The secret behind Meraki by Charlie Lakin’s triumph in service excellence


Brought to you by Woolworths Financial Services

There is no service industry without good service. And restaurant-goers will attest that service can make or break an entire experience. The line between good and excellent service is fine, as in the case of this year’s Eat Out Woolworths Financial Services Service Excellence Award recipient, Meraki by Charlie Lakin. How does a 27-seater in KZN’s Hillcrest come out to trump some of the country’s biggest culinary hitters? We spoke with chef and owner Charlie Lakin to find out what gives Meraki its edge.


Meraki’s story starts in the unlikely locale of Yorkshire, where Charlie Lakin grew up. Nine years ago, he moved his family to Durban’s sunny shores, where after some time working in local restaurants, he had the opportunity to open Meraki. “By this time, though, I was ready to quit the industry or move back to Britain,” says Charlie, but thankfully his now-business partner Andy sparked a new chapter. Nestled in a space that once housed a bakery and deli, Meraki was born. “We opened on one hell of a shoestring,” Charlie says, recounting the moments of ‘borrowing and scrounging’ that helped him open one of the smallest kitchens in the country.

Considering its intimate size and nature, dining at Meraki is akin to eating at Charlie’s own home, especially at the kitchen table. Drawing on classic French techniques and treasured family recipes, the food at Meraki is hearty and comforting. Charlie admits pre-planning is not his strong suit, meaning “the menus are very much dictated by the ingredients on offer each week.” “I can only really plan once I’ve got the ingredients,” he adds.


Food aside, he credits his small team of four full-timers and one part-timer for Meraki’s success. “We offer an attentive but relaxed service as a whole team, so it’s sometimes me or Laura from the kitchen dropping the dishes off and explaining if Cheyenne and Thobi are busy out front,” says Charlie. Valuing staff satisfaction over performance, Charlie adds, “I basically just want my team to relax, be themselves and let their own personality shine.” Through this ethos, Charlie has also fostered an environment of continued learning and education. Once he’s written the week’s menu, he shares a detailed breakdown of every dish with the team. “[I share] how all the elements are prepared, explaining classic terms and cooking methods, where the ingredients come from, why certain things are on the plate, for all the team to study. Then I do tastings,” he explains. The result is a team confident in what they’re serving, backed by a chef who trusts them implicitly.


Meraki’s charm stems from a dedication to showcasing what they believe in rather than catering to convention. “I do it for myself and what I think is right and not trying to appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry,” says Charlie. The ever-changing menu and Charlie’s commitment to staying true to himself and his team is a testimony to this. With nearly 100-hour work weeks, Meraki isn’t just a restaurant; it’s home for Charlie and his team, a sentiment that’s now cemented his place in the local industry.

Click here to see the full list of winners for 2023!

Images: supplied

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