Tashas first opened in South Africa in 2005. Its founder talks ahead of her London debut at Battersea Power Station
Tell me about your brand, Tashas.
My dad was a restaurateur and I sort of grew up at his side. I got formally involved in restaurants in 1993. When I left school, I helped him out a little bit and in 2001 I bought a café. I then converted that café into a Tashas, so I opened my first Tashas in 2005.
The brand is 18 years old and it's the one that's most loved, I would say, out of all of the brands [that I have]. It's a home away from home, so I think it's going to have a good run in London.
You now have 27 restaurants across South Africa and the Middle East. What made you choose London next?
When I first started Tashas I wanted to come to the UK, but the reality was I was quite scared. I think any restaurateur coming into the UK with a level of arrogance or self-assuredness – no matter how successful they are in other countries – is definitely making a mistake.
My first four choices for opening internationally were the UK, the US, Australia and Dubai. The UK is a highly competitive landscape for F&B and there are barriers to entry: high rentals and lots of issues in terms of staffing. I'm extremely hands-on, so for me Dubai made the most logical sense for the first foray, because it was eight hours away from South Africa. I think now, having solidified ourselves in Dubai, an international landscape that has become extremely dynamic and high-profile, we have mastered the courage to say, ‘Well, let's go and give the UK a try!'.
In the UK there are lots of all-day dining concepts that are not quite like Tashas, but we are doing it in a very conservative manner. I've told my team to forget about expansion plans in the UK. We'll focus on the one store as if it's the only restaurant we're ever going to open in the UK, give it our all and see what happens.
You mentioned staffing challenges earlier. How have you been dealing with recruitment?
We are going to bring some key staff members [from South Africa] and we are now just over the biggest hurdle of getting visas for those individuals. Hopefully those people are going to be able to imbue the spirit and the DNA of Tashas down to the rest of the team.
We've managed to secure visas for at least six or eight team members and that makes a really big difference. The general manager of the Battersea Tashas, Kyle Williams, has actually moved to the UK because he wanted to. He has been working with me for the better part of eight years and there's no one better to fly the Tashas' flag. We also have a head office team that will come in and out of the UK to check on the store.
I've been to London often because I'm a stickler for detail. We're going to open in late November and for three weeks before and at least three to four weeks after, I'll be on-site every day, talking to customers and checking on the food.
What kind of food will you be serving? Have you adapted the offering to suit London?
It will be mainly the classic menu, which has dishes such as the Green Goddess smoked salmon salad, the Cornflake Pork Schnitzel, and long-standing fan favourites such as the Prego Roll and the Texas Salad. We have a stunning selection of nibbles that we have created just for this location. It works particularly well for Battersea because there are a lot of offices in the area. Everyone has told me not to put too many salads on my menu because people in the UK don't like salads – but we have anyway!
What will the interiors be like?
I like to describe them as light, bright, easy, breezy. The cafés are quite classic. They've got a bit of heritage but they are still contemporary and they have a beautiful, light colour palette. It's like sitting in a cappuccino. We've got chocolate walls with a caramel froth and a beautiful milky colour floor. What's nice about the cafés is they transition beautifully from day into night. When the sun starts to set, the lights go down and they become more geared towards the evening, but still accessible.