Walking into Taqado Mexican Kitchen’s Dubai Media City branch, we get a glimpse of Nadine Benchaffai in action. She’s looking at the ingredients, welcoming walk-in guests and assisting her staff with their orders. As we sit down with her, she says with a cheeky smile: “It’s not that they are my team, it’s more like WE are a team.” It’s easy to see straight away that Nadine is a people’s person; she’s clever, easy going and to the point. In fact, these are qualities that have helped her become a terrific leader to her growing team of over 160 members and build her immensely popular fast food brand.

Cooking up a storm

Take a second to look at the numbers that define Taqado’s growth: the brand has expanded from one to 13 stores in four years. Its revenue is doubling every year since its inception in 2012. What’s more? The company is now eyeing expansion into other GCC markets through franchising.

So, the question to Nadine is: how did she make the transition from being a young fresh graduate out of London School of Business to becoming a very successful restauranteur? “The concept already existed elsewhere in the world and I had invested and worked on launching Tortilla back in 2006 in London. I remained an executive on that Board until I moved out to Dubai. There seemed to be an obvious gap here for that kind of concept so it made sense to launch something like it here. Hence, Taqado was born,” she opens up. “I chose it because it was an area that I had previous experience in and there seemed to be an opportunity in the market for it. In addition, I felt so many of the international franchise brands were so poorly executed here that there was an opening to really make a difference.”

Perfecting the recipe

And, what exactly is Taqado doing differently? “Taqado is different in that all the food is cooked from scratch every day with high-quality ingredients like Mexican Haas avocados. The concept allows you to customise your meals so you’re not constantly removing items you don’t like but rather building your perfect meal. Moreover, we work hard to remain accessible from a price point perspective,” she replies.

Look, when we started out we had a very simple goal in mind: to offer good quality Mexican food at affordable prices. We are not just selling Tacos or Nachos; we are selling an experience. And, when you are selling an experience, your service team is your most important asset.

Nadine ranks her employees as the topmost contributors to her success; her biggest strength. But, there was a time when her team was one of her biggest concerns – and over the last five years, she’s worked hard to turn this around. “Finding the right team with the right skills and attitude is always a challenge. And, as we grew bigger, this challenge became quite apparent. Setting the required procedures is one thing but enforcing them is another; having a dedicated team to constantly check quality, consistency etc. is the real test. We need people that are quite entrepreneurial and can get stuck into whatever is needed but at the same time be structured – and that combination is a lot harder to find than I ever imagined!”

“It’s not that they are my team, it’s more like WE are a team.”Click To Tweet

She further explains: “Wherever you are you need the right team and partners; this makes a huge difference and is often the defining factor between succeeding and failing. People will say finding the right staff is tough in any business anywhere but I do feel it’s harder here especially for the salaries needed as the cost of living increases. Landlords are also very strong and rents often seem unrealistic for the market we’re in so that is a constant challenge. We think doubly hard about where to go no matter how amazing a new development may be. On the flip side, as a new brand it is much easier to launch here because landlords want new concepts all the time – whereas in the UK it took us almost two years to get our first site because no one wants to take a risk on a new brand.”

Following the old adage of ‘slow and steady wins the race’, Nadine and her management team started implementing bite-sized solutions to solve the problem. She shares her experience: “We knew that we had to make some key decisions with regards to the skills needed to take the company to the next stage. This meant removing anyone that couldn’t really adhere to the procedures set out. Next, we tried to find the skills in-house wherever possible and promote staff internally, which turned out to be a great success as it provided growth opportunity for our staff and motivated everyone. We also only hired people into senior roles based on if we had worked with them before.”

The outcome of Nadine’s strategy can be seen in her books. “Results are that revenues are growing despite tough times in the market and our margins are under better control. More importantly, with a tried and tested formula for hiring in our home market, we can confidently focus on regional expansion now,” she informs.

Facing the heat

Things are definitely looking up for Nadine since she’s found her dream team. So, is it smooth sailing from here on? “Smooth sailing and entrepreneurship don’t go hand in hand,” she laughs. Things are getting tougher for Nadine as the competition heats up. “Are we pulling our socks up? Yes, absolutely! The F&B market within this region sees cut-throat competition. You need to be consistently good in terms of quality and value and also refresh your brand so it doesn’t become stale. We’re innovating in terms of new menu items, updating the looks of each store as we progress. If you visit our first store at Mall of the Emirates vs. our latest outlet in Ibn Battuta you can see how the brand has evolved. We’re also becoming savvier on social media with the kind of promotions we run amongst other things,” she admits.

A touch of technology

Social media promotion is just the beginning of Taqado’s technological curve. Nadine is keen to integrate technology into the day-to-day running of her business. “Technology is starting to play a crucial part as we grow bigger and need real time access to store performance, ordering and understanding the sales mix. We recently changed our POS systems across all stores and transferred our accounts system to a cloud-based software. In addition, we work closely with Snapp & Beam as our partners to deliver customer loyalty and retention campaigns. Finally, new food delivery disruptor Deliveroo is now a key partner in getting Taqado out of just in-store sales and towards a larger delivery-driven market.”

We believe that the market for apps is really going towards aggregators – customers are becoming pickier about which apps they download. So, why have a Taqado app when they can get one that groups multiple brands? This is the case for loyalty apps as well as delivery,” says Nadine pragmatically. “We’re therefore working with these partners much more closely than before and finding ways to integrate systems so it’s more seamless for us as well as our customers.

The future is ripe

What’s next for Taqado Mexican Kitchen? “In the short-term, we will continue to streamline our processes (operational, financial etc.), improve our marketing campaigns and focus on further expansion in the UAE, although at a slower rate than before. Regional expansion through franchising is on our agenda in the long-term. We’re also working on the process to identify and develop relationships with the right partners. We are working on some event collaborations and are in the process of working with selective partners to do better collaborations on items such as coffee, for example” says Nadine excitedly. “We are also tracking the latest trends: healthy eating continues to have an influence on the market and we expect to see more raw food, vegan, paleo and acai being consumed.”

All in all, Nadine’s business is in a good place. And, as she gets ready to assist her staff with a new batch of orders that have just come in, we nudge her for a few parting words of wisdom. She happily obliges: “Try to create a solid business plan and really understand your target market. Undertake a feasibility study to really understand what you can afford – especially with regards to locations and rents. Understand your weaknesses and seek to bring in partners that help address those so you have the right team. Finally, if you’re having second thoughts about something, follow your gut and let it go.” Now, that’s what we call a recipe for success!

Rushika Bhatia Editor

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.

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