Winning Women – Natasha Sideris: Bespoke café-style?success

2013-09-30 08:00

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Natasha Sideris opened her first Tashas eatery eight years ago. Today, there are 10 across SA, with one opening soon at the V&A Waterfront and another planned for Dubai, writes Sue Grant-Marshall

The hype before the boutique café-style Tashas opened in Hyde Park was such that shoppers in Joburg’s most upmarket mall tried to peep behind the extensive draperies as they waited for the unveiling of the Parisian-style, chic eatery.

And when it did finally open, they queued around the clock for weeks to get a table – such is the reputation of restaurateur Natasha Sideris.

It is her fanatical attention to detail, combined with a quicksilver mind and a passion never to become bored, or let her customers suffer that fate, that has seen her attain this level of success.

It’s been replicated in her 10 restaurants across South Africa. And now, she’s about to move offshore too, to Dubai.

We meet at her favourite Tashas in Atholl Square, Sandton, around the corner from her home.

She has kissed several people before she’s reached the door and others inside jump up for a hug.

Before we are seated, Sideris has noticed a waiter’s missing shirt button, salt and pepper cellars not uniformly arranged on a trolley and a little girl in a waiter’s arms whom she ensures is given a gingerbread man.

Tashas at Atholl Square was the first and it set the signature style for the rest. It’s light, creamy toned and breezy, with teapot and cup-and-saucer chandeliers.

These ceiling installations can range from suspended books in Rosebank, Joburg, to campfire utensils in Brooklyn, Pretoria, and elegant leaves in Cape Town’s Constantia.

The food in each restaurant reflects the same diversity of approach, inculcating the vibe of the area in which Sideris has carefully chosen to site Tashas.

So in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, it’s predominantly seafood; whereas in upmarket Melrose Arch, there is a salmon, oyster and champagne bar, with a choice of 20 types of the latter; and in Pretoria, there is cranberry bobotie, cinnamon pumpkin fritters and gourmet boerewors rolls.

Tashas in Bedfordview, east of Joburg, caters to the tastes of its sizeable Greek, Portuguese and Italian communities.

“I study an area, walking around it, picking up the community feel,” says Sideris.

Her warmth and straightforward approach to every person she encounters, from clients to staff, engulfs us all in a big, “Natasha wave” of friendliness.

But she is also tough and her no-nonsense approach drives her managers up the wall. An unabashed waiter who’s been called over to attest to that

fact concurs.

“Some people run their restaurants like a bank, with statements and turnover being the priority. We’re all about product, people and atmosphere,” says Sideris.

Her unique approach includes food. Everything is made to order. “The cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs for your salad are cut when you order it.”

If you want a cream sauce, it’s made on the spot.

Huge, mouthwatering meringues are piled high next to freshly baked cakes and the scent of freshly ground coffee wafts through the air.

She opened Tashas in Atholl in 2005 and was astounded when it was crammed full from the word go, “something you don’t expect in a new restaurant”, she says.

But she had cleverly identified a gap in the market for daytime eateries. “This café-style is the norm in Europe and Australia, but after working in a fast-food restaurant, which I disliked, I realised we had nothing of the sort here.”

By 2007, she was being wooed by the king of franchising in Africa, Famous Brands, to expand her clever concept.

The very notion scared her because everything about Tashas screams bespoke. But her vision included expansion, and after eight months of discussions, and the buy-in of Famous Brands to her model, Sideris sold 51% of her shares to them.

She and her right-hand man, brother Savva Sideris, own the remaining 49% and “the anti-franchise franchise”, as Natasha describes it, has become a stellar business.

It says a great deal about her determination and strength of character that she’s remained true to her founding ideals of beautiful, original eateries.

She’s putting the finishing touches to one due to open in November at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

It will have the feel of a Spanish port with tapas, three kinds of sangria and paellas.

Sideris has had her eye on the international market for a while now, with Australia and Dubai topping her list of desirable destinations.

“But, Australia is, for now, too far away to get to fast enough in case of an emergency,” she explains.

In Dubai, she’s chosen a spot between a suburb and the city and not, as you’d imagine, in a typical shopping mall. Tashas, as usual, is different.

Down the track, the little girl who grew up in kitchens because that’s the only place she could be with her Town Tavern and Fishmonger chef and owner father, is hoping to expand to London, England, too.

No doubt they will queue for her ambience and food there too.

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