Grace Fourie, who runs an eatery that’s Johannesburg’s take on the iconic District Six area in Cape Town, has turned customer service into an art.
THOSE WHO have been to Cape Town’s colourful Bo-Kaap quarter will instantly recognize the same vibrant vibe at District Six Eatery, which celebrates Cape Malay cuisine in the heart of Johannesburg’s Emmarentia suburb.
There are hurricane lanterns on the floor and panama hats on the walls. A faux chandelier sheds light on an ornate mirror and shelves laden with old biscuit tins, chinaware and pickle jars. On another wall hang family portraits and jazzy carnival costumes. Everywhere you look – walls, tables, chairs, linen – are theatrical fuschia pink, blue orange colours. From the small kitchen in the back, owner Grace Fourie emerges, like a stage-performer from the green room. She is wearing suspenders, German shoes and gold rings. When the diminutive 38-year-old smiles, you also see a glistening gold tooth. That’s my Midas touch, “she winks.
Her ten-table restaurant, District Six, named after the historical Cape Town precinct, is packed on weekends. Don’t expect to get a seat without a reservation. Tables spill on to the streets and revellers stay on until 2AM. Fourie is always present, as owner, chef, waitress – and to offer the customary parting hug. The world is full of crime and animosity, so that’s the least we can do as people. I mingle with the guests, and give about 50 hugs a night,” says Fourie. The personal touch is not the only reason she has a cult following among foodies. Fourie offers authentic Cape Malay flavours on the menu: Samoosas, Oxtail in Pumpkin, Lamb Curry, Bobotie, Smoorsnoek and Tomato Lamb Bredie.
Like the decor, the house salad is a riot of colour and tastes. She sells lime pickles and pineapple chutney too, at R35 ($3) a bottle, and makes her own Masalas. On weekends, she includes live comic acts, and house music by David Kramer and Bobby Hendricks. Regulars also ask for the milk tart, another specialty. But by the time you get your dessert, Fourie would have already won you over with her honeyed talk, lacing it with enough “my sweetheart”, “my angel” and “my darling” endearments.
The Johannesburg-born Fourie says she learnt the art of customer service during her years working as a teller with Nedbank. After the stint, she worked as a hairdresser in a salon in Sophiatown – that’s when she first visited District Six Eatery, as a guest. It was then owned by Capetonians Romano Gorlei and Clarence Swartland. She offered to waitress at the restaurant, and in 18 months, the owners asked if she would be interested in buying the business.
I use to eat here, and offered to help. I would work until 4PM at the salon and start at the restaurant from 5:30PM. They trusted me, and when they asked me to buy the place, I did,” she says. Fourie took over in 2012, bought new furniture and crockery, and revamped the menu. She also got from her attorney-boyfriend, Emmanuel Giddion, who spend his childhood in Cape Town’s District Six.
A lot of Capetonians who come here get teary-eyed when they see the memorabilia and taste the food,” says Giddion.
That’s when Fourie knows she has done something right.