The Highs and Lows of the Restaurant Business

With Brazilian food currently going down a storm in the capital, Jamie Barber and David Ponte, founders of the award winning Cabana Brazilian Barbecue restaurant brand, tell us about the highs and lows of running a thriving business and what inspires them…

Founders Jamie Barber and David Ponte on Cabana sign

Who/what inspired you to set up Cabana?

D: I was born in Rio and have always had an immense love for Brazil. My father is French Moroccan and my first foray into the restaurant business was founding Momo with Mourad Mazouz. With Momo, we were part of a growing movement to make Moroccan food mainstream in London, and I had always hoped to do the same for Brazilian food.

J: I have been in the restaurant business since founding Hush in Mayfair in 1999 and have always been fascinated by the idea of “Brazilian Barbecue” i.e. freshly grilled meat brought to the table on huge metal skewers.  When I met David I realised we had a golden opportunity to really make this concept work in London.

What makes the Cabana brand stand out in such a competitive market?

Simply put, there is no-one else in the market today who has taken the traditional concept of the churrascaria (Brazilian Barbecue) and updated it for the 21st century.  There are multiple Italian chains within the ‘inspirational casual dining’ sector, a myriad of burger restaurants and Mexican food is continuing to rise in popularity, but there is only one Cabana! 

How do you react to the changing marketplace?

We are constantly renewing our menus and reviewing customer feedback. We both also eat out (perhaps too much!) as we like to make sure we’re aware of the latest trends whilst still staying true to the brand.  A great example is the Picanha Burger: David has always wanted to put Picanha (Brazil’s favourite cut of steak – the Cap of Rump) on the menu, but Jamie realised that some customers would dislike this cut, which comes with a layer of fat on the top.  When the burger trend took off, we realised that a Picanha Burger was a great way of being part of the trend whist putting our own stamp on something with a dish that is on trend, wholly Brazilian and unique to Cabana.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

D: “Look after your customers and the business will look after itself”. My father’s words…

J: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”