Restaurants still feeling the pinch

Shap Braai restaurant in Maboneg, Johannesburg, during level 3 of the lockdown./ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Shap Braai restaurant in Maboneg, Johannesburg, during level 3 of the lockdown./ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Restaurant owners are still struggling to keep up with expenses even though they have now been allowed to operate.

Sowetan visited Maboneng Precinct in downtown Johannesburg and Vilakazi Street in Soweto, to see how the areas had transformed since the government allowed restaurant sit-ins.

After two months of looking like a ghost town, the buzz at Maboneng is starting to pick up. However, most restaurants remained empty with just a few customers coming in to pick up take-aways.

For most owners who spoke to Sowetan, complying with the lockdown regulations was not a problem; making money was the big issue.

Ntobeko Zakwe, co-owner of Shap Braai, said it took him and his staff a week to prepare for their reopening.

"Business is still very low but we cannot complain because it is better than sitting at home. We are swimming in debt. We are still trying to recover from all the losses of the early stages of the lockdown.

"We need to pay rent, there is no subsidy for it. We have to buy stock and pay salaries. We are running on negative."

When the lockdown began, Zakwe and his co-owner Livhuwani Manavhela started preparing meals and utilising an app for deliveries and pick-ups. But this was still not enough to cover all their costs. They were forced to pay their employees between 50% and 80% of their salaries. A total of 11 workers lost their jobs.

Things got so bad that they were left with no choice but to close their other outlet in Yeoville, Johannesburg.

Shap Braai, which has been operating for eight years, currently gets less than five sit-ins a day. Zakwe said on each R100 meal ordered online, R30 goes to the delivery company. Of the R70 left, the company is only able to take home R45 after paying all the costs. Only six of the 15 workers are back at work due to low profits.

Mathias Maguri, manager at Vuyo's on Vilakazi Street, said the situation was frustrating.

"You need to remember that Vilakazi Street is mainly a tourist attraction site. The ecosystem here means that every business has a dependency on the other, which are all fed by tourism. There is no tourism taking place at the moment," Maguri said.

He said they were not optimistic about business gaining momentum any time soon.

Tiisetso Tsambo, PR and marketing manager at Sakhumzi, painted a different picture of how the business has fared over the past month as they changed their business model from a predominantly buffet-esque outlet to serving take-aways.

"We have a steady increase in the number of orders that we get. We are hopeful that people will start being open to the idea of coming to sit down at restaurants within the regulations, so that we can also bring back some of our staff members," Tsambo said.

Last month, the government allowed restaurants to have sit-ins but in limited numbers. However, it has not allowed consumption of alcohol there.

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