The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the country slowly emerges from lockdown, great concepts and stories of courage and resolve are surfacing. Here are four newly opened coffee shops showing their mettle amid SA’s still-unstable economy.
Gourmet Grocer is every neighbourhood’s dream: courtyard tables and sit-down options for everything from eggs Benedict to tacos, burgers and small plates. Additionally, there’s carefully selected wine and beer; freshly baked breads and rotisserie chicken made on the premises every day; Swirl, a smashed and rolled ice cream stand; and even dog treats.
Tucked away inside this grocery store is Coffefe Roastery, founded by master roaster and brewer Marco Da Silva and Larry Hodes, the owner of Gourmet Grocer (formerly Voodoo Lily) and Arbour Cafe. Suppliers who used to sell at markets and stocked now-closed businesses have now found a home at Gourmet Grocer. However, it’s the formidable roasting machine and blender that fills and anchors the space in a way that reinforces the main focus: coffee.
The name Coffefe may not comfortably roll off the tongue, but it does create a talking point for its reference to Trump’s fumbled 2017 tweet – #covfefe, in relation to his ceaseless complaints about the unfairness of the media. What he meant to type was “criticism”. The coffee shop’s name is both a tongue-in-cheek reference to that viral moment but also perfectly encapsulates its ethos – Coffefe is unapologetic about celebrating coffee without being inaccessible or alienating the everyday coffee-drinker.
For the month of October, as a thank you to its community, takeaway coffees are half-priced. And R17 – if you make it there before the start of the new month – is a fair price to pay for a blend of Coffefe’s roasted blend of beans from Guatemala, Columbia and Ethiopia, which will change as Da Silva continues to experiment with different beans from around the world. You can also order your coffee beans online.
During a time most viewed as the worst period to start a new business, owner Chad Brandon Paul – an architect by trade and self-confessed food junkie – saw an opportunity to venture into the hospitality industry for the first time and launch a passion project. Sandwiched between the now-closed Social Bar and Saigon Suzy, just off the busy Jan Smuts and Bolton Road corner, Morning Glory is a new addition to Joburg’s coffee-shop circuit. Just over a month old, it’s already adding a dash of sunset-strip neon its surrounds. Patrons are rolling in from early morning to grab a cup of coffee.
Paul says people started coming in for brunch, so the coffee shop has also become a little brunch spot too, where you can order perfectly poached eggs, smashed avocado on sourdough toast; granola and smoothies; triple-cheese toasties; salads such as the sweet prosciutto one with grilled stone fruits, mint and blue cheese; and sweet treats. A must-try is the lightly toasted banana bread topped with espresso cream and cashew-nut brittle.
The new post-COVID menu has also just launched. “It’s the best of both worlds, and our coffee is amazing,” says Chad. The beans are sourced from Been There Coffee. “It’s single origin,” says barista John Kabongo, who has garnered a following among the city’s coffee connoisseurs. Paul says the aim was to find a happy balance between a commercial coffee like Starbucks and a tailored coffee like Father Coffee, a blend they’re currently working on. “This is a co-working environment – we want people to come, stay and be comfortable ordering four or five coffees and something to eat.” The charm is in that combo – an easy cup of coffee, breakfast and free-flowing Wi-Fi, all for under R80.
The space remains flexible for now – closing hours have gradually become later, dictated by patrons and when they’re ready to leave. Paul is also open to conceptual events, hiring the shop out to private parties and interesting partnerships.
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ThirstDay has arrived ! Have you seen our superstar baristas in action…. if you haven’t…. come in and let us serve you a Strong and Stiff one…. and you can tell us what you think. RISE AND GRIND 🌵 #coffee #coffeelover #coffeetime @kab.john @munchy_nana_punu #breakfasttime #breakfast #caffeine #coffeeaddict #tbt #instaeatssouthafrica @jemm_media
Barista Khulekani Mpala was flying high last year, impressing judges with his technical skills and scooping coffee awards around the country. When COVID-19 hit and he found himself at home without work, he decided to join his wife at her hair salon (Norma’s Beauty Hair Salon in Oriental Plaza) and help her gear up for Level 3 safety regulations to resume operations. Lovingly he would brew them each a cup of coffee for the day and soon neighbours, enticed by the delicious aromas, would enquire about the beans and ask for a cup. So he set up a manual coffee bar in the corner of the salon, which he operated during lockdown.
“The beautiful experience and the coffee sales gave me the courage to rent a new space. If people would come for a cup of coffee in a hair salon, in such an area, then they will come anywhere else,” says Mpala. He’s setting up a full coffee bar called Thando Coffee Company in Clubhouse Shopping Centre for sit-down meals and takeaways. It will be open for a dry run at the end of October and officially opens on 1 November.
Ironically, the space it will occupy used to run as a hair salon, so the unlikely theme of hair and coffee continues. “This confirms that my destiny is aligned with the hair business.” He jokingly adds that if anyone knows of a hair business that’s closing down, he will set up a Thando Coffee Company outlet there.
The manual coffee-making will still form part of the offering, but it will also include espresso machines. “Machines are nice to use for baristas because they allow them to show a specific skill and technique, but I love manual brewing because it gives me time to connect with my client. As I brew, I explain where the coffee comes from, how it’s processed and the notes you can pick up – so it’s a personal experience.” The company will also train baristas both on and off the premises.
The exact coffee blend is top secret, a combination that Mpala has been perfecting for some time, experimenting with beans gifted to him by coffee-loving customers and friends, plus his own discoveries and collections. It’s a blend of two Central American coffees, as well as an East African one, he shares. The bagged coffee will be on sale, in addition to sandwiches, muffins and other snacks. And yes, Mpala continues to make his wife a special cup every day.
With its first branch in Midrand complete with a drive-through offering, the Parkwood Vintage Coffee outlet opened a few weeks ago with its gorgeously minimalistic coffee, wine and Scandinavian-inspired beer bar. Its Green Bean programme acts as a mini internship where enthusiasts volunteer at least four hours a week to work at the shop (one shift for three months) while learning how to make exceptional coffee – you get to chat, drink coffee and gain a skill. And the coffee is exceptional – dangerously so. One sip of its smooth and mellow Pedlars Blend (a blend of beans from Tanzania and Brazil), which is also sold at the shop (and online), will have you thinking about your next.
The wine selection is still making its way into the fridges, but there is a fine craft beer already on sale. Non-alcoholic options include lemongrass, ginger, and sour cherry kombucha, as well as an iced latte and a cold brew. For breakfast, choose from a selection of poached, creamed or fried eggs on toast (with bacon, if you prefer), in-house granola and a pancake stack or croissants. For lunch, go for a fresh summer chicken salad, a quinoa health bowl, a pastrami melt or a chicken-mayo sandwich – all for between R65 and R95.