Lexi’s opens first Pretoria restaurant amid lockdown

It may seem counterintuitive to open a new restaurant in the middle of a global pandemic, but for Lexi’s Healthy Eatery, the risk has been worth it.

The plant-based eatery was meant to open its fourth store in Hazelwood, Pretoria, in late March. With the nationwide lockdown, the launch was delayed to early June for deliveries and July for sit down. On top of this, Hazelwood is their first franchise branch and the first outside of Johannesburg.

Yet, co-owner Lexi Monzeglio says: “So far it’s been the best decision for the business we could have made.” She had a gut feeling that the Pretoria store would be successful, partly because she was consistently getting enthusiastic messages on social media requesting the brand to open in the capital.

“There was obviously this big gap there,” Lexi says. She explains that while the majority of Lexi’s customers aren’t necessarily vegan or vegetarian, they are looking for something unusual and fresh. “I think people are just so happy to have something healthy and different, and I think that’s the response in Pretoria.”

Marco Ferreira, owner of the Hazelwood branch, agrees that there was a desperate need. He wanted to “not only cater for people who believe in sustainability but also to cater for people who want to be a lot more health-conscious.”

Lexi says the Lexi’s team quickly connected with Marco and the franchise partnership felt like “an organic no-brainer”. It didn’t hurt that the Hazelwood site is particularly beautiful and trendy, with inside and outside seating areas, as well as an upstairs deck. With a full capacity of 150, this will make it the biggest Lexi’s store – almost twice the size of the Sandton, Rosebank or Modderfontein sites.

The menu at the Hazelwood branch is the same as in all Lexi’s, with a wide variety of smoothies, burgers, bowls and wraps. While there are a few meat and fish offerings to make the restaurant widely appealing, the vast majority of dishes are vegan or vegetarian.

Lexi admits that while she was very determined to expand Lexi’s to Pretoria, expansion at the time was scary. She says that though enthusiasm from potential customers was clear, “it doesn’t change the fact that we’re a hospitality business in the middle of a pandemic”. Like most restaurants, the business is operating at less than half of the normal occupancy and has had to take cost-cutting measures.

“Lockdown for all businesses has been tough in general, I think,” says Marco. “However, by starting off with just takeaways, it gave us an opportunity for the kitchen to get into the swing of things.” This start gave them the initial income to pay staff: “Looking after them was really an integral part of opening up during lockdown.”

Despite the difficulties, Lexi says her advice to other business owners would be to still try and be positive. She says to take the risk of expansion and growth if possible; it’s paid off so far for Lexi’s. “The response in Pretoria has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s performing the best out of all the stores.”

Marco agrees. Looking towards the future, he says: “We really hope that we’ll go from strength to strength and that restaurants, in general, will come out on top, giving people a sense of normality.”

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