Listen to Anna's chat with Phemelo Motene on Weekend Breakfast while reading her notes below...
• The recession is biting hard in all sectors of our economy and restaurants are no exception. • The restaurant franchises are surviving (and in some cases even thriving) BUT we are losing significant numbers of small family owned/ individual owned restaurants.
FAMILY/ CHEF-PATRON RESTAURANTS OFFER SOMETHING THAT A CHAIN – NO MATTER HOW GOOD – CAN’T PROVIDE: • Family/ individual owned restaurants offer something that a chain – no matter how good it is – can never offer. • They offer the kind of skill in the kitchens that can only be built up over many years. • They offer flexibility in food and service offering – they know the customer and can adapt to meet a particular like/ dislike. • And they really aren’t more expensive – every time you eat in a Vovo Telo or even a Spur it costs much the same as eating in a chef-owned bistro.
SO WHO HAVE WE LOST RECENTLY: • In 2017 the rate of loss is truly terrifying. • Last month Marc Guebert’s Le Soufflé and Andrea Burgener’s The Leopard closed. • At the end of this month Michel Mourand’s Bistro Michel at the Blubird Centre will close. • In their different ways all three of these chefs have been significant players in the Johannesburg cultural scene for over 3 decades.
THAT’S JUST THE ONES THAT WENT UNDER IN THE LAST 2 MONTHS THINK ABOUT THE HORRORS OF THE LAST DECADE: • Think about what has happened in the last few years; The 3 Ships, Gatrilles, Le Canard, Linger Longer, Gramadoelas, Auberge Michel etc, etc. The list goes on and on… • Essentially we no longer have independent restaurants in Johannesburg. We have dives (which can be great but aren’t restaurants) and we have chains.
DON’T WE HAVE BIGGER PROBLEMS THAN THE DEATH OF RESTAURANTS? DOES IT MATTER IF SUCH RESTAURANTS CEASE TO EXIST? • In a context where the poor are getting significantly poorer and at least 25% of our population goes to bed hungry on a regular basis it may seem trivial to remark on the fate of fancy food but remember that restaurant businesses make jobs for chefs and waiters and pot washers and there are knock on consequences for ingredient suppliers. • Restaurant owners pay taxes. They have school fees and mortgages to pay etc.
IS A CITY WITHOUT RESTAURANTS EVEN A CITY? • Food is a form of material culture and all three of the chefs I described above practiced this culture at the level of high art. It is a cultural loss for Johannesburg if such businesses go under. • Can a city without such great restaurants call itself a city at all? • It is like saying it is okay for a city to have no art galleries or sports fields.
RESTAURANTS ARE PART OF DEFINING A CITY CULTURE AND ITS MEMORY OF IMPORTANT OCCASIONS GOOD AND BAD. • Think how many engagement dinners and birthdays and celebrations of business successes and drowning of sorrows have been absorbed into the wall paper of such places. When they go part of our history goes too. • Marc Guebert recently estimated that "since I arrived in South Africa in 1972, I must have made over 400,000 soufflés!" How can we have let that slip away.
THE STORY IS SLIGHTLY LESS HORRIFIC IN PRETORIA – NOT A LOT BUT A LITTLE: • Pretoria has diplomats and government bureaucrats who don’t pay for their own dinner so it is slightly more recession proof. • Pretoria can just about sustain such restaurants. For example La Madeleine.
SO HERE IS MY PLEA. EVERYONE MUST TRY AND SKIP ONE MEAL IN A CHAIN AND VISIT A REAL RESTAURANT. La Madeleine 122 Priory Road, Lynnwood Ridge, Pretoria. 012 361 3667. • Chef Daniel Leusch has been cooking up a storm at La Madeleine, Pretoria for the 37 years. • He has been joined in the kitchen in recent years by his daughter Anne who I think is the most skilled young chef in Gauteng. • His is a magnificent restaurant. Culinary skill and classic, authentic flavour combinations with affordable prices. • I had supper there on Thursday and I had a superb saffron-laden bouillabaisse fish soup. Magnificent oxtail with the lightest pomme puree imaginable, a rhubarb compote with a rosewater mousse. • A superb French cheese board – Reblochon, Pont Leveque, Munster etc, etc, etc. • Fabulous personalised service. • And of course magnificent madeleine biscuits and chocolate truffles to end.