Obituary: Restaurateur Poobie Ruthanum

2012-03-09 00:00

POOBALAN (Poobie) Ruthanum, the owner of Pietermaritzburg’s iconic restuarant the Coconut Grove, died on Saturday, February 25, in a Durban hospital after a three-year battle with cancer.

The Coconut Grove was a non-racial restuarant in Pietermaritzburg in the 1950s and 1960s and throughout its existence was a popular gathering place for political and community activists, artists and musicians.

After concerts and meetings people hung out there, and it often stayed open to accommodate the late night diners.

Ruthanum (66) was involved in the restuarant business for over 50 years.

His father opened the Coconut Grove in 1958, but died a short while later. Ruthanum, who was 14 at the time, took over the running of the restaurant with his mother, Bomama.

Later his wife, Neela, joined the team. Ruthanum went on to own 17 other restuarants in the city at different times. These included the well-known Tropicana, La Gourmet, Ambassador and Executive.

For a while he ran another of the city’s iconic eateries, The Pie Cart, which used to stand in Freedom Square.

His son, Tubby, owns the Coconut Grove in the Liberty Midlands Mall.

When Nelson Mandela visited Pietermaritzburg in 1993, local activists organised an ANC fundraising dinner at Ruthanum’s Tropicana restuarant.

Umgungundlovu District Mayor Yusuf Bhamjee said this was in recognition of Ruthanum’s support to the liberation struggle over the years.

“It started with his dad and Poobie carried on the legacy of strong links with the Natal Indian Congress, the ANC and later the UDF [United Democratic Front].”

The dignitaries at the historic dinner also included Chris Hani, Harry Gwala, Peter Mokaba and Ahmed Kathrada.

Ruthanum’s daughter, Mellanie, said the mother of slain American activist Amy Biehl also visited the restuarant while on peace visit to the city.

Mellanie said the one tribute to her father that was repeated time and again was that everyone felt comfortable in his restuarants — whether they were factory workers, professionals or high-powered businessmen.

He is also remembered for his generosity in welfare circles, and the care of widows and senior citizens was a cause that had a special place in his heart.

Ruthman leaves his wife, three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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