The making of an icon: 96 Winery Road in the Winelands

It is no secret that the restaurant industry is one of the toughest to succeed in and that opening a restaurant isn’t for the faint of heart. Restaurants are a true labour of love and keeping one open year after year takes hard work, dedication and passion. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, one that especially crippled the food industry, and it is even more remarkable when we’re able to celebrate restaurants that have successfully stood the test of time. 96 Winery Road is one shining example of this.

Having opened in 1996, the stalwart restaurant has been a prominent part of the Winelands dining scene for over 25 years. What goes into creating such an iconic establishment? We chatted with Natasha Wray, one of the owners of 96 Winery Road to find out about the story behind the restaurant and what makes them tick.

Tell us about the beginning of 96 Winery Road. When did you open and who is the team behind it?

The restaurant first opened its doors in May 1996, by owners Allan Forrester and Natasha Wray, in partnership with Ken Forrester and Martin Meinert, all of whom are proudly still part of the team.

What was the initial idea behind the restaurant when it first opened? Has that changed at all?

We always wanted a warm, welcoming, casual, home-away-from-home environment, where our guests can relax and enjoy a fabulous meal and sample some of the amazing wines featured on our list. There is nothing pretentious here, we simply focus on good food, good wine, and good company and through that, we’re able to create an all-around great experience. We do our best to keep up with the times but have never changed the ethos we opened with.

What is the restaurant best known for?

I think we are best known for exactly what I said above! Our service is warm and friendly and our customers recognise this. We have so many wonderful regular customers, who over the years have become friends. I also believe we offer fabulous value for money, as we are focused on using the best local produce and cooking really, tasty meals. Our wine list is extensive and has something for every palate and pocket. And of course, I have to mention our famous “Hollandse Pepper Fillet” which has been on our menu, almost from the very beginning.

What has the journey been like since opening?

I simply can’t believe 27 years have passed since we opened our doors. It has been an incredible journey. We all feel as though we have grown up together. We are truly blessed with an amazing team of dedicated staff, many of whom have been with us for over two decades. We have a fun, creative work environment and we all feel really supported by each other.

What are some proud memorable moments that have stood out?

There are more than a few memorable moments we’ve had since opening in 1996. Firstly, winning many awards over the years, including being in Lannice Snymans’ top 10 twice, as well as receiving recognition for our award-winning wine list. Then, welcoming the Springboks after they won the world cup and being able to take photos with the team and the trophy was a very cool moment, along with hosting a hugely successful art auction for Francois Pienaar’s MAD charity. We’ve also been very fortunate to have our own children, nieces, and nephews come and work here and share in our passion, as well as watch our staff learn, grow and develop a real love for our industry. It was also a very special day to hold my own wedding here in 2005!

What do you think has made the restaurant so consistently successful after so many years?

I think that Allan and I are hands-on, and leading our team by example is very important to us. Our ethos has never changed and we’ve always stayed true to ourselves. We always aimed to exceed our guests’ expectations and are constantly trying to improve everything we do. Ken Forrester, our partner, travels extensively and is always coming home with new and exciting ideas. We use this as inspiration to keep things fresh but we also always want our guests to feel like they are coming home when they visit us, which is likely also part of our success. Mostly, I think it’s because we LOVE what we do and feel so blessed to have been able to do it for so long!

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