Pahari African Restaurant is nestled on the corner of Cecil Road and Swift Street in the multifaceted and culturally-diverse suburb of Salt River in Cape Town, South Africa. At this location, you will find our family restaurant which offers guests an authentic African cuisine dining experience.
Some say you should never do business with your family. I did just that and it has been worthwhile.
This is the story of how we started Pahari African Restaurant 5 years ago and how it has grown into the establishment it is today. Before we get into the story, let us roll back a few years.
I moved to Cape Town 14 years ago to study computer science at the University of Cape Town. After completing my degree in 2010, I remained based in Cape Town and I have been working in the technology industry.
As with most people far from home, I missed the home-cooked African cuisine that I grew up eating. I needed a solution to satisfy my cravings. I started going around Cape Town with friends looking for restaurants that would serve us authentic African food similar to what we used to eat at home.
We found some restaurants, but there were not many options at the time. I also identified some things that could be improved at each of the restaurants, such as the following:
- Food items were unavailable despite being listed on the menu.
- Some places had no menu at all.
- No online presence at all, making it difficult to confirm if a place existed or not.
- Service quality was below the expected standard.
- No delivery services on offer if I wanted to enjoy the food from home.
- Cash was the only method of payment.
Despite these issues, I still visited these restaurants frequently as I missed African cuisine that much.
I occasionally discussed the idea of starting an African restaurant with friends. As a frequent customer of the cuisine, I understood what service a good African restaurant should provide to satisfy its customers. I knew there was a gap in the market.
I had the idea but the logistics of making it happen were tricky. I had a full-time job in the technology industry and I had never been in the service industry or operated a restaurant. For a long time, it remained just an idea and I continued to visit other African cuisine restaurants to satisfy my craving for a food experience close to home.
In 2017, a series of events led to the opportunity to possibly turn the idea into reality. My parents decided to relocate to Cape Town, and they had some experience in the service industry through owning and running a bed and breakfast lodge for 17 years.
My parents could be on the ground and run the restaurant operation daily. I could continue working in the technology industry and support the restaurant in the back office administration. We had a few discussions and agreed the timing was right and we would try out starting our family restaurant.
The source of capital was the next consideration, we wanted to keep it within the family so we spoke to a few family members about investing. In the end, the committed investors in the project were my parents, my aunt, my older sister, and myself.
We then defined some standards of the African restaurant we were trying to create that we believed would make it a success. We came up with the following list from the discussions we had.
- The restaurant will serve authentic African cuisine that has a home-cooked feel to it. Including all the delicacies that we grew up eating at home.
- The restaurant will be a clean and presentable place.
- The restaurant will be known for its great service quality.
- The restaurant’s prices will be affordable to be inclusive and cater to everyone who wants to enjoy an African meal.
- The restaurant will have an online presence – a professional website and social media accounts to help with discoverability.
- The restaurant’s menu items will always be available.
- The restaurant will offer multiple payment options.
- The restaurant will give customers delivery options so they can enjoy our food from home.
With the blueprint of what we wanted to achieve in place, we started our search for a location that would become the home of our African restaurant. We viewed a couple of locations before we found the one that matched our requirements. We eventually found our ideal location through a commercial property agent.
The location had been a fast food burger restaurant before and that business had closed down. It helped that it had already been set up as a restaurant before. We would only need to work on minor renovations and buying equipment. The first time we went to visit the place we knew it matched all our requirements and we took a leap of faith by signing the lease.
As a family, we came up with a few suggestions for the restaurant name and we voted on the final one. We decided to name the establishment Pahari African Restaurant. I believe my mom is the one who suggested that name, I had to go back 5 years in WhatsApp messages history to verify that.
My dad drew up a logo mockup on paper and I hired a designer online to digitise the logo. Pahari in the Shona language means “a place of pots“. In our African culture pots are made out of clay and are designed to create the best flavours on the natural fire.
We recruited a small group of initial staff members and trained them in preparation for our launch.
On the 7th of July 2017, Pahari African Restaurant officially opened its doors to Cape Town. We received overwhelming support from friends on that opening day. I remember I went to the restaurant with the idea of sitting down and enjoying a meal with friends, but it was so busy I ended up helping with waitering for most of the day.
Our friends remained the core customer base in the first few weeks. My younger brother and I had a large network of friends in Cape Town having lived here for a decade at that point. I’m forever grateful to those friends that supported us at the start as they got us going and spread the word.
Over time our customer base grew outside of our friendship circle. A large number of the people who visit the restaurant now are people I do not know personally. We have a wide range of customers consisting of students, tourists, uber drivers, and doctors, the list is endless. The doctors from Groote Schuur Hospital which is located close by are amongst our most loyal customers, coming in almost every evening for a meal before their night shifts. We’ve also had a few high-profile guests visit and eat at the restaurant.
Our various marketing initiatives such as social media marketing have served us well. Great word of mouth marketing from customers who have enjoyed a meal at Pahari African Restaurant has also played a big role in attracting more customers.
The introduction of Pahari African Restaurant on delivery platforms in 2017 was a game changer. At the time not many African restaurants were on delivery platforms. This helped with convenience for customers who wanted African food at home and with discoverability of the restaurant by people who had not heard about us before. We are currently on the following delivery platforms – Uber Eats, Mr D Food, Bolt Food, and Africanize. With Africanize delivering the furthest, covering most of Cape Town.
We have served 96164 plates since the day we opened. Our best-selling dish is Mpandawana (meaty beef bones mixed with green vegetables). In Zimbabwe, the same dish is popularly known as ‘Highfiridzi’. We named the dish Mpandawana at our restaurant in honour of one of my close friends (Mupandawana is his surname) who supported the restaurant a lot in its early days and still supports it to this day when he is in Cape Town. Mpandawana also happens to be the name of the rural village our family is originally from. It is poetic that the dish with these backstories has become a best-seller and the name Mpandawana has become commonplace in Cape Town to refer to the dish.
We have good ratings on Google reviews, delivery platforms, and Trip Advisor. We are constantly looking to improve our service and ratings. In the restaurant industry, it is important to always maintain a high standard and keep looking for opportunities to improve.
We were featured in RwandaAir and Mango airline’s inflight magazines as a recommended place to try out African cuisine in Cape Town. In 2019, Tinashe Nyamudoka, the head sommelier at Test Kitchen Cape Town at the time, mentioned Pahari African Restaurant as one of his favourite places to eat.
When COVID-19 struck, it was devastating across the restaurant industry. Especially during the South African hard lockdowns when restaurants were not allowed to operate at all. We felt the impact. Once things slowly started to re-open we survived because a large number of our clients are locals, so we did not have to wait for tourists to start travelling again. It was a tough time, but surviving that showed us how much resilience the business had. Many other restaurants had to unfortunately permanently close their doors during that time.
We are always looking at how we can improve our offering at Pahari African Restaurant. At the end of 2020, we launched an AirBnb Experience, which is slightly different from our day-to-day restaurant offering. It is an authentic African cuisine cooking experience where guests learn how to cook a traditional African cuisine meal from start to finish. We also educate the guests on the history of African cuisine, its ingredients, and how the recipes have evolved and passed down the generations.
Our AirBnb Experience is great for a group of foodies looking to do something social, as a family experience, as a company team-building activity, and for tourists. Several people have received a booking to our authentic African cuisine cooking experience as a gift from their friends or family.
If you are not an AirBnb user and would like to book that experience you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To set up for the AirBnb Experience we expanded our space and took over the neighbouring room to the initial restaurant which had been a hair salon before. We also use the space for larger groups who want to book and have a more private dining experience at the restaurant.
Further expansion plans are often a topic of discussion when we meet for family dinners. We’ve spoken about opening another location in Cape Town, opening another branch in a different city, and exploring expanding as dark kitchens/virtual kitchens. At this point we have not committed to anything yet, we are focussing on continuing to deliver a great restaurant experience at the primary location.
To this day Pahari African Restaurant remains a full family-run operation.
My mom manages the kitchen and the chefs. Our menu consists of food she cooked for us for many years as we grew up. Meals she learned how to cook from her mom. The recipes have been passed down generations. She also does the business finances.
My dad manages the operations and front of the restaurant, ensuring all customers are given great service by the staff. He often sits down and has many good conversations with the customers. I believe some people come to the restaurant just to have a chat with him.
I run the back office administration – emails, marketing, social media accounts, setting up delivery systems, legal, and longer-term strategies. My fiancée who is now part of the family too has started helping me with the back office administration.
My older sister and my aunt also play a role in the operations by sourcing ingredients and getting them to Cape Town.
If you have never visited Pahari African Restaurant, consider adding it to your itinerary next time you are in Cape Town. If you already reside in Cape Town we are just around the corner and looking forward to hosting you.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us in our 5 years of operation. Thank you to all our staff members that have been part of the journey. We could not have done it without you all.
5 years from now I hope that I will be writing another article celebrating 10 years of serving you African cuisine. I’ve shared many meals with friends and family at Pahari African Restaurant and that has always been special.
Tonight we will gather for dinner at the restaurant as a family and celebrate how far we’ve come in this journey and look ahead at what more we can achieve in the next few years.
Where to find Pahari African Restaurant online:
Our website – https://pahari.co.za/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/Pahari_African