Relic of Sophiatown

The Sophiatown Bar Lounge and Diner is the Newtown Cultural Precinct-based restaurant.

The Sophiatown Bar Lounge and Diner is the Newtown Cultural Precinct-based restaurant.

The restaurant was founded in February 2007 by two brothers - Mzwandile and Ziggy Thabethe. Although in its infancy, the restaurant has a considerable number of patrons.

Asked what had led them to start a restaurant, Mzwandile said the main idea was to rekindle and reminisce on the good old Sophiatown days. The theme behind it was bringing an African cuisine with a Sophiatown touch.

The brothers wanted to find a way to keep alive the spirit of the former Sophiatown and the restaurant emerged as the most convenient vehicle to achieve that.

To help the patrons relive and indulge in nostalgia about Sophiatown, the meals are served in traditional enamel plates and the tea is served in enamel cups and mugs.

Traditional candlesticks like those used in the 60s and 70s are used to light inside the restaurant.

The interior of the restaurant with its 60s and 70s memorabilia takes you back to the old Sophia days. The waitress station is an old green 70s kitchen unit and the waitresses are branded "shebeen queen".

The brothers say their target market is any tourist who is looking for a traditional South African-style restaurant that captures the old times in a modern way. Their customers range from the affluent Johannesburgers to professionals and those who want good service, good food and an excellent place to wine and dine in downtown Jozi.

Starting up was not easy though, as the Thabethes struggled for a while to get a bank to finance their business. When they finally found a bank which was willing to finance them, the terms and conditions of the contract were tough.

Contracts were sticky, terms and conditions were impossible and the bank was hostile to young black South Africans hoping to own a typically white- owned restaurant.

The brothers believe that if it was not for Khula it was going to be too difficult to achieve their goal. Even with the assistance of Khula they still had to pop out about R100000 as their contribution in order to qualify.

Business seems to be going very well for the Thabethe duo as they have recently opened a cocktail bar next to the restaurant. The cocktail bar is called "Ko spotong", an alternative name for shebeen. The bar is modern and the affluent enjoy their sundowners after a hard day's work.

What makes Sophiatown tick? According to its owners, good service, perseverance, quality and excellence are top of the list where a customer is concerned. There is no compromise when it comes to customer service. The restaurant recently hosted MTN's year-end event.