Restaurants world-wide have been struggling during the Covid-19 crisis but it has been particularly gruelling in South Africa. The South African restaurant industry breathed a collective sigh of relief on 15th August when the lifting of the alcohol ban was announced.
The curfew and extended ban on alcohol sales made it hard to cover costs, even once sit-down dining was finally permitted in July resulting in a number of restaurants closing their doors. Now there is light at the end of the tunnel, although there is a long way to go and our surviving restaurants still need all the support they can get.
Ground-breaking initiatives such as the Restaurant Rescue Project, and Eat Out’s Restaurant Relief Fund, to which S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna contributed substantially, are a lifeline for the survival and regeneration of the South African gastronomic landscape.
The Restaurant Rescue Project
This is the brainchild of Radford Dale Winery owner, Alex Dale together with Chef Patron of Grub & Vine, Matt Manning, to help save the restaurant industry. “We were seeing the carnage in the restaurants we knew and wanted to find a way of helping—a mechanism that would generate sufficient funds to really make an impact for each restaurant,’’ says Alex.
Each restaurant is adopted by different wine estates. It’s a voucher system with a difference – purchase a voucher to dine at your chosen restaurant any time over the next 2 years, and you get a complimentary case of wine to the equivalent value (or more) from the partner wine estate/s. “Our 200 vouchers sold out in a matter of days generating a healthy cash injection for us,” says Matt. “From there it snowballed, with numerous other wineries coming on board in support of some of Cape Town's best loved eateries - all thanks to Alex's connections and tireless efforts.”
For the customer it’s a fabulous bargain – the wineries are digging deep into their inventory and bringing out older fine wines to give away. Wine estates have suffered too during lockdown, but those who are coming on board have a strong export market that has given them a lifeline that they are keen to extend to the restaurant industry, according to Alex.
Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund
Since it started in April, the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund has raised R1.67 m so far, distributing funds between 55 restaurants who are cooking for communities in need. This is not slowing down as restaurants start to re-open since the need is greater than ever.
“Our restaurant partners are still actively continuing with their feeding projects – although they have had to reduce their feeding days to allow for normal operations,” says Tarryn Corlett, Head of the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund.
These restaurants have successfully managed to produce over 800 000 meals so far. S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna contributed R200,000 to the fund in June as part of their #SupportRestaurants movement. The 50 Best for Recovery fund in partnership with S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna is also set to donate over R670,000 as a result of the Bid for Recovery auction. This is an online initiative replaces the regular 50 Best annual events, raising funds to provide financial relief to restaurants worldwide by auctioning spectacular gastronomic experiences with the world’s top chefs and restaurants.
Adapting, Surviving and Moving Forward
Restaurants have come up with a diverse array of different offerings to survive through lockdown but it has been a constant battle, so all these funding initiatives have been vital. Three chefs share what has worked for them so far:
Grub & Vine
“We managed to keep all of our staff on payroll over the past few months, and thanks to the income generated from the Restaurant Rescue Project, we can keep ticking along for another few - which will hopefully enable us to ride out the worst of the storm,” says Matt. Their survival through the worst months of lockdown was helped by a new offering, Matt says, “Virtual Dining, our interactive, at-home fine dining experience, has been a success and a very positive thing to come out of lockdown - allowing us to create a new revenue stream. It's something that we are very proud of, and that we will keep as part of our offering - even when things slowly start to return to normal.”
“What’s kept us sane is to evolve with what’s going on around us, come up with solutions, it’s kept our creative juices flowing,” says Chef Peter Tempelhoff of Fyn. They started developing ideas for home deliveries early in lockdown. “We had photos of the dishes for Fyn from Home meals taken. After the shoot we packed up all the food to give away – we saw there was a huge need and started cooking for a local shelter.” They continued to cook for various charities, including schools in Khayelitscha co-ordinating with Ladles of Love. “We’re still doing about 2000 meals a week through Ellerman House and Fyn. The need is still there, so we’ve put it into our roster to keep it going.”
Now open for sit- down lunches and dinners, they have reimagined the restaurant interior with Japanese-inspired screens between tables and perspex screens around the open kitchen. “It’s important for people to feel safe at Fyn. We’ve adjusted our menus – you get a QR code for the menu with information on the dishes and ingredients, so you don’t have your waiter at the table explaining things for five minutes,” says Peter. He and Ashley Moss have also come up with new culinary concepts. “It’s a shorter, cheaper menu that is incredible value and helps with current constraints of time with curfew. We’re still getting the Fyn experience over to our guests but it’s costing them less, very much geared to locals.”
Foliage in Franschhoek kept its doors open in the first months of lockdown, driving the Franschhoek community food relief effort, prepping meals and chopping veggies for local soup kitchens. Chef Chris Erasmus focussed on Foliage’s survival. “We got permits to open as an essential business and turned the restaurant into a deli. Two Franschhoek chefs who’d lost their restaurants are selling their products here,” he says. Street food such as pies, curried vetkoek, pastries – sell alongside fresh produce, sauces and meats. When Foliage was finally able to open for sit down meals, Chris divided the space in two. The front section is the deli, the inner room the Foliage dining area serving lunch and dinner at weekends to locals taking scenic road trips into the valley. The menu is shorter to keep overheads down and realistically priced for locals.
“We’ve been getting creative with things like non-alcoholic cocktails – keeping it fun!” says Chris. Foraged wild herbs and ingredients, always one of Foliage’s creative strengths, have an added benefit “We’re foraging a lot harder these days, so we buy less.” The deli also stays open in the evenings, so that you can shop for that sauce, chutney, or steak you enjoyed at dinner and take a parcel home. “We’re extremely flexible, there is no more ‘No’. If we have it in the restaurant, we’ll cook anything you want!” says Chris, adding that the important thing is to keep positive and save our industry.
Looking to the future
As to what’s ahead, Matt says, “What keeps me going is imagining things a year from now; our restaurant, once again busy (but with sanitation protocols firmly in place), people out in the streets and festive after months of isolation, and our borders open, with tourism trickling back. I know in the greater scheme of life, these past few months are a relatively small part of the bigger picture, and I do believe we will emerge stronger, more resilient, and with a new appreciation of the things we took for granted before; spending time with friends and family and of course, enjoying good food and wine.”