The Tamarind Group’s ever-growing portfolio of restaurants and leisure outlets is ensuring a concerted yet unpretentious rise to the top of Kenya’s hospitality industry
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
For more than 45 years, the Tamarind Group has established itself as one of Kenya’s – and indeed Africa’s – foremost innovators in the catering and hospitality sector; the former’s successes paving the way for the latter to boost an already market-leading portfolio.
Founded in Mombasa, the Company owns and manages some of the most successful restaurants and leisure operations on the continent, driven from a founding mission of the late Christopher Seex and Martin Dunford to provide a quality level of service; a harmonious, progressive breeding ground for budding employees; and a world-class food and leisure offering in line with local demand.
Alongside its professional hospitality management arm, Tamarind Management Ltd, the overall Group has gone on to serve more than 400,000 guests each year in Kenya, making it a business of choice for customers, employers, clients and partners.
In its nascent stage, the Tamarind name first began to make waves virtue of one of the country’s first ever restaurant franchise agreements in the form of the now famous, The Carnivore, South Africa. Opening up in Nairobi, this ever-popular eatery has since been followed by a host of restaurant and hospitality outlets including Tamarind Nairobi, Tamarind Mombasa, Tamambo Karen Blixen, Tamarind Dhows, Tamarind Village Mombasa, Roast By Carnivore, and Tamarind Tree Hotel.
The Company states: “Kenya is a growing economy and in recent years there have been massive investments in the region in terms of infrastructure, commercial real estate, consumer goods etc… This has made Nairobi an economic hub where multinational organisations are currently setting up regional hubs to capture the growing middle-class market’s increasing spending power.”
To this end, Tamarind Group has initiated a five-seven-year strategic plan to harness the country’s potential.
Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan Seex lists: “The first of three goals is to improve and increase our market share from existing restaurant business, with a plan to develop a 3,600 square metre exposition and events centre at the Carnivore Nairobi to attract more corporate clients.
“We also want to expand into the growing middle-class market in Kenya through our new casual dining concept, Roast By Carnivore and our recently acquired brand, Kengeles.
“Finally, we will look to increase our presence in the hotel management space under our hotel brand, Tamarind Tree Hotel and Tamarind Tree Suites.”
Quality rather than quantity
Regarding the latter in particular, a key strategic emphasis has been placed on Tamarind Management Ltd expanding and diversifying its portfolio of hotels and serviced hotel apartments.
“This will be done through either acquisition of hotel assets or through management contracts,” the Company says. “The Company has invested heavily in a four-star 160-room hotel located adjacent to The Carnivore restaurant which opened in November, 2017. The Company will manage the hotel under a management contract and licence agreement under its hospitality brand, Tamarind Tree Hotel while retaining a major percent stake in the asset.
“In addition, the Company has partnered with a local developer who is currently building 106 fully-serviced and furnished hotel apartments near the UN side of Nairobi under the brand, Tamarind Tree Suites. The expected opening of this development is planned for late 2019.”
Continuous improvement as a notion encapsulates Tamarind’s evolution over the past 40-plus years, but this certainly isn’t to say that the Group has focused on expansion at all costs. Rather, the emphasis has always been on quality-driven development, ensuring that every decision is considered; as epitomised by its current five-seven-year strategic plan.
“The Tamarind Group has always put the quality of its products first,” Seex continues. “We have perhaps not grown as fast as other organisations but that is because we want to ensure excellent quality rather than quantity. “We then compound this through our second continuous improvement strategy which is to care for our team. We place human beings before profits and guide and coach them to become internal ambassadors; they themselves then guiding new generations into the organisation.”
Fostering a collaborative and productive internal structure contributes to an innovative and constantly evolving customer-facing approach. Tamarind strives to remain relevant through the introduction of not just new brands and outlets, but new concepts within these facilities; to ensure that the business is keeping ahead of the industry curve.
“We recently created the “Dawa Lounge” brand and concept capitalising on the cocktail, “dawa” that was founded at The Carnivore 38 years ago; and that is today the country’s national drink,” Seex offers as a prime example. “Dawa means medicine or magic portion in Kiswahili and we have sold millions of this through our restaurants since its inception.”
Tamarind’s aforementioned focus on employee satisfaction may seem like a given but has been integral to the success of the overall business model over the years. In an industry where customer satisfaction is paramount, the conveyance of a personable, informed and content service is a must, and can only be achieved if the workers are happy and fulfilled too.
Seex says: “We have and continue to invest heavily into developing our training and internal culture strategy for the Group as it is key for the growth of the organisation. We have monthly team rewards sessions for all units where we acknowledge our stars and reward them accordingly.
“We also have a ‘manager in development’ programme where we bring in young management talent and put them through a 12-month training programme where they get exposure to all our departments. They are then tested in each area and following successful testing they are promoted to management.”
Over the past 10 years, hundreds of cooks have been trained through the Company’s culinary internship programme where 20 interns at a time are put through an 18-month culinary training programme. Many still remain within the business to this day.
“Ultimately, we look to hire the natural smile in a person because, unlike technical aspects, this can’t be taught.”
Inevitably, being a proud, 100 percent Kenyan company, Tamarind has very few expats across its staff compliment; resulting in a workforce that is proud of the business’s domestic achievements. The Company is looking to leverage this approach across its supply chain management strategy too, moving forward, as it looks to create a loyal and likeminded network of partners around itself.
The final strand of this localisation ethos revolves around corporate social responsibility as evidenced through Tamarind’s ‘Woodlands Trust’ – an initiative that has seen thousands of trees planted since the turn of the century – and ‘The Bracelet of Hope’; the proceeds of which go towards sponsoring young women emanating from Nairobi slums with limited prospects, and who get trained for work positions at the Company.
“One of our differentiators is the ability to develop relationships, whether this is from a social responsibility perspective, or with our guests and stakeholders,” Seex concludes. “We never say we are great or excellent; we prove it through our product and actions! if you have to say you are great or excellent it means your product is not good enough to prove it. Be unpretentious, undersell and overdeliver.
“With this philosophy in the coming years we will have tripled or quadrupled our earnings, we will manage four-five hotel properties, we will have 15 more Roast and Kengeles units, and we will be the main choice for conferencing, events and expos in Kenya.”