The latest issue of Peach Report takes a look at the latest south American concept to hit the mainstream—Cabana. Here are five things we learned from co-founder Jamie Barber
1 The route into casual dining isn’t always conventional
Some of the sector’s leading operators work their way up the ladder, but others stumble into the business. Co-founder Jamie Barber started out as a lawyer at entertainment practice Harbottle & Lewis, and it was a chance meeting with a famous client that led to the creation of Mayfair institution Hush. “I’m an accidental restaurateur. I had no idea, no track record, no money and no sites,” he remembers.
2 You can learn a lot from others
Barber was self-aware enough to realise he had to bring in the sort of operational skills he lacked. “I found my strength and weakness at the same time—that I didn’t know how to do it. But I made sure I surrounded myself with people who did.” He has always known when to seek advice, and name-checks veterans including Ian Neill, Robin Rowland and Paul Campbell as sources. “The guys that are advanced like to help the ones who are up and coming… there isn’t quite the same ruthlessness you see in other industries.”
3 Brazilian restaurants are about much more than the food
Barber’s friend and co-founder David Ponte has set up a formal Brazilian restaurant that failed because it was too stuffy. After a visit to the country, the pair realised that their restaurants needed much more Brazilian flair and theatre. That has come through the giant skewers of grilled meat that are now Cabana’s hallmark—but also from authentic design and lively atmosphere. “The food and drink is obviously critically important in casual dining. But what you are really selling is fun. People want to have a good time.”
4 ‘There’s a big opportunity in drinks’
Barber says food accounts for 70% of Cabana’s sales, but like many casual dining operators he is finding drinks to be an increasingly important part of the mix. Initially inspired by Hush’s renowned bar, the range has become more authentic, including Brazilian spirits and craft beers. “There’s a big opportunity for us in drinks,” thinks Barber.
5 Cabana is going nationwide
Cabana now has seven restaurants, but can reach “20 to 25” within three years, Barber thinks. Much of the expansion will be beyond London, with cities including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Southampton, Bristol, Bath and Cardiff on the hitlist. “You feel very comfortable in London, and there’s the beauty of being able to get to all your sites easily enough. But… any casual dining group that thinks it’s going to get to any kind of critical mass without moving outside London is going to hit a brick wall.”