Over the course of more than four decades, Martin Dunford has established himself as one of the most important figures in Kenya’s hospitality sector. He is the executive chairman of The Tamarind Group, which boasts a portfolio of popular restaurants, bars and hotels including the world-famous Carnivore Restaurant and the bar Kengele’s.
Born in Nairobi in 1952, Martin went to Kenton College in Nairobi and later Fettes College in Edinburgh, Scotland. He then went to England to pursue a Bsc in Hospitality Management at Surrey University in England.
Upon graduation, Dunford opted to turn down a job offer from the prestigious Hilton Hotels and instead came back to Kenya. In 1975 he connected with Chris Seex, who had established the first Tamarind restaurant in Mombasa three years earlier.
Seex and Dunford teamed up as Martin demonstrated a knack for the business, eventually earning him shareholder status. He also served as the hotel group’s general manager and managing director, steering it through a period of meteoric growth.
Their second restaurant, The Tamarind restaurant in Haile Selassie avenue, opened its doors in Nairobi in 1977. In 1980, they struck gold after opening the now iconic The Carnivore Restaurant, featuring an incredible selection of sumptuous meats. So successful and internationally popular has the Carnivore been that, today, The Carnivore Johannesburg operates as a franchise of it in South Africa by Recreation Africa Group. They opened The Tamarind Dhow in 1985, Tamarind Village in 1991 in Mombasa, The Carnivore in Johannesburg in 1993 and The Golden Key Casino in 1996.
The restaurants cut a niche for themselves with the fine dining experience and customer-centric service.
They rolled out the Tamambo brand in the early 2000s, starting in Westlands in 2001, Tamambo Village Market in 2005 and Tamambo Karen in 2010. They later opened the Tamarind in Karen.
The group ventured into hotels with The Tamarind Tree, situated at The Carnivore, which opened in 2016.
It hasn’t been all roses. The group has been forced to sell various failed ventures at a loss – such as Tamarind Trout Farms, Tamfeeds, Thriftec, The Carnivore Cairo and Dormans Coffee shops.
Notably, Martin is married to Geraldine Dunford, and they have three sons including talented swimmers Jason and David who represented Kenya at two Olympics, and won medals at The Commonwealth and the All Africa Games.