La Tête, the Bree Street establishment which made CNN’s list of the best restaurants in the world when it opened in 2017, will be closing its doors.
Head chef and partner Giles Edwards said back then, they were on the list with other restaurants in the world and now, due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, they have to close along with other restaurants in the world.
Two months after the restaurant opened, CNN writer Chris Dwyer published an article listing the top 20 restaurants in the world to visit in 2017. La Tête was named alongside restaurants in the UK, Scotland and Hong Kong.
What made the restaurant different was the focus on sustainability – Giles said they used, “absolutely everything we can. It’s been titled nose-to-tail, which means you start at the nose and end at the tail”.
It was about educating people about the lesser-known meat, fish and vegetables, he said, and by “lesser-known”, he referred to pig tails, hearts, livers and brains, to name a few menu items.
A devastated Giles said they will officially close the doors on Saturday February 6.
He said the restaurant was going strong, until the hard lockdown was announced in March last year.
Giles said due to relief from the landlord, they were able to stay closed for seven months mainly due to the curfew and hesitation.
He said they reopened the restaurant in October, and started out with a small influx of guests.
“We had started doing take-away meals during the first two months of lockdown, which was to keep my staff employed. I brought back a chef and some cleaners, but the restaurant wasn’t making money.”
He said in December, there was a dramatic decline in turnover, mainly due to travel restrictions and South Africa’s second wave of the virus, which caused a health scare. “What would be the busiest month for us due to foreigners’ holiday season, we saw a massive decline.”
When president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the ban on the sale of liquor and the 9pm curfew last month, Giles said he started to lose hope.
“The next morning, I woke up depleted. I didn’t even want to open, but we did, and we had to cut back our shifts. The staff went from 60 shifts a week to around 10, and the cleaners went from 22 shifts a week to 10. It was a case of rotating shifts so that everyone can work.
“When I looked at the books, we were about 90 percent down on turnover from when we opened in 2017.”
In a statement, the City’s Mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and asset management, James Vos, applauded the Restaurant Rescue project, where wineries and businesses are “adopting a restaurant” to help preserve the jobs and livelihoods of the sector.
The Restaurant Rescue Project (#RestaurantRescueProject) is an independent, industry-driven initiative to preserve the culture of Cape Town by saving the restaurant sector, and was born out of a collaboration between Radford Dale, a Stellenbosch-based winery and Grub & Vine, a small, family-owned bistro in Bree Street.
A participating restaurant would curate an experience which guests can purchase as a voucher.
In the statement, Mr Vos said to date, Capetonians’ dedication to supporting their treasured spots has amounted to a total of R5 031 800, and counting, generated by those who bought restaurant vouchers through the project.
The City had also implemented a programme to help restaurants by offering them an option to rent the sidewalks in front of their establishments, for outdoor seating, at a reduced rate.
Giles said while the lifting of the alcohol ban and the curfew may help, he feels for the restaurant industry.
“We made a loss even with booze, but the main reason for losses is lack of tourists.
“Restaurants are in debt and struggling, people don’t want to come out, and people are on pay cuts. It’s a hill too high to climb.”
Giles said it will be sad to see his entire restaurant be put in the back of a moving van, and as much as he wants to get back to into the industry, the timeline is unforseeable.
La Tete is one of many other eateries in Cape Town which did not survive the lockdown. In Bree Street, the iconic Jason’s Bakery and Smak have also shut their doors.