Conceptualising, developing and growing new restaurant brands is Natasha Sideris’ passion. The 47-year-old entrepreneur has expanded from a single Tashas restaurant in the Joburg suburb of Atholl to five brands across two geographies, and has announced plans to grow both the brand portfolio and its global footprint.
Tashas now numbers 15 restaurants in South Africa and nine in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Under its umbrella, it houses another four distinct restaurant concepts – the Flamingo Room by Tashas, Avli by Tashas (a Greek restaurant that featured in the inaugural Michelin Guide for the UAE), Le Parc by Tashas and the Galaxy Bar – which is listed as one of the top 50 bars in the world.
The company has also recently entered into joint venture agreements to expand the footprints of Collective Africa – a retail collection curated by Charles Greig; and 1701, makers of indulgent confectionery. Both concepts began in South Africa and are growing in the Middle East.
The group will be adding new locations in South Africa, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and London.
The past 17 years have already been quite a journey.
In 2008, Sideris sold 51% of Tashas to the JSE-listed Famous Brands group, which provided the necessary support to grow and franchise the brand, but their vision diverged and in 2019 she bought back her share after two years of amicable, but tough, negotiations.
Sideris then moved to Dubai to develop her vision of building a multiconcept restaurant chain, and most recently appointed a COO – a decision the self-admitted micromanager says was essential to ensuring the group does not stumble as it expands.
“I’m an entrepreneur … I like conceptualising. I like designing menus and interiors and meeting customers and suppliers. I am not a process person.
“I don’t like HR, admin, procurement and operations … I don’t have that skill set.” But the business needs this, she acknowledges.
“I don’t want our wheels to come off as we expand.”
The expansion will see Tashas – which will continue to expand in SA and the UAE – open its first restaurant in the UK this year. Sideris is cautious about this market, which she says has tough barriers to entry, and will assess before rushing to open more.
The Flamingo Room, which has been established in Dubai since 2017, will expand into Saudi Arabia later this year and Abu Dahbi early in 2023.
“This is the ultimate expression of my South African roots and the epitome of old school dining with a bit of a twist.”
In typical Sideris style, the location is all important and in Saudi Arabia the restaurant will be situated in Riyadh close to Diriyah, a world heritage site and 18th century adobe city that once served as the capital and stronghold of the first Saudi state, and will overlook the Wadi Hanifah riverbed.
In Abu Dhabi, the restaurant will be situated within the Galleria, a luxury retail and commerce centre on Al Maryah Island.
Saudi Arabia in particular is undergoing significant cultural and social change as the Saudi King and Crown Prince work to put the country on the global tourism map.
“People are embracing change – women are driving and are no longer required to wear headscarves in public … women and men can sit together in restaurants and expats are mixing with locals,” says Sideris.
“Saudis are very well travelled and very artistic people who are increasingly able to express themselves. As a result, every big restaurant brand in the world is here, and the market is competitive.” But not as competitive as Dubai, she adds.
Alongside the Flamingo Room, Sideris will launch the African Lounge – a new concept with décor inspired by the wilds of Africa, and a luxury retail offering called Collective Africa.
She also plans to open the new concepts in Dubai this year.
The first, Bungalo34, will be situated on one of the popular surfing beaches, and is a restaurant where “70s glamour meets beachside chic”, she says.
Another is Le Parc, a food and retail emporium that was conceptualised in Dubai but launched in Hyde Park Mall in Johannesburg in 2021.
Last, there is Nala, a luxury quick-service concept opening in Al Serkal in Dubai in early 2023. The group intends to roll-out this concept to major metropolitan markets internationally. This will cater to the luxury fast food market and offer freshly prepared meals featuring dishes inspired by African and Middle Eastern cultures.
In total, Sideris sees the group operating between 50-70 restaurants within the next five to 10 years – more than double the current number.
Sideris has business partners in the UAE and the UK who are providing the additional finance necessary for the expansion. This means that a listing is not on the cards for the time being.
“Right now, I’m nowhere near letting go of my business. I’ve just got my freedom back … we have reached the point where we are able to make significant strides in our expansion plans and I don’t want to start reporting to a board and obeying strict corporate governance rules.
“But who knows – ask me again in five years.” DM