Lofty still feeding PMB

2017-04-25 12:03
Lakeside Cafe co-owner and well known figure in the city’s hospitality industry Emmanuel Vamvadelis says there are always opportunities for small business,  but the entrepreneur must be prepared  to put in hard work.

Lakeside Cafe co-owner and well known figure in the city’s hospitality industry Emmanuel Vamvadelis says there are always opportunities for small business, but the entrepreneur must be prepared to put in hard work. (Ian Carbutt)

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There are always opportunities for somebody wanting to open a business, and who is prepared to work hard.

This is according to Emmanuel Vamvadelis, or more fondly known as Lofty to many, many Maritzburgers, who was answering a question from The Witness about business opportunities in the city.

He had come to Pietermaritzburg in 1961 as part of a massive exodus of some seven million Greeks, in the wake of serious economic and social strife in Greece at that time.

Vamvadelis (72) has been an owner and employee at a number of restaurants and “tea-rooms” in the city for decades, and he opened Lakeside Cafe, opposite Bird Sanctuary on April 14, 2005, with his family, when he was already two years into his retirement.

He came to South Africa leaving his family and friends, when he was only 16, as a native of Lesbos, an island in Greece that has recently been lauded globally for its compassionate treatment of refugees from the Middle East. “This country [South Africa] has been good for us, then and now,” he says.

Lakeside Cafe is family-owned and Vamvadelis and his wife Eleni can be found working there daily for at least six months of the year.

Vamvadelis said he has been working half the year at Lakeside for the past five years, and he spends most of the remaining six months on Lesbos, because, he says, he also needs to spend time enjoying the benefits of being retired, and that includes not working, and spending time with family.

Before Lakeside, Vamvadelis owned Cafe Bavaria for 18 years, where he built a solid clientele of regular patrons, particularly from the legal fraternity who had offices nearby and who also had to attend the nearby courts.

He says Lakeside Cafe also has some great regular clients and the restaurant is benefiting from the growth of the business sector around the Bird Sanctuary.

During the interview, Vamvadelis was interrupted by the friendly banter of one regular, who jokingly claimed that Lofty “owed him” because he had been buying Lofty’s restaurant food for almost 30 years.

The regular, upon introducing himself, turned out to be Bill Lambert, a longstanding Democratic Alliance councillor and leader in the city.

When The Witness asked Vamvadelis about a frequent complaint from other owners of small businesses that their growth is being constrained by red tape from government, Vamvadelis said his experience was that it is currently far easier to operate a business, than in the years prior to 1994.

“When starting a new small business, there is no problem with regulations, it is more a question of having enough money to get the business started ... there are always challenges in starting a new business,” he said.

He said the restaurant business has undergone significant change.

For instance, when he started working at a “tea-room” in Scottsville with five or six tables that catered mainly for students in 1961, there were no formal restaurants or supermarkets in the city yet.

Now, he jokes that there are almost as many restaurants as people in the city, and the competition to attract patrons is tough.

In addition, he says, customers have become far more sophisticated and knowledgeable about what constitutes good service and good food.

It has become harder to satisfy clients, and restaurateurs and their staff have to work extra hard and continuously to make sure they attract new customers and retain their regular patrons, he says.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pmb people

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