Open for business: Here’s what it’s like for this Durban restaurant to open again

Just under a year ago, 9th Avenue went through a breathtaking evolution when it made the move to Durban Yacht Mole at Durban Harbour. For Gina and Graham Neilson, the reopening of restaurants during the South African lockdown meant that they could welcome visitors to their glittering dockside location once more, but not without its challenges.


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How does dining at 9th now differ from before lockdown?

What was a chock-a-block restaurant is now faced with so few people. We’re aiming for quality instead of quantity. When we initially moved to the harbour we had to stop our tasting menu because we were just too busy, so now that there are fewer people, we’ve brought our tasting menu back because we now have the time and space to do it.

What challenges have you faced so far?

We were obviously extremely sad when restaurants couldn’t open and there was a long wait before they announced the date we could open with regulations, etc. Now that we have actually opened, the reality of the situation is dawning on us. In a perfect world, we would have received our UIF, we would have received insurance, we would have received a reduction from our landlord, but we were faced with the challenge where we had to open again but then you’re open with so few customers. People are nervous to go out and unsure if we’re open. We’re going to give it a couple weeks and just hope for the best.

Which specific measurements have you put in place?

In terms of COVID training, we got in a trainer and we sat with our staff and explained all the protocols we had to put in place. We’re lucky in that we have a partnership with a freight company, and they had gone through all of this a month ago. It was nice to learn from someone who had already been through putting these protocols in place. We’ve changed the restaurant in that we’re now seating diners upstairs as well as downstairs. It’s actually been fun, in a sense, to rearrange everything again.


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Have you made any changes to your menu at all?

Our tasting menu is back, and we’ve made our a la carte menu shorter as we’ve had to reduce the number of staff.

Do you have any advice to fellow chefs and restaurateurs on reopening?

Crunch the numbers and figures beforehand and really know what you have to aim for. Don’t just open – you really have to make it work, otherwise, you may end up closing. We have a target for each day.


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Has the no-alcohol rule made you rethink your offering for the time being?

This has been very difficult. We’ve even had customers phoning to ask if they can bring it in a takeaway cup! It’s not worth taking any risks in losing our liquor licence and we just ask if customers can please be patient. We’ve designed a mocktail list and it might surprise people that they don’t need the alcohol to enjoy their dinner.

9th Avenue (pre-lockdown). Photo by Christopher Lourenz.

How have your customers and the community responded so far?

The first few days we were surprised with school friends, my daughter’s teachers, and doctors that we know all came to support us. That’s one thing you realise: you are part of a community and it’s really heartwarming to see.

Will you continue to run your soup kitchen while operating the restaurant?

Absolutely. We will continue it as long as we can!

How do you see the restaurant industry in the future? What trends/innovation do you see coming out of all of this?

What I’d really like to see is that restaurants start charging what they should charge. Many restaurants, especially in Durban, have been under-selling what they do. For a long time now, the restaurant industry has been broken and it’s not sustainable for business. Smaller menus, better quality, and restaurants putting more effort into their hygiene can only be a positive thing.

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