Raising the steaks

When two like-minded food visionaries met in their native South Africa, they knew exactly what they wanted to achieve — to build a substantial base of concept and branded restaurants across the globe. And they are more than on their way to fulfilling their dreams. James Bennett talks to founders Bradley Michael and Costa Tomazos, the two brains behind the soon-to-be world dominating Meat Company
By Administrator
Tue 31 Oct 2006 08:00 PM

As the waiter begins to delicately pour a subtle sauce over my medium-rare steak at the Meat Company in the Madinat complex in Dubai, he doesn’t notice I’ve already beaten him to it and sliced a cheeky sliver of succulent beef, pinned it down with my fork and instantly plunged it in my mouth, allowing the texture to slowly melt around my palette leaving me wanting more.

The majority of restaurants in the Middle East offer steak on the menu but no one does it quite as well as Bradley Michael’s Meat Company, part of a chain of 12 successfully opened Meat Co restaurants around the world started with international consultant Costa Tomazos.

Launched five years ago with the aim of becoming internationally acclaimed specialists in the multi-restaurant management business, Michael aims to have another eight restaurants confirmed for opening by mid 2007 in Australia, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Abu Dhabi and two further units in Dubai. He also has plans for London, Morocco, New York and Jakarta. This means that in seven months, Michael will have a total of 20 outlets under his guidance and management. It’s hard to avoid the cliché, but he’s cooking.

VITAL INGREDIENTS The premise is simple.
·Take a large measure of South African roots and a nation’s taste for perfectly aged prime cuts of superior quality beef
·Apply homemade baste and promptly grill them to individual perfection.
·Enhance each meal with an extensive range of great local wines.
·Scatter a carefully hand-picked blend of South African and non-native staff across your empire ensuring an unwavering commitment to excellent customer service no matter where you may dine at a Meat Company restaurant anywhere in the world.
·Care for, nurture and grow in a global culinary environment for five years.

Do that and you have a successful

recipe for what the Meat Company has become known for worldwide. Easy. So you’d think. “Well it’s not”, says Michael over the phone from Australia where even more Meat Co’s will soon be opening. “It’s very tough when you travel three months of the year from Australia to South Africa to Dubai, Bahrain and back to Sydney — it takes it out of us and we have to work out in the gym to de-stress and relieve the pressure.” But the stress, strain and constant globetrotting has been worth it, especially when the restaurateur admits that Dubai (one of the most profitable outlets) could well be getting its very own 200th storey (approximate figure as the number of floors is a closely guarded secret) steakhouse when the one kilometre high Burj Dubai opens in 2008. Not only that, they also plan to open a 1000-seater, three kitchen, restaurant in China. Michael’s not just cooking, he’s on fire.

TWO PEAS IN A POD

Tomazos and Michael always knew each other. Michael says Costa was the “king” of the food industry in South Africa, while he describes himself as the “younger food operator”. But both had a similar vision — to open an offshore brand and spread it as quickly and as successfully as possible.

“After shaking hands and agreeing, we formed a company out of South Africa exporting talent to the rest of world to show them how good the country’s people could work and how friendly, compassionate and caring they are,” says Michael, keen to emphasise his roots. “Looking back today I am very proud of what the team has done to grow and develop and sustain the quality and standards of our group worldwide. We are very proud.”

As you may have guessed from Michael’s compliment, the older and more experienced of the two is partner Tomazos. Having conceived and started one of the first steakhouse chains in South Africa in the 1970s, called Squires Loft, he then took the company to a successful listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and later merged with Ster Kinekor and traded under the name Interleisure.

As a result of his accounting background, Tomazos was able to blend and combine all the elements of sound financial management with his entrepreneurial flair, delivering viable concepts and solutions to the food industry.

He acts as the Meat Co’s group consultant and advisor on all food concepts and ideas — he is the man on the ground and seen in his homeland as a “true visionary in the food industry”. Michael, on the other hand, has been labelled in the South African media as the “creative rainmaker” of the business and is highly respected for his innovation and leadership in the industry.

His achievements include developing Black Steer (a traditional South African steakhouse) into an international franchise and creating and establishing the Max Frangos and Bulldog Pub chains before merging them to form Foodgro, a company also listed on the JSE. As a former managing director of Planet Hollywood in South Africa, Tomazos says that Michael’s main skill lies in “identifying prospective food ventures and modifying these into profitable business concepts” — exactly what has been achieved with the Meat Co. THE FUN FIVE Although things have moved fast in the five years they have both been involved with the business, Michael says he has still managed to balance his work and social life, leaving adequate time for his family, and above all, having a lot of fun along the way.

“The key aspects to ensuring that we maintain a high standard as well as high profit returns is hiring the right people, training and paying them correctly and caring, and having fun,” says Michael. “We want to ensure staff loyalty, maintain and improve staff health, wealth, trust, a good working environment and above all fun, fun, fun. I can’t stress that enough,” he adds. But is the fun about to end with expansion set to reach a point where the brainchild needs to grow up? The more stores open and the faster the Meat Co spreads across the world, surely the more it grows the faster it loses its individuality? He staunchly disagrees.

“You can maintain an individual feel while growing quickly by hiring and training the right people correctly, continuing to give customers what they want, with good service, at a reasonable price and in an unusual but consistently successful way.”

THE NEXT PHASE

Michael’s international vision is almost complete with the next phase set to begin shortly. Despite the fact that he still calls it his “baby”, Michael says the business is reaching the stage where the next step is required — the need for Michael and his team to push hard for global domination is becoming ever greater. With this in mind, he admits that a global listing is in the pipeline and could happen very soon.

“To list the group on an international level and make our people wealthy and their families rich, ensuring a healthy balance all round, is what we want and have always wanted,” he says.

Despite the achievements Michael has made there are, however, certain things he misses such as getting back in the kitchen and “cutting meat and grilling steaks” for his customers. However, this is more than made up when you consider the financial gain made by Michael and Co, and if, as he says, the business branches out into gourmet burgers and organic chickens, profits will continue to rise even higher.

The company’s success is leading to big bucks for the dual founders, their shareholders and their staff. Michael says he has invested all his own money into the project and says that he receives an average return of 35%.

And once the future restaurants have been completed, the business’s revenues, he adds, are set to reach a staggering US $100 million. That’s a lot of steaks sold in one year.

It is big business and if he manages to pull this one off, which, judging from his track record, no doubt he will, expect a Meat Co near you in the very near future.

“After shaking hands and agreeing, we formed a company out of South Africa exporting talent to the rest of world to show the world how good the country’s people could work, and how friendly, compassionate and caring they are.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT — THE PARTNERS ON: Their relationship
“We respect and trust each other, we both have honesty and integrity and we care about our families’ futures. It has changed in the sense that we have built a huge trust and belief in each other.”

Their best and worst qualities
Best: “Trust, knowledge, our people, attention to detail, systems, training, having fun and a unique taste in meat.”
Worst: “Communication with the stores and getting the same quality in all the stores.”

Their highs and lows
The highs: “Opening in different countries, developing long serving staff members, using their skills and interpretations, watching them having fun and making money.”
The lows: “When good people get poached from our group and leave for money reasons.”

Tomazos on Michael
“My career turning point was when Bradley came into my life.”

Michael on Tomazos
“He was the king of the food industry in our native South Africa.”

Michael on retirement
“I would never want to retire, only slow down and have more quality time with my kids.”

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