Entrepreneur . Inspirational

Based: Dubai

Verbs were invented for the likes of Natasha Sideris. There’s a doing word for every thought that processes through her tireless, irrepressible mind. No sooner does she have an idea and she’s already in execution phase. It’s as good as done.

Natasha’s office is a purpose-built concept kitchen, right next to the first Tashas restaurant she opened in Athol Square, Sandton, in 2005. When she’s not on an aeroplane en route to one of her 11 stores, this is where she works, plays, experiments and discovers with Elze Roome, a dab hand pastry chef and now the Tashas product developer.

“We are going to limit growth,” she asserts. “I have a handmade brand. Everything is freshly made to order. Every restaurant has a specially developed menu, each customised to its locality. I can’t keep innovating inside my stores if I’m forever opening the next one.”

How well does that sit with her investor partner, Famous Brands, I wonder. A lot of time was spent negotiating the agreement in order to assure that she was able to maintain her made-to-order philosophy, unique interiors and brand position. With market saturation comes the risk of compromising quality. The brand is sitting pretty nonetheless and performing very well. Kevin Hedderwick’s approach (Chief Executive of the Famous Brands group) she says, is to “back the jockey, and let the jockey ride.” She adds, proudly, that Famous Brands was the partner that she didn’t know she needed.

As a partner, Famous Brands has provided the structure, administrative support system and the financial leverage, to realise her brand vision. “And I hate admin!” she suddenly blurts out, just managing to catch that expletive before “admin”. By her own admission, she doesn’t so much hate it as know that she is particularly ill suited to it. For someone who doesn’t engage much in linear thinking, monthly recons and putting stuff in its rightful A-Z place is bound to be an interpretive attempt at best. She’s a visionary. That’s what she’s good at. And that’s what she sticks to. Literally, 24/7.

Leading Questions: Natasha Sideris, founder of Tashas, talks to Chris Primos – Blast Brand Catalysts
“I have a love for food, a love for people and a love for interiors.” And being the doing person that she is, that love is abundantly evident. In mid-sentence her CCTV-eyes suddenly spot a service glitch going down at an outside table. Intercepting a harried waiter she glares down at the two mouthwatering platters he’s about to deliver. “Those chips are unstylish! Who plated that?” She’s already dialing the kitchen inside before she gets an answer. “And there are empty glasses on the table. And why are the customers picking up their own chairs?” Training is intensive. Her team has an adoring respect for her. She’s a tough taskmistress. It’s okay to get something wrong. It’s probably not so okay to get it wrong a second time. But if you show inclination, persistence and talent, she will be your unfailing champion.

In the next breath she spots one of her senior team. “This is Maggie,” she beams. “She’s been with me for 12 years. Now she’s our GM.” A warm embrace follows. These are two teamsters who have clearly collected many working memories along the way. The mutual admiration moment is fleeting as Maggie clicks back into service mode. “Right, what are we having for breakfast?”

Tashas now employs over 1000 people. In her expansion plans she considered the UK and Australia, but declined both. Rentals are just too high for her taste. Instead, she’s headed off to Dubai. “They have a mall culture there, with lots of expats. Just like South Africa. Lots of brands open in Dubai.” There, too, she has developed a bespoke menu, full of Middle Eastern flavours. “By the way, we’re looking for a Corporate Operations Director,” she suddenly interjects. “I need someone here when I travel to my stores. Know anyone brilliant?” It’s that mind again, overflowing with doing words, in every direction.

So where did this all really begin? Natasha is a pedigreed restaurateur. With a chef for a father, it was from his apron strings that she learned her frenetic trade. The family ran the legendary Fishmonger franchise in Rivonia. By day, Natasha was a student of Sociology and Psychology at Wits. By night she choreographed the logistics and service levels of a capacity-packed eatery. Her prowess soon saw her promoted to training manager for the group. There was a flirtation with the quick service business in Pretoria, but the factory-style monotony of fast food really isn’t her thing.

Leading Questions: Natasha Sideris, founder of Tashas, talks to Chris Primos – Blast Brand Catalysts
A severe motor accident suddenly put everything on pause. She spent a year recuperating in Greece, then returned to South Africa where she took on the job of Operational Executive with the Nino’s chain of restaurants. In 2001, she saw an opportunity to take on a Nino’s franchise of her own in Bedfordview. Curiously, she noticed that, while she had a thriving coffee shop clientele, not as many people were ordering meals. Of course, always one for a culinary challenge, out came the café-style menu and a whole new revenue stream for Nino’s. That got her onto an even bigger thought. That there weren’t many informal restaurants with freshly prepared food that the good people of Jozi could frequent for a relaxed, informal bite. The doing words started kicking in. A whole new business came to life with a thousand verbs. And then some. It’s only appropriate that it’s now called, and always will be called, Tashas.

A few doing things she lives and breathes by:

Love what you do.
Give credit where it’s due.
Do what you know. And do it well.
Never, never compromise the integrity of your brand.