reasons why it’s so important to beabsolutely passionate about what you are doing is that you are in major debt inthe beginning.” However, she cautions, it’s vital to have agood knowledge of finance before you embark on any business venture. Like manyentrepreneurs, Natasha and Savva did not always have an easy time of it in thebeginning. “We were very good restaurateurs, but not great business people,”says Natasha. “It’s really important to hone your financial skills when youdecide to open your own business.
We had to deal with unexpected costs, likethe additional R50 000 that was required to complete the first store. Inaddition, our margins were low at first, and it took us time to determinewhether we had priced our menu properly.
Natasha points out that it’s not wise to gointo business if you have to live off the business while you are financing it,and you have no unencumbered cash. “It’s impossible to live like that. That wasone of the main reasons for bringing in a silent partner. We were alsofortunate enough to have a huge amount of help from my father; with hisexperience in the restaurant industry, he mentored us through the process.”
Perhaps it was the open air appeal ofAtholl Square that helped to attract customers. Tasha’s took off from day one,with word of mouth and good reviews the only marketing tools the Siderisesused. By the sixth month, they knew they had a winner and they had provedthemselves in the marketplace. Their success spurred them on to open theBedfordview location two years later.
“Before Tasha’s opened in Bedfordview,people living in the east were forced to drive to the northern suburbs if theywanted a more elegant daytime venue,” says Natasha.Like its predecessor, the second restauranthas been a success from the start. “The conversion of the site took longer thanwe expected, and people would walk past and ask us when we were going to open.There was a huge amount of anticipation.”
How is Natasha adapting to the move fromhands-on owner to head office executive? It’s early days yet, but she says sheis enjoying the intellectual challenges involved in putting the business systemdown on paper. She also maintains that she will remain actively involved in thetwo stores on weekends. “Obsessive attention to detail, right down to checkingthat all the salt cellars face the same way, is what keeps customers comingback,” she says. “You are either five-star, or you’re not.” With the move to Famous Brands, she andSavva have had to put in place managers and measures to ensure the consistencyand ongoing success of the two stores. “We believe in giving people incentivesand in offering the right managers a share of the business,”
Natasha adds.“Your own success is often dependent on taking into account the hopes anddreams of others too.” The focus now is on the development of thefranchise system itself so that the team can hit the road running come Februarynext year when the three new stores are launched. The franchise joining fee hasbeen set at R200 000, which includes access to training and operations manuals,project management and design, basically equipping the franchisee with thewherewithal to run the business. The cost of each store will be dependent onsize and location, but is estimated at between R2,5 million to R3 million for aturnkey operation, right down to the table napkins and sugar bowls. Stores willbe sold only to owner-operators who have a passion for both food and customerservice.
Hedderwick points out that Famous Brandswas created by a family of entrepreneurs and the business embraces theentrepreneurial spirit wholeheartedly. “With my own background in the blue chipsector, I placed a huge emphasis on people and processes when I joined thebusiness. Today we have the best operational practices in place, all adapted tothe entrepreneurial environment.”
He adds one caveat. “I’ve entered into manytransactions and I’ve learnt that with the best will in the world, if thesynergy is not right between the partners, the relationship will fail. When thechemistry is not there, money becomes irrelevant.”
The negotiation process
It sounds too good to be true, but the dealbetween Famous Brands and Tasha’s was an easy one to conclude. “I suppose it’sbecause both parties knew exactly what they wanted,” says Natasha. “From ourside, we wanted the business infrastructure and resources that Famous Brandscould provide. I was also determined to ensure that the Tasha’s brand wouldnever be tampered with or commoditised.” For Famous Brands, the deal was aboutbuying a successful business that came along with the people who built it. Thiswill ensure that their creativity, individuality and love for the conceptendure throughout the growth of the franchise.
Despite the fact that it was such a simpledeal to close, Natasha insisted on legal representation and also consulted withher father – an experienced restaurant owner – to make sure she did not put afoot wrong.
The pay off
So what lies ahead for the Siderises nowthat they have sold 51% of Tasha’s? What’s interesting about this deal is thatit’s quite different from the norm for Famous Brands, which does not usuallyenter into joint ventures. “We retain 49% of the value of the business, andalong with that we are taken into the fold of the country’s leading foodservices company,” says Natasha. “We gain access to capital and resources.” Resources is a key word. Consider that ifthe Sideresis had gone into franchising on their own, the legal fees fordrawing up a franchise agreement alone would cost them in the range of R50 000each. “At the same time, our input into the brandremains the same,” adds Natasha. “It’s a win-win situation all round.”