Tasha’s is the anti-franchise system of the franchise world. It isn’t massive – growth has been intentionally slow and deliberate – but it is well known as a fashionable and quirky restaurant hangout. Owner Natasha Sideris said she did almost the opposite of what every other successful franchise system has done in terms of planning.
All she ever planned to do, she told the FNB Franchise Leadership Summit held in Johannesburg on 12 November, was to create one upmarket, boutique café that would plug the gap between daytime cafés and fine dining restaurants. However, she’d already had a long career in the fast food and franchise industry, so it became evident this ‘experiential’ concept had the capability of being franchised – yet she decided not to clone the restaurant model she’d perfected, but rather for each subsequent outlet to be equally unique, customised and to build on local community idiosyncrasies. “Each would have its own signature,” she said.

She describes Tasha’s restaurants as 30% customised and 70% standardised, a model which in more recent years has shifted to as much as 80% customised.

“When I started on the first store, I had no plans for the future other than to please people by getting the basics right. ‘Getting things right’ was my plan, and keeping things right while expanding has been a deliberate strategy ever since,” she said. This explains why, 10 years after Tasha’s founding in 2005, there are only 14 outlets, and Sideris sees market capacity for only about 15 in South Africa. She has now turned her attention abroad, with her first outlet having opened in Dubai.

“Today’s over-serviced market requires eating to be an experience and lifestyle event. Our business is about beautiful food, a unique décor and an engaged experience for diners.”

Tasha’s spends a great deal of energy and market research in selecting the right locations for its restaurants, and for this reason has enjoyed a 100% success rate in its location choices. Dubai was no different. Sideris says that despite the apparent differences between Johannesburg and Dubai, the two cities have a lot in common. “We saw the same opportunity as in Joburg, with an emphasis on car driving, mall culture and people liking to engage in coffee shops. However, I believe you can only take such a step if you have a strong base in your home market – therefore we took our time. You also have to do a lot of research, as you need to know all the local laws, customs, culture and who the competition is. For us, this was not an overnight decision, and we invested considerable time and study into the decision.”

Sideris says the approach to Tasha’s first offshore branch was similar to that of its first ever branch – ‘Get the basics right first time’.

She offers some additional tips on expanding abroad that Tasha’s has found useful: “Start by choosing the same time zone as South Africa. We turned down Australia as our first destination precisely for this reason. Having different time zones makes management difficult from South Africa.”

Many businesses establishing offices in a different country insist one should use as many local people as possible. Sideris says she agrees with this, but being the first store her emphasis was more on getting everything right and so she took 30 people into the country from South Africa. “For the rest, it is important to get the right local landlord, the right suppliers and the right staff. My policy is to use resources from your home country where you need to, but otherwise use local,” she explains.

In the interim, Tasha’s was bought out by franchise monolith Famous Brands, a step that Tasha’s franchisees were cautious about given their brand’s bespoke and authentic motif. The acquisition has been accepted, she says, because there has been no interference with the brand, growth is as deliberate as ever, but now the business has a big partner standing alongside it. “That brings stability and professionalism to the brand, while enabling us to concentrate on operations.”

“Planning for the future is not about rapid growth, but rather understanding the ‘How’ and the ‘Why’ of the business and retaining them as part of the integrity of the brand.”

In a world of accelerating technological innovation, Sideris believes the Tasha’s brand mirrors what is happening in society – greater individuation and innovation. “Nonetheless, you cannot over-innovate or you lose your identity, so it is a fine line to tread.”