Of course there’s a certain amount of experimentation allowed in the kitchen, but within reason. Every good chef knows that measurements are an important part of any recipe.
The difference between a pile of flour and eggs and a successful, beautiful cake can be something as simple as using the wrong amount of baking powder.
Ours is a family business, which we are aware wouldn’t grow without consistency, discipline, respect for what we do – Vivos
This kind of reasoning works for some of the best chefs in the culinary industry, but when you start a restaurant business, offering all sorts of dishes from grandma’s recipe book, serving typical tastes with authentic twists, you can never go wrong. That’s what Kubata Restaurant offers Windhoek.
Managed by the Vivo Portuguese/Namibian brothers – Telmo (37) and David (24) – the business has thrived within a span of just six years on nothing but discipline and respect for family values.
“Ours is a family business, which we are aware wouldn’t grow without consistency, discipline, respect for what we do and a non-arrogant attitude that recognizes competition and being able to get better every day,” says David.
The establishment also has a hotel – Kubata City Hotel – which is solely managed by their parents and has been in existence for 16 years.
None of them are professional chefs, except for David who studied food and beverages in a South African university. But they loved food and hospitality so much they decided to make an income out of it.
Our father came to Namibia with nothing but he never quit
Their handyman father migrated from Portugal in 1986 to work for a mechanical company in Namibia. Through side-jobs, which he would find in his short and long-term contracts, he eventually opened a now-defunct retail store in Windhoek.
In the meantime, his sons and wife remained in Portugal, also striving to make ends meet.
“Our father came here with barely anything, but being the resilient person that he is, he just couldn’t quit. He worked all types of handyman jobs from plumbing to bricklaying, which dated back from his years in Portugal, and eventually saved enough to start a business and bring us here to join him. Those weren’t easy years – financially, emotionally and just generally as regards having that fatherly guidance – but we pulled through,” says Telmo, reminiscing on a time he had to be the father figure to his little brother who is 14 years younger than him.
Most family businesses fail to even launch, mostly because they differ on literally everything and want “get paid” for letting employees do all the work. You always find a son who wants all the inheritance even before the parents are gone, or another one who wants to get paid more than the rest of the family because of A, B, C, D. But not the Vivos.
This family business thrives on each member’s ability to stay in their lane and mind their own business. For instance, Telmo has an accounting background with focus on chartered accounting. Their father is the handyman. David is the youngest, so he handles their events and the general run-arounds of their establishment while their mother is the background lady – typical of every good wife/mother in a family business. She is in charge of the décor of the rooms and restaurant, the recipe management, the upkeep of the establishment and yes, the money, with the help of Telmo who keeps their books in order, for auditing purposes. David manages big corporate events every weekend and they’re currently fully booked till January.
Stay in your lane and trust others to do their job well – Vivos
They owned the property in which the restaurant is located, although there existed O Portuga Restaurant before them. When O Portuga left, they decided that the brothers take ownership and take the restaurant to newer, better heights. Under new management, the now Kubata Restaurant has a second floor and view-to-die-for.
Risk-taking is a big part of this family business’ life. Telmo says; “Being a jack of all trade, our dad is the biggest risk taker we know and he has instilled that in us. Look, you will never know what could work if you don’t give it a fighting chance. He built the hotel from scratch with a small team of about seven people. David adds; “All the designs and construction was all by him.”
What have they inherited from their dad besides risk taking, I ask. David quips; “Hot headedness, especially for me (chuckles). He always said he couldn’t spoon-feed me. So I had to observe and learn, which at that point in time only had Telmo as my point of reference and role model.
If a waiter gets the most sales but gets a bad comment from a diner, all will be lost
Telmo adds; “I would say, family values are a big part of us because of dad.”
But how do they hold it together? “Yes, there will always be differences,” the vocal David says, adding, “We are a family. It’s not easy, but,” Telmo cuts in, “we realize that we work better together than apart.”
David cuts in; “We are very hands-on. We explore every opportunity to be better every day. We have to be at work every day, staying on top of each and every part of the business. Nothing escapes us and nobody gets away with anything. We hold each other accountable and that trickles down to our employees as well. He looks at Telmo to add onto his point before adding; “we incentivize. Our waiters work on commissions. We award them for everything they do and equally reprimand them when need be. They all don’t earn the same salary. If a waiter gets the most sales but gets a bad comment from a diner, all will be lost. They get monthly bonuses for every effort they make, but we let them know that we can easily take it away, if they slack on their knowledge of our vision, our menus, etc.” Telmo nods in agreement and we move on, pride of his little brother reeling on his face, as he seats opposite us in his office.
What inspires these brothers and would they have pursued other careers had they not grown up into a family business?
I don’t regret co-running a family business rather than pursuing chartered accounting – Telmo
Telmo: “Can’t think of anything at the top of my head, which inspires me the most besides of course being the best I can personally bring to the table. Would I have pursued something else? Of course. I’m educated and being a chartered accountant pays really well, but I don’t regret being here. One thing most family businesses don’t focus on is education. It is very important and helps each member identify what they can bring to the table and not just feed of others’ efforts.”
David: “Being a chef by profession, what inspires me is the fact that I work for myself. I wake up knowing I have to show up because it’s for me. And no, I never imagine myself anywhere else, even though I have the education and experience to work in five-star hotels in a first world country. I bring it all here.”
Lessons drawn from childhood
What mark did their upbringing leave on them, I wonder.
“We come from a strict disciplinarian background,” David who admits to being a reasonable problem child says adding, “At Delta High School where I went, we never had room to misbehave. And the same environment was at home, so a sense of discipline has since come easy for me. I actually thought I’d pursue pharmaceuticals at that point in time, because I was so good in related subjects, but that changed for the love of culinary experience. Being in an institution where one had the privilege of ending up in the biggest hotels in the world taught aspects of this industry I will continue to instill in our business.”
Our parents never spared the rod – David
Telmo who attended Emma Hoogenoot Primary School in Hochland in his junior years says back then, “we had a strict disciplinarian environment, we had to cut our hair a certain way, wear uniform and act and speak a certain way. There was no room for rebellion.”
But with quite a dead culinary industry that will not favour much beyond French fries and schnitzel, what could be done to better the hospitality and culinary industry in Namibia, I ask.
According to David, without traveling, a people become narrow minded. “Travel, expand your mental scope, try new culinary tastes, dance to odd music, take a cruise, read, watch cooking and travel shows, read about other countries… Without these, one will never want to try new things, such as strawberry and pepper sauce, or even know how to treat people with dignity.”
But then again, Telmo quips, “Many people don’t have the means to travel, which is understandable.”
David adds that taking culinary classes could also help one’s perspective of the industry, however, in Namibia, that is made limiting, especially at the Hospitality School at Unam where the problem is the actual educators who aren’t up to scratch. “That’s why A good businessperson would open a restaurant with a niche.”
So what can be done to tweak this weakness?
Travel, learn a foreign language, explore different culinary tastes, meet new people beyond the borders, read meaningful book to expand your thinking – David
Telmo says either Government provides the right expertise or be more lenient towards the acquisition of visas and work permits for those hired by private establishments, because it eventually favours the country’s development. “We have a head female chef whom we imported from Portugal, which is expensive,” David cuts in, adding, “because you have to pay them enough to be able to send money home and still live decently here.”
Telmo adds “You can’t teach a Namibian how to make Portuguese cuisine in three years what’s taken the chefs 20 years to master and yet we cannot give a job to someone who doesn’t know how to do it. The foreign people will come here, try to teach, and then have to leave in three years due to an expired visa that won’t be renewed. The other thing that will keep sinking the industry if nothing changes are the operating hours of most eateries. Hallo? Why do Portuguese shops close at 2am?”
“In London, there’s so much diversity – you will barely hear English being spoken by everyone you meet, and it makes it grow in so many ways. Namibia is hesitant to growth, a la the restrictions with permits. Why do businesses close at 5 when that’s the time consumers have time to shop or dine? I therefore respect The Grove Mall for giving Maerua Mall a run for its money in terms of competition. The latter needed that wake up from slumber,” David explains before Telmo adds, “Open late and close late. People must work hard and stop the entitlement mentality of wanting what they haven’t worked for. Yes, our labour laws protect the employees as regards working hours, but it doesn’t do much for the country in terms of development.
Let’s embrace diversity. It evokes inevitable development – Telmo
With a staff complement of 44 employees for the restaurant, excluding the brothers and 18 for the hotel, how do they decide who takes home how much home?
“We don’t so much as sit down to allocate remuneration packages at management level, but we all get benefits – fuel, loans, mortgage, etc. – so we don’t exactly have a fixed salary,” explains Telmo.
David seconds; “We start with realistic amounts. I don’t have a mortgage or school loan, so I don’t have to have a salary increment. Our parents get profits from the hotel, for instance. We have lunch together every day to caucus on daily issues as they arise. It helps us stay in the loop.”
With a 13-year difference between the brothers, I ask if they’ve ever had “out-of-control” fits as most brothers do in family businesses or generally growing up.
If you treat people with dignity and you’ll never have to worry about their loyalty – Vivos
“I practically brought him up,” Telmo says of blushing David, before adding, “Changed his nappies and all that nonsense. Inasmuch as he had his rebellious episodes later in life, he was your regular teenager – nothing arose that a little hit on the back couldn’t solve.”
David finally adds, “We never had any sibling fights, because of the age gap. I had and still have a lot of respect for my brother, because dad was away, we were starting over and mom always worked. He did it all for me. I always wanted to be just like him – calm, level-headed and super smart.”
Does being a family man make Telmo a better boss or business manager? Yes, he says. “One tends to be responsible, compassionate and fatherly towards staff. You get to empathize more, which may lead to emotional versus business decisions at times.”
I can handle my own girl problems, thank you – David
What does David derive from Telmo’s brotherhood? “I look up to him in everything and trust him with everything completely.”
But has he ever had to go to Telmo to help him solve girl problems? “I can handle my own girl problems, thank you (laughs). But when it comes to everything else, he lives by example, so I emulate.”
Has Telmo then had to live up to David’s expectations? “Nope. I am who I am. My family knows me. They get me. My brother gets me. I’ve never had to be a different person to fit into his perfect world. I’m just Telmo.”
David oddly adds, “I actually never got the chance to be bad. I would be allowed to attend parties, but my parents would fetch me at exactly 11:30pm.”
My family knows me. They get me. My brother gets me. I’ve never had to be a different person to fit into his perfect world. I’m just Telmo
Having been a father figure to his little brother without ever imposing fatherhood but being more brotherly, Telmo is very proud of David. “He’s chosen well. He’s on to a good start. He’s hotheaded, but responsible, mature and cares for is loved by everyone.”
“Our eventual goal is to franchise, probably in Angola, Portugal and South Africa,” quips David, adding, “although you tend to meet hotel and restaurant managers more who are multi-cultured, most B&Bs are black-owned, but you’re never too sure whether an upmarket hospitality establishment is owned by a white or black person,” on the issue of white domination in the Namibian hospitality industry.
Telmo thinks capital could be the reason for the domination, if that’s the case. “But it also draws down to a niche. A good businessperson would open a restaurant with a niche. For instance, the Thai and sushi places are owned by the same person, because they tapped into that niche market.
A good businessperson would open a restaurant with a niche – Telmo
“If I wanted to hunt for waiters, I’d go to Bolster. They’ve tapped into a part of the local hospitality industry has embraced yet. The prices there are ridiculous but the service and food is superb. Namibian people aren’t into fine dining. The backgrounds or cultures of people who own big restaurants in Windhoek are into food – Portuguese, Chinese, Italian, Indian. Afrikaners don’t own restaurants because their culture isn’t into food,” explains food.
Best advice each has ever received? David: “Give your business your best every day.”
Telmo: “Treat people with dignity and you’ll never have to worry about their loyalty.”
Can they cook? David: “I can, but I don’t, because we eat every meal here at the restaurant. Been lazy to cook since college.”
Telmo: “God, no!”