Tarja Visan sweeps into the open terrace of the Little Buddha and immediately you know you’re in the company of someone quite special.
The charismatic and elegant co-founder of the Buddha Bar is in town for Little Buddha’s 10 year anniversary.
Her eyes flash with immediate enthusiasm. ‘Hi, I’m very pleased to see you and very pleased to be here in Sharm El Sheikh for the Little Buddha 10 year anniversary’.
She beams with a hint of a French accent. ‘I hope it will be another 20 years’.
Visan’s enthusiasm for her venture reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of powerful women today. Gone are the days of leading from behind the walls of an office, they want to be informed and active across all areas of their business.
Visan is no exception, she has recently flown in from Morocco to join the team here in Sharm El Sheikh, her hands are intricately painted with henna and accessorised with beautifully crafted rings.
She quite literally wears her travels and creativity on her sleeve, pouring joie de vivre and talent into all her ventures, from haute couture inspired décor, innovative world music to carefully crafted fusion food. We met her on the eve of the anniversary to find out more.
How did the Buddha Bar idea come about?
We started with my husband in 1996, next year is going to be a big year for us, it’s going to be 20 years. The Buddha Bar idea came because we found a location, the first location at Buddha Bar was next to the hôtel de Crillon in Paris.
It looked like the perfect place to put the statue (bronze Buddha). Why the statue was the Buddha and still is the Buddha is because we got the inspiration for the food. We used to go to Hawaii a lot. Hawaii has this pan Asian rim
food, this is mixed with Asian and Californian food and of course we put a French touch to it.
So that’s the concept and of course the music was coming from the world; Asia Russia and Arabic countries.
The Buddha Bar concept is expanding worldwide, what do you think is the reason behind its massive success?
Its hard work, it’s never easy I think we are still very much working to keep the quality of the food, you have to remember that we are really a restaurant. I am working with very good head chefs and we are traveling a lot, we are tasting a lot of food from all over the world and for me, it is the quality, and of course we have to work more as today it has to be about presentation too.
It’s not anymore just what you put on the plate for the taste and the mouth; you have to see what you taste, so it’s very important. Of course the music too, we have very good DJ’s that know how to mix the future, today and the past together.
How have you found Sharm El Sheikh so far?
It’s changed, last time I was here was 10 years ago, and it’s the evolution more buildings more restaurants more people, but that’s good as I wish there to be more and more. I think maybe you are going to get this, like international touch more here in Egypt.
So how did you find the success of Buddha Bar in Sharm El Sheikh compared to the rest of the branches worldwide?
I need to say thank you to Mr Tarek, because he’s the man with this group, because after 10 years this place still looks…has magic. When you see it you can’t imagine the decoration and ambience, the maintenance is very important because the quality of the food is excellent. They just did this teppanyaki which is fabulous, there’s always something new coming, so this is very good.
It’s really different isn’t it, there’s nothing like it in Egypt
Exactly, I think it’s because of the quality of the food, service, ambience and music!
How were you able to manage to keep the upscale quality of the service for all branches?
I have a very good team, I have a team that are traveling, we have one staying in Dubai, one big team based in France and Paris and I have a team that are traveling all the time. They are going from one place to another. Everyone has a passion. We are like the Buddha Bar Family, I need to say that.
So who are the Buddha Bar’s ideal clients?
We are actually very lucky as the clients we have today, start at the age of 15-16 and go up to my age and over the age.
So quite diverse?
Yes very much but I think it’s because of the music the DJ’s; they always bring something from the future. We still have and wish that in the future we are going to have them. My daughters who are 23 and 25, they want to go to the Buddha Bar, for them this is the place where we are supposed to be, as they say ‘the place to be’ it’s true and this has been going on for 20 years.
So how do you see the future investment in Egypt?
From what I can see now, you are going in a good way, that’s why we made a common decision that we will go to Cairo. So we have a license to open the Buddha Bar there in 2017, in a new area, it’s called New Cairo. The exact location is secret, super secret! The location is super, I am very excited. We are going to have the first meeting next week in England, to go and take the first steps to build the location, so we’re very excited. You’ll have to wait until 2017.
So what’s your advice to emerging business women?
That’s very easy, you have to work three times harder than the men. Wake up, put your make up on, be on time, dress up, never be late and you have to read all the emails, you have to know everything. You can’t say sorry what are you talking about, you have to know what you’re talking about. Unfortunately, we have to work three times more…
Yes it can be very hard!
Well for us it’s easier as we have a good memory, we don’t have to read those books three times or four times and you read it once you have it in your head.
So what are you plans for this particular branch in the future?
Yes here in Sharm we are going to be keeping the Little Buddha, next year we are going to be doing a little bit of renovation, we’ll still keep the DNA but there are going to some little changes, this is going to be our meeting tomorrow. We have the teppanyaki which is something new and our Japanese chef will be visiting very soon, by December. So we are not forgetting the Little Buddha here in Sharm El Sheikh!
Have there been any memorable highlights over the past 10 years here?
My late husband was here, he saw the place and I’m really pleased for that, I’m sure he is still watching us and will be very happy, this is a very good memory for me.
Owner, Tarek Hakim adds; Also Geneva and Amsterdam, they took the idea from here, and then they opened in Amsterdam and Geneva.
So they used the place as inspiration?
Yes the owner came here, he saw the place and then contacted the Buddha Bar office. Tarja Visan continues; we have to say going with that the karma Kafe that we have in Dubai, there is going to be one in Cairo.
What do you like best about Little Buddha Sharm El Sheikh?
The location, I think it’s a fabulous location, it’s easy. The way we did it 10 years ago it’s still very easy to go inside. If you only want to have dinner, you can enjoy with drinks and music and so I think the combination is very good. It still works over here and the weather is fantastic, there is a nice terrace. I’m very happy that the tourists from all over the world can enjoy.
Visan is full of praise for her staff, ‘my mixoligist he is fabulous he looks at you and makes you a drink. He’s so talented he has been with me for almost 20 years, he started at the Barfly with me, then he left wanted to go to the mountains to the ski resorts and he stayed there, and then I went to ski over there, I said what are you doing here? It’s boring come with me and he came! Normally we never do that, once you leave you never come back, but this one, I felt he was so good I better take him back…and he came back’.
He’s a real talent isn’t he? ‘Yes he’s a huge talent’!