After months of Covid-19 pandemic doom and gloom, especially within the food and restaurant industries, it’s so incredibly refreshing to experience the glow of hope and optimism which accompanies the current Makers Landing development at V&A Waterfront.
A R63-million investment in partnership with the National Treasury’s Jobs Fund, it will create major opportunities for food talent, and can make dreams come true.
At the core of Makers Landing, which sets it apart from other food markets and emporiums – yes, even those at the Waterfront itself – will be the incubator, a first for South Africa and based on overseas models La Cocina in San Francisco and Kitchen Republic in Amsterdam.
Let’s assume we all know what an incubator is – a device for keeping things warm, nurture them, and bring them to life. In this application, it takes the form of a shared kitchen where people can bring their ideas for restaurants, or food products. In this environment, they will be coached and mentored, and be able to apply their business or foods in a ready-made market environment. In addition, there will be a regimented six-month educational programme in collaboration with Stellenbosch University’s food science department and LaunchLab.
V&A Waterfront CEO David Green explained how the incubator will bridge the gap between someone who has a restaurant idea, or concept, and the ability to rent a space, equip it, and get it going. “There’s a very low entry point, and it also works for products so we’re talking to food retailers who say 30-40 people contact them per month and ask how to sell their great samoosa in their stores, which is not that easy when there are 600 stores in a chain.
“To have this incubator space fast tracks concepts and ideas, whether it’s the samoosa into a store, or a restaurant.”
Project manager Westleigh Wilkinson added: “It’s to de-risk the entry into a bricks and mortar facility. One can never be too sure how quickly food businesses will scale up – or down. The programme will provide business fundamentals like accounting, marketing sales, branding, packaging – all the building blocks. After six months ongoing support, additional time in the shared kitchen with access to chefs and mentors can be rented.” The concept of paying rent is intended to instill a good business ethic sooner rather than later.
By creating this pipeline, Makers Landing’s incubator not only provides a flow of potential tenants at the Waterfront – who might not ever otherwise have had the opportunity – it holds the promise of a bright future for those who are willing to work for it.
Two and a half years in the planning, with construction beginning in July 2019, things temporarily ground to a halt during lockdown. It’s all back on track now (with physical distancing applying to the builders the same as at any job) with a “flag in the ground” opening in December 2020.
“We’re trying to keep the Waterfront fresh and different and active, and looking for ways to avoid being a tourist trap,” said Green.
Makers Landing is taking shape inside a massive warehouse which the Waterfront has been renting; in the 1920s it was a cold storage facility for fruit so it’s an appropriate legacy. It adjoins the Cape Town Cruise Terminal which is also currently being expanded with a new departure lounge. Once passengers feel safe enough to board a ship again, this popular mode of travel will resume; their arrival and departure from Cape Town will take place via a journey through Makers Landing, exposing them to authentic and traditional South African eating experiences. These will include a shisa nyama (braaied meat) and gatsbys – and definitely nothing “gourmet”, said Wilkinson. “Nothing ‘a twist’ on this or ‘a version’ of that. You’ll get the same Gatsby as you’d get in Wynberg,” he said.
It’s not only for the cruise ship market, however. In addition to local visitors, 23,000 people work at the Waterfront, said Green. “Some days they might want to go to Tashas or Balducci, but generally, lower priced accessible food is something we want to create for them.”
Being open 365 days of the year, Makers Landing is not intended to be in competition with the Waterfront’s existing markets, such as Oranjezicht City Farm Market, but complementary. You’ll be able to grab a bite from one of the eight small eatery and craft spaces, then sit down at a table on the mezzanine level overlooking the vast space, or outside mere metres away from the quayside – truly embracing the longtime philosophy that the Waterfront’s location in a working harbour is a unique attraction – where industrial vessels are docked alongside the posh floating hotels. You’ve never been able to be this close to the action before unless you are lucky enough to be a resident (or visit one) of the Silo district where some apartments regularly have trawlers docked directly opposite their balconies.
Larger pop up restaurants will offer another eating option, and manufacturing/production tenants will include a butcher, baker and maybe a candlestick maker. Definitely a fishmonger. Having Abalobi as a tenant speaks to the values and ethos of Makers Landing, said Wilkinson – something which is ethical and sustainable, connecting people and food.
A design studio and demo kitchen will create another pop up environment for cooking classes, or shoots, to rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. “It’s the theatre of food,” said Wilkinson.
A brewery, distillery and coffee roastery are on the cards, as is a wine bar.
“Everyone coming into Makers Landing will go through the curatorial process, even the market stalls which are only scheduled for the end of 2021,” said Wilkinson.
Abalobi founding member Serge Raenaekers said. “Makers Landing sounds like an inclusive and innovative space for us to re-imagine our food system and food connections,” he said. “It will create better brand awareness among the general public and understanding of the ‘hook to cook’ concept we are punting. The timing is critical – even more so now – as we realise the importance of local, short supply chains, supporting our small-scale farmers and fishers.”
Tenants will be curated by a panel made up of representative industry experts, headed by Hannerie Visser, founder of Studio H; and Andy Fenner, owner of Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants. The panel includes Emma Hosking and Kim Bloch (co-founders, Umthunzi Farming), Karen Dudley (chef and founder, The Kitchen), Vanie Padayachee (head chef, Sygnatur), Aubrey Ngcungama and Ian Manley (co-founders, BLACC), Ishay Govender (co-founder, South African People of Colour), Keletso Motau (freelance food stylist), Lufefe Nomjana (founder, The Spinach King), Ben Cox (marketing director, Neighbourgoods Market), and Russell Boltman (co-founder, Devil’s Peak Beer Company).
“By pulling together a curatorial panel that is mixed race, mixed gender and made up of a variety of respected professionals with differing cultural backgrounds, the idea is that the eventual tenant mix will be truly representative and authentic. It is about excellence, of course, but it is also about significance. Every tenant will have a powerful story to tell and they will do it through food,” Fenner is quoted in one of the press releases.
This team will assess potential tenants on various criteria, including measuring them against the V&A Waterfront’s transformation policies, as well as diversity, sustainability, commerciality and credibility.
“Through the FOOD XX network I founded over a year ago, I am a champion for women in the food industry,” said Visser. “I would like for Makers Landing to be a safe space where women have equal and fair opportunities and a proper support network. And I believe that is what we are creating – we are striving to democratise the food landscape in SA and offer visitors a true representation of SA cuisine crossing all divides – race, age and gender.”
Visser said she has the privilege to work as one of the lead curators on this project for over three years now with her colleague Fenner. “What REALLY excites me about Makers Landing is the fact that this will be a true representation of the food landscape in South Africa – a place where you can experience South African food in its humblest and most authentic form, from a shisa nyama to a samoosa and snowballs. It’s a food space BY everyone FOR everyone, that brings South Africans together,” she said.
Black Cellar Club (BLACC) co-founder Aubrey Ngcungama said what he is looking for in an applicant is a demonstration of why their concept has what it takes to be upscaled and retain its quality and niche. “It’s all about a solid and authentic idea. Makers Landing is a space for everybody and I’d like to see that each applicant has understood that message.”
It’s a great privilege to be able to be part of something as ground-breaking for the country as Makers Landing, continued Ngcungama. “If we get this right, we’ll transform how this part of the city works and will contribute to increased integration of Capetonians and tourists alike.
“I hope that this important undertaking will encourage other cities in South Africa to create similar spaces. I envisage it becoming the great, authentic melting pot of cultures which this city so needs! A great way to expand the economy.”
The keyword for Keletso Motau is authenticity. “Be true to who you are and what/who you are representing,” he advised. “A clear passion for the food industry along with a respect for, and honouring, their choices of material. You need to have shown a genuine interest in building your business. And that will be represented by how you have made use of the resources and opportunities made available to you prior to your application to Makers Landing.
“It is exciting to dream about a space that is truly representative of the diverse culture of people that surround, build and support it. I see Makers Landing as a space for all, to enjoy, grow, and support. A space that will allow dreams to blossom into realities through guidance, training and exposure to incredible resources and partnerships.”
An important aspect of Makers Landing is the employment it will create, over and above those who will be “self-employed” there. The National Treasury’s Jobs Fund is a minority partner, and Wilkinson and Green have high praise for the agency.
“It normally supports large scale agriculture or infrastructure projects so this is for them a venture into the entrepreneurial unknown and small business development so it’s a test product for them,” said Wilkinson.
“They’re impressive – very focused, very good. As a national government agency, they’re on the ball,” added Green.
“In the first weeks of lockdown we sat down to plan how we would bring this project out of it as well. They’ve been really responsive and kept the project top of mind,” said Wilkinson.
“Businesses are going to be decimated so there is going to be a need for small business opportunities,” said Green. “It’s a good time to be doing this to give them a chance, or for restaurateurs who have had to give up their premises who may be looking for something flexible – or less committed, if you like.
“We feel the tourist and cruise liner markets will recover, and therefore we’ve got to be ready when these markets open up. Beyond that there’s a huge amount of excitement that something new is coming for entrepreneurs from grass roots to established brands.” DM/TGIFood
The V&A Waterfront is calling for applications from small food businesses, entry-level to top chefs, food producers and everyone in between. In addition to clear talent, the curators’ focus will be on authentic South African foods and diversity, quality and freshness, variety of flavours, ethical and local sourcing, and affordability and value. Anyone wanting further information about the space can download an application form from www.waterfront.co.za
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall