Originally starting life as a fine-dining resturant with a next-door deli, Del'Aziz came about when co-owner Shahrokh Parvin knocked down the dividing wall. Emily Manson reports
Need to Know Shahrokh Parvin started working in restaurants at the age of 16, initially in McDonald's. He then worked his way around Europe, including a stint in a top deli in Switzerland. On returning to London, he set up a small pizza chain, Hippo Pizza, but sold that to allow him to start Aziz in 2003.
Parvin and his wife Zehra - a graduate of Leiths Food of School and Wine - originally opened Aziz in Fulham Broadway as a fine-dining concept with a deli next door, but the deli became so popular that they knocked down the dividing wall and created Del'Aziz.
Target audience Part of the Del'Aziz concept is its broad appeal to lots of demographics. Parvin says his clientele is extremely diverse. The whole point of an all-day brasserie was to make it friendly for everyone, he explains, adding: "Not just for young or for old, but truly for everyone."
He continues: "It's such a mixed environment, there are old grannies who come in for cakes with their pension cheques, there are yummy mummies - it's often pram city in here; but then there are also the Chelsea footballers [in the Fulham site], other local head turners and the parties at night."
But the key to their success has been appealing to the female market. Its warm colours and cosy environment mean women feel safe and comfortable on their own with a coffee or with a friend having a glass of wine.
"It's not intimidating like a bar, it's more like a private club where they can feel safe," says Parvin.
How we stand out When Parvin started out, the concept was the first to incorporate tables and seating in the deli among the produce and this was a great draw for customers wanting something different. The fact that they are a true all-day offer is also unusual. "From 7 am till 11pm you'll never see our restaurants without people," says Parvin.
But it's also about the food, which is traditionally inspired but not totally traditional. "We also have burgers, pizza and pasta, but I had pasta growing up, it was just with tomatoes and olives," says Parvin. "Whatever we offer has the true Middle Eastern flavours from the shish - which is marinated in Persian saffron and yogurt - to beef ribs marinated in pomegranate juice or a falafel burger. We also only use quality ingredients."
Why our customers choose us Parvin says that although he doesn't go in for the mass discounting adopted by other high-street brasseries, his customers find the offer provides value for money in a comforting environment. "It's excellent produce in a warm and bustling environment."
The menu design also means different guests in the same party can choose how much they want to eat with ease. "Some parties, one will have just a coffee, another a pizza, and another a tagine followed by a bit of cake. It's entirely up to each person, we're totally flexible," he says.
As a predominantly local proposition, Parvin is also keen to go the extra mile to secure customers' loyalty. He has lent tables to regulars for them to use at their private functions at home and will do anything he can to accommodate even the most tricky requests.
Future growth Parvin has just opened his sixth and largest site to date on the Pavement in Clapham Common, south London. It has two bars in addition to the main restaurant and deli which are key to the brand's design. He is also currently in advanced discussions with a venture capital company which would look to take the brand national with sites in other London suburbs and UK major cities.
Favourite supplier and why "Sterling Wine, because they give me time - three months - to pay," says Parvin. "Also, if I run out of anything they'll find it for me and bring it over that day, even if it's eggs from another supplier. They're a really good bunch to work with."
Best business advice "Don't be like me; keep tight control of your cash flow," says Parvin. "I've had to learn that profit does not equal cash flow and this issue is the greatest downfall of most businesses. We've come close several times and you only get out of the hole with a lot of hard work and grit. We have had to work around it and play with our cash flow at times, it's not easy and most importantly it distracts you from running the business properly and takes your eye off the ball."
He adds: "Business generally has definitely got harder in the recession. We had loans withdrawn from us last year which were there to help us open Clapham and that caused us huge problems. We were fortunate that our restaurant and sales volumes didn't drop but profits dropped as margins dropped. But that's the same for everyone. A couple of years ago a box of bananas cost £5 and now it's £18. It's mind boggling how prices have rocketed."
Couldn't do without His wife's help, says Parvin. "We've been married 19 years, but also the perseverance within my own nature. It's the only thing that makes people succeed. Friends and colleagues often say I remind them of a Jack Russell grabbing at someone's trousers and not letting go. Business is a lot to do with that, it's not just running a business, it's about hanging in there when the going gets tough. I've seen a lot of good things and people go down because they didn't hang on and it's sad to see."
Spotlight on delis
"The deli is the heart of our concept," says Shahrokh Parvin. "When we first opened the restaurant was called Aziz. I had a great founding chef from Momo's and it was all very Micheliny but in Fulham it was a big mistake. We opened the deli right next to the restaurant and it was just such a success that we learnt from it and adapted the whole concept by amalgamating the two, changing the food offer in Aziz, softening the looks, and that's when it became del' Aziz.
He adds: "There's so much competition with delis now, but it's a hugely important part of the all-day eating concept. Because of the deli angle people can have fun with our menu and what they eat at different types of day. It's also a bit different to be sitting among the items that we sell. It's a great bit of fun and adds theatre to the proposition - it's really like some kind of modern contemporary bazaar where you're sitting in the middle of the goods. The deli is often used by young couples coming in for brunch, but it's interesting that when they bring their parents they often upgrade to the restaurant as it's a bit more conservative and traditional."
shahrokh parvin's revelations
Favourite hotel Any Four Seasons, particularly Istanbul
Favourite restaurant Zafferano
What book has inspired you The Idiot Motto Work hard, play hard
If you weren't a restaurateur, what would have been? An artist
Which restaurateur/chef do you most admire? Jamie Oliver
Describe your business in five words Eastern Mediterranean restaurant, bakery & deli
Facts and stats
Owners Shahrokh & Zehra Parvin
Executive head chef Mike Smith
Staff 180 (group)
Average weekly covers 2,000
Average spend £30