The story of Tashas began in Natasha Sideris’ home country of South Africa. After embarking on a journey to redefine casual dining in the country, she then expanded to the UAE with the opening of the first tashas café in Dubai. Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength, becoming Tasha’s Group in 2020 with a vast restaurant portfolio across the UAE and South Africa. You may recognise some of the Group’s destinations including Avli, Flamingo Room by tashas, Galaxy Bar and of course, tashas.
But with so much competition in the UAE today, how does Natasha stand out from competitors? Firstly it is the quality of food and service she provides, as well as the unique designs and authenticity of her properties. But it’s not always easy. Here we find out more about the story of Tashas Group, the challenges and the expectations for the future.
Congratulations on the success of Tashas Group – tell us about the story behind Tashas Group and how you came to be where you are today.
The story of how Tashas Group began goes back 17 years when I opened my first tashas café in Johannesburg. I set out to redefine casual dining by creating a stunning space with beautiful food and engaging service – something that, back then, didn’t really exist. Over the next nine years, we expanded our footprint in South Africa opening another ten tashas locations in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. In 2014, after being approached by my now business partner, we set sights on expanding into the UAE, and our first location opened in Dubai.
Spending time in this region, I realised that there were opportunities to create new concepts and, in 2017, Flamingo Room by tashas was born out of my love for my home in South Africa. It was met with resounding acclaim which gave me the confidence to create Avli by tashas and Galaxy Bar, inspired by my Greek heritage and the resilient culture of one of my favourite cities in the world, Athens. I am so grateful that all three have been very successful.
In 2008, we went into a joint venture with a publicly listed company in South Africa that bought a large share of the business. In 2020, I bought them out and this is when we actually became Tashas Group. They were fantastic partners, but their goals and objectives were different from ours. Taking back control of the business allowed us to focus on the expansion and concept creation that I find so inspiring.
It has been an incredible journey and in so many ways, I feel that we are still at the beginning. Tashas Group is so much more than just me. I have an incredible team that is instrumental in building the company and the culture that I have always dreamed of.
We hear you have plans to expand, can you tell us about this?
Over the next 7 months, we will be opening 5 new locations in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and London. It’s incredibly exciting – and overwhelming in equal measure.
In December, we are opening a brand-new beach concept called Bungalo34 located at the Pearl Jumeirah. It is inspired by the rivieras of Greece, France and Italy, this restaurant is where 70’s glamour meets beachside chic. While I told my team that I was going to stop creating new concepts, this location was too amazing, and it inspired me to create something completely different!
In the first quarter of 2023, we will be opening Flamingo Room by tashas in both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. Each of the locations will have a Collective Africa, our luxury retail concept inspired by Africa, and African Lounge, serving decadent high tea, elegant afro-fusion bites and delicious non-alcoholic cocktails. Flamingo Room in Abu Dhabi will also have an exclusive new bar called Perlage.
Then, in early 2023, we will be opening Nala, creating a new category which we are calling “luxury fast food”. The concept will offer freshly prepared meals using natural ingredients that are sustainably sourced and feature unique, unexpected flavours and dishes inspired by African and Middle Eastern cultures.
If that is not enough, we are expanding our footprint into Europe, opening our first tashas in London in the middle of next year.
What does it mean to you to be of the few groups in the hospitality industry with many brands that were born and bred in the UAE?
I am honoured that we are one of the few groups in the hospitality industry with many brands that were born and bred in the UAE. While I was born and raised in South Africa, Dubai is now my home. I find it an incredibly inspiring place to live and work where the sky is the limit. As a result, it allows me to tap into my creativity and develop new concepts where there is a market for new opportunities.
What is your vision and ultimate goal for the company?
That is a great question. My vision is to grow an international hospitality company, with a number of successful concepts targeting different market segments, that is loved by our customers and is one of the greatest organisations to work for.
Tell us a little more about the offerings you have and what is unique about your dining concepts.
Every one of our concepts is influenced by “Beautiful food, stunning environments and engaging service”. Using this foundation, we have created a number of concepts:
tashas – My namesake and more casual café concept. While the brand ethos runs through every location, each one is unique in its own way both from a design and offering perspective.
Flamingo Room by tashas – It is an elevated dining concept inspired by African Glamour and my original home of South Africa. There is currently one in Jumeirah Al Naseem with two more locations opening in Riyadh, in Diriyah Gate, and in Abu Dhabi.
African Lounge – This concept will sit within the Flamingo Rooms in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi and is inspired by the tented safari camps that I have visited in Africa.
Avli by tashas – Another elevated dining concept, inspired by my Greek heritage. We currently have one location in the DIFC and will be opening other locations in the future.
Galaxy Bar – Located next to Avli, I am proud to say that Galaxy Bar is one of World’s 50 Best Bars. It is a beautiful cocktail lounge inspired by the night sky in Athens.
Le Parc by tashas – This is a concept that is very dear to my heart which opened in Johannesburg in 2021, inspired by the stylish cafés and much-loved food and flower markets of Paris. We plan to open one in the region in the near future.
Bungalo34 – Just when I told my team I wouldn’t create any more concepts, Bungalo34 was born. The location at Pearl Jumeirah is one of a kind so this casual, chic beach concept was born.
Nala – As mentioned above, Nala is a luxury fast food concept that will open in Dubai early next year. While the first one will launch in Dubai, it is distinctly influenced by Africa.
We are also involved in two joint ventures and while they are not dining brands, they are an important part of our portfolio:
Collective Africa – A luxury retail concept that sits within all of our Flamingo Room locations as well as at Bungalo34. It offers products that are inspired by Africa and curated from around the world.
1701 – Founded in South Africa, we are working with this luxury nougat brand to establish them in the GCC.
How would you assess the UAE’s hospitality industry today – what do you think is missing and what do you think there is too much of?
The hospitality industry in the UAE is vibrant and growing. There are so many incredible restaurants and concepts that I don’t think anything is missing. I would say that there are too many burger chains – but this is an issue, not only in Dubai but also globally.
I think that my only worry is that we reach a point of saturation where there are too many restaurants and not enough people. However, Dubai is doing an incredible job at attracting more people to live in the region as well as visit here so hopefully, this won’t happen.
With so much competition how do you ensure you stand out in the market?
I believe that one of the most critical aspects of standing out in the market is our dedication to never-ending improvement. We are constantly reinvesting in our interiors, innovating our menus and up-skilling our team members. There is always a fine balance between pushing boundaries and staying true to the essence of a concept and not following every trend. Striking that balance that helps us to remain competitive. To stay competitive, we must stay relevant in the eyes of our customers, keep them at the heart of everything we do and continue to meet the high expectations that they have of us.
We see many concepts come and go over the years – how do you ensure the longevity of your restaurants?
To ensure longevity, we can’t rest on our laurels – not even for a minute. We need to make sure that every single member of our team is committed to the never-ending pursuit of excellence. This means that we are constantly improving, innovating and, at the same time, making sure that we consistently deliver what our customers expect from us.
Tell us some of your favourite dishes that we have to try?
I have so many favourite dishes – but here are my absolute favourites:
Parmesan Chicken Cous Cous
Jett & Luke’s Mini Breakfast Rolls
Flamingo Room by tashas
Avli by tashas
What inspires you to create new concepts?
There are so many things that inspire me to create new concepts. Firstly, travel. I love travelling and seeing new ideas, cultures and concepts. Secondly, my team. I am surrounded by many inspiring people that have such extraordinary ideas – like Neydine Bak from Verhaal, with whom I have collaborated with on many projects as an interior designer and Alex Avgitidis and Melpo Theodorou, of AM Branding that does all the brand design for our concepts. Lastly, I am inspired when I see a space that we can totally transform into something very special as we have with Bungalo34 and Avli by tashas as two examples.
How do you choose chefs and talents to collaborate with?
Choosing the right chefs and talent is all about synergy and shared values. One of the critical things is that they are able to be flexible, adapt and truly collaborate in working towards the vision that I have.
As well, I like to work with people that are able to execute the vision we create and not be influenced by trends and social media.
What is something you would still like to do that you haven’t done yet?
We are actually in the midst of finalising a number of concepts that I have always wanted to do – a beach restaurant with Bungalo34, a fast-casual concept with Nala and a beautiful tearoom with African Lounge. I can’t think of anything past this that I haven’t done yet – but I am sure something new will inspire me!
What do you say no to?
I say no to concepts that don’t feel authentic to me and my heritage. As an example, I wouldn’t open an Asian restaurant – even though I love the food. I say no to bad-quality ingredients. The quality of the ingredients is a critical component of the overall taste and texture of a dish. I say no to fake interior finishes and always go for the real thing. It is why our interiors look as beautiful as they do.
In short, I say no to things that don’t feel authentic.
What is the professional motto you live by?
Passion outweighs reason.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Slow down to speed up.