Hands-on hotelier with cheery face takes a bow

Jonathan Seex
Jonathan Seex, the director of Business Development at Tamarind Group. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Jonathan Seex in his easy demeanour always had a smile to offer and neither did he take offence when one embarrassingly butchered the pronunciation of his surname. “It’s Seex,” he would say.

For the past year and three months, he was the chief executive at the Tamarind Management Limited, a company that traces its roots to more than four decades ago.

This was the last role he would play at the company started by his father before the country woke up to the news on Sunday morning, that the flight he was on had crashed.

A tweet from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed informed the world that Ethiopian Airline Flight ET302 en route to Nairobi from Addis Ababa came down in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) barely six minutes after take-off from Bole International Airport, killing all 157 souls on board.

“The office of the PM, on behalf of the government and people of Ethiopia, would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya, this morning,” read the tweet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.


Hours later, the Tamarind Group issued a statement informing the public that Seex was among those who tragically lost their lives in the ill-fated flight as he returned home.

“It is with immense shock and grief to inform you of the tragic news that Tamarind CEO Jonathan Seex was on ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight. Our thoughts and prayer are with his family, friends, the Tamarind community and all the others who have suffered unfathomable losses,” read the statement.

Martin Dunford

The little known fact is that Seex was the son of the man who began Tamarind Restaurant in Mombasa in 1972, a restaurant that has since grown to be an entire group under the same name.

His late father Chris Seex started the restaurant at the coastal town before Martin Dunford joined him. Chris and Dunford established the Tamarind Group in 1977, expanding with another Tamarind restaurant, this time in Nairobi’s central business district. Then came the famous Carnivore in 1980 and the new restaurant dubbed Tamambo was set up in 2001.

The group now owns and operate brands including the Tamarind and Carnivore, Tamarind Tree Hotel, Tamarind Dhows, Tamambo, Tamarind Village, Dorman’s Coffee Ltd and Golden Key Casino.

Born in Mombasa, Seex largely grew up abroad studying and working outside Kenya in the hotel and hospitality segment before he returned to Kenya and joined the Tamarind Management Limited as director of business development in 2007. It was during his tenure at Tamarind Group that he introduced a new dining concept dubbed Roast by Carnivore. The concept veered away from the fine dining eatery that Carnivore was, opening up the brand to a fast food concept, shifting to where the consumers were based.

The group also signed five deals to manage hotels, suites and restaurants for local investors who are putting up multibillion shilling investments in the leisure industry. This included managing properties for investors who buy suites in Osotua Tamarind Tree — a 52-room project in Naivasha, Tamarind Migaa in Kiambu that has 80 rooms, the 100-room Tamarind Tree Suites (Rosslyn, Nairobi) and the 120-room Tamarind Tree Residence on Ngong Road, Nairobi.

A year later, Seex oversaw the opening of the Tamarind Tree Hotel near Wilson Airport, a half-an-hour drive from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport via Southern Bypass and a three-minute walk from the Carnivore Restaurant.

New hotel

The concept of the hotel was targeting the modern traveller looking for an out of the box hotel, or as Seex would describe it as “anti-generic”. The hotel was also appealing to the millennials who are looking for a facility that is youthful, vibrant and full of energy.

Throughout the entire process of setting up the new hotel, he was hands-on in every aspect, describing it as “micromanaging” to ensure that the vision was executed perfectly.

His 15 years of experience saw him work as an executive in publicly traded and privately owned international luxury resorts ranging from Sh2 billion ($20 million) to Sh55 billion ($550 million) in revenues.

On his profile, Jonathan described himself as “Effectively communicates direction, commits people to action, inspires vision and ownership of projects and conveys complex information in easily understood formats. Fluent in Swedish, English and French.”

Before joining the Tamarind Group, he was retained as general manager and vice president operations at Ridges Resort and Club in North Carolina where he was in charge of acquisition, renovation and turnaround of the underperforming lakefront resort in the US.