Leslie Gomez is the Founder and Executive Director of The Olive Tree, an award-winning restaurant group in Malaysia. In this article we cover the lovely conversation we had with Gomez at the group’s newest outlet La Chica, Bangsar, the third of its series, a radiant colourful Mexican Grill sitting in the lovely neighbourhood of Jalan Bangkung.
The culinary journey for The Olive Tree Group has started 20 years ago with the sole purpose of providing exceptional dining experience. The group is built from a strong and growing team of industry veterans and expert chefs and it’s led by the restaurant entrepreneur Leslie Gomez. Having started in 2003 the group has set a path of success and climbed the expansion ladder in 2007 diversifying into new brands. Today, The Olive Tree Group has a total of 13 brands spanning across 6 states in Malaysia with a current total of 26 outlets but the numbers don’t stop there. The future’s looking brighter with big plans to continue expanding the famous Gastro-Sports bar, Rockafellers!
Gomez is an inspiration for the industry, he has started his journey with big dreams and has built an empire with his dream team consisting of over 500 staff. He says “When the team works, the dream works” He expresses the importance of having the right people, “ a team that understands the business, will take you wherever you want to go.” Another inspiring quote of Gomez’s is “Do what you love and love what you do” he explains, “It’s a long term business. You need to be calm and have love and taste for you do”
I was curious to know at what point did the passion for this business spark for Gomez, He says he’s not a foodie per se but he sure loves seeing people gather over a meal and have a good time so he wanted to provide the happy space and experience for families and friends to gather around and have a great meal together. “That’s why I focus on creating concepts that people will enjoy.” He very well achieved that, might I add, with the remarkable success around all of the group’s outlets.
With the many outlets operating in a busy city like Kuala Lumpur, we wondered how the company is “keeping it fresh” in other words, what were the key factors behind their every freshly made dish. Gomez states: “We don’t do centralised kitchens. Every outlet has its own individual kitchen, everything is prepared freshly in the outlet” in addition to relying on fresh resources.
How important is customer service to your restaurants and what steps do you take to ensure a positive dining experience for your guests? Gomez expresses that besides making delicious food for an enjoyable experience, customer service is of the utmost importance too. Being the person who runs the operations in the group, he’s always on the field monitoring and guiding the staff to be prepared and to offer great service. “You can’t always go by the book,” he says, pointing out that in addition to restaurant training, the staff should have their independent personality, common sense and that extra effort to be able to act in any situation they’re faced with. After all, great service is all about knowledge, attitude and communication.
What marketing strategies do you have in place to attract and retain customers in the competitive restaurant industry? Coping with the trends is the obvious go-to. “In this online age, people know the restaurant, rating and reviews before coming in, but the traditional Word Of Mouth method is still very much valid and is the biggest sellable point in marketing anywhere you go” he continues, “to be seen is to be known.” With instagram all of our patrons can stay in the loop on the latest menu updates or fun events and even our upcoming openings. And then he added one more key point to his marketing strategy “Maintain your quality.”
Lastly, what advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs in this industry? “Be physically present and have a team that understands the business ” A lot of us want to pave our own path which is amazing but it’s important to know that business comes with risks, and it’s a learning journey so be calm and love what you do.