Secret to success must be guarded

The Life: Costa Mazzis, the chief executive and founder of Barcelos, talks about how the company's corporate strategy includes a family secret his sons are not ready to know.

Costa Mazzis, is the chief executive and founder of Barcelos. Aziz Shah for The National
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Costa Mazzis is the chief executive and founder of Barcelos, a South African chain of restaurants that is expanding into the Emirates.

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Back to business

During a recent trip to Dubai he talked about how the company's corporate strategy included holding a family secret, and why his sons are not ready to know the truth - yet.

Your recent opening in Dubai marks your 99th outlet. How did your restaurant get started?

Barcelos was a family restaurant that I started in South Africa in 1994. I was doing it alone. My two boys, 29 and 25, have joined me. My one son runs operations in the UK. The second runs the regional base in Cape Town.

Besides Africa, you've also expanded into Singapore, London and Canada. Yet this is your first push into the GCC, where you plan to open 15 eateries in three years. Why start in Dubai against so many competitors?

Yes, needless to say, it's a fairly saturated market. It remains a market for us diehard restaurateurs. There's so much demand for quality food in this country, so it's nice to know if your brand can stand up in Dubai it can stand up anywhere in the world.

You credit your restaurant's success to a secret marinade that's made in South Africa and then exported globally. Had you always intended its ingredients to be kept secret?

Without a doubt. It's something we protect very dearly. It was made by me and one of my partners that is still with us today. We used to mix the spices ourselves. We then sourced it out and created a confidentiality agreement with the firm that does it.

Companies such as Coca-Cola have built their success on secret recipes. How does a company like yours keep that hidden?

What we've done is we've put our recipe in an escrow account. We did that many years ago in a particular law firm, whereby if certain things happen the recipe is disclosed to certain other people. Two people know at the moment: myself and the partner who joined me about two years after I started the brand.

So who's next in line to learn the recipe?

I've got another two people who know they are the next to be exposed to it. They've been with us for 10 and seven years. They know it's coming, but it's not time as of yet.

But they're not your sons. Many businesses in the region are led by fathers who want family members to take over one day. Where do you stand?

I'd only be privileged to have my two boys follow in my footsteps. They're still young. In 10, 15 years from now, my sons may be able to do the rest of what we do. In the meantime, we groom them. They have a long way to go before they can either know the recipe or run the company.