Restaurants that have stood the test of time

It’s a tale as old as time – opening a restaurant is a tricky business, one where success and closing your doors are on a knife-edge at any point. Yet, despite this, there are still some true stalwart restaurants that not only made it through the first uncertain years that go hand-in-hand with a food business but a pandemic too. We chatted to the owners of some of the longest-standing restaurants in the country to learn about what led them to be so successful pre- and post-pandemic.

The recipe for success pre-pandemic

Diners in South Africa are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to eating out, with every kind of cuisine available for every kind of occasion. But there’s often one thing that sets neighbourhood gems apart – consistency and good food. Espresso, in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, opened in 1998, with what owner Jo-Ann Hinis calls “complete blind faith and a burning passion”. When trying to pinpoint what has helped them remain open for 24 years, Jo-Ann says that Espresso has been able to establish a “generational” charm.

“I think we became everybody’s ‘local’ due to the consistency in our food and the quality of our service, and today, our original customers’ children’s CHILDREN are our new customers!”

She credits consistency and good food, as well as a little good luck. “Our food is simple and satisfying – it’s comfort food in an unpretentious space. That might just be the secret to our success.”

In the Mother City, Anatoli Turkish Restaurant has been running since 1984. While the business has changed hands a few times, current co-owner Russell Zieff says they’re consistent about what they know works.

“We’ve made a few subtle changes, but we continue to offer personalised service and our popular mezze tray,” he says. “We often have guests coming in saying ‘we got engaged here’ or ‘this is where we had our first date’ and I so am glad guests can reminisce about the ‘old Anatoli days’.”

In Durban, few restaurants have stood open as long – or as high – as the Roma Revolving Restaurant, which first opened in 1972. While Araf Dawood, who oversees finance and admin, says a lot has changed since those days, he says that the restaurant itself has remained true to its beginnings. Along with the unbeatable views, he credits the food for ensuring repeat customers. There’s also the unique touch of having the original owner, Gino Leopardi, take each order individually, and a menu consisting of many flambé dishes, prepared right at the table, both adding to an old-world personal charm not often found anymore.

“The quality of the food has been consistent from day one of trading,” says Araf. “And it’s always been important to have the correct team in the kitchen and in the dining room to give customers great food with excellent service.” 

When the going gets tough

As individual stories, these restaurants have a lot to be proud of for staying open for so many years. But there’s something even more remarkable about their long-term success considering the difficult two years experienced by the restaurant industry. Some restaurants, even those with bigger names, couldn’t stay the course, so what were these three doing differently to safeguard their future?

The team at the Roma Revolving Restaurant says that they simply had to hunker down when the going got tough. “We were fortunate to have our parent company assisting us financially, but we were closed for months,” says Araf. “We did our utmost to ensure no staff were retrenched as they are our greatest asset.” 

Jo-Ann Hinis of Espresso says that lockdown understandably caught everyone by surprise, but they were able to reinvent Espresso to make it through. “We sold food, as well as flowers, deli-type gifts, biscuits, and a selection of bread and pastries to generate income,” she says. “The turnover wasn’t much, but we managed to survive!”

Surviving lockdown and beyond

While the dust settles from lockdown, there are signs that the restaurant industry is coming back to life, which wouldn’t be the same if these iconic eateries hadn’t made it. Russell Zieff of Anatoli says that lockdown reiterated what they were doing well – that guests came for the hospitality and experience, and his advice to other restaurant owners is to focus on these kinds of things for future success.

“Establish what your USP is and drive it. Keep ideas fresh and ensure that guests are receiving the well-known warm hospitality they are accustomed to,” he adds.

Espresso’s Jo-Ann echoes this: “Being hands-on, ensuring consistent food quality, and happy, loyal, capable staff have stood us in good stead.”

Gino Leopardi, owner of Roma in Durban, finishes by saying: “Restaurant life is not an easy life, but if you have love and lots of passion for your job, you will smile for 50 years as I have been doing from 1972 until today.”


Leave a comment

Promoted Restaurants