People's Post

Eatery’s closure hits home

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Charlie Bowler, owner of the Home Restaurant and Bar in Harfield Village.
Charlie Bowler, owner of the Home Restaurant and Bar in Harfield Village.

Known for the unique character it radiates, Harfield Villages now shines a little less bright with the closure of Home Restaurant and Bar last month.

While the shutdown of the well-loved gathering place may just be another statistic for economists keeping tally of the hospitality businesses lost to the financial fallout of Covid-19, for many long-standing patrons of the eatery it is an uncountable loss.

In a post shared on the Facebook page of Harfield Village Association on Wednesday 26 May, owner Charlie Bowler announced the restaurant’s closure after 21 years of trade. “We tried so hard to keep afloat despite all the Covid-19 restrictions but the effect was too great for the business to continue. I would like to thank all the people who have supported me so loyally over these many years. I am so grateful for your patronage, friendship and support,” the message read.

What followed was an outpouring of love as patrons recounted their memories made at the restaurant and shared their sadness at “the closing of an institution”.

Commenting on the closure, Harfield Village resident and long-time patron Bjorn van Niekerk said it best when he described Home Restaurant and Bar as an inherent part of the suburb’s identity, a community hub where people could come together and the beating heart of the village for many.

“This incredible place with its beautifully diverse clientele was driven and nurtured by Charlie Bowler (and his amazing staff) over these years. He created a home-away-from-home, starting with always greeting everyone with a welcoming smile.

“In a fragmented global society where people tend to dwell on the negative, Charlie and his staff have provided a place that reminds you of the good in people, irrespective of who they are or where they came from,” Van Niekerk wrote.

Located at 53 2nd Avenue, the restaurant first opened its doors in April 2000. Bowler says he decided on the name Home Restaurant and Bar because guests were served coffee in a mug and food that their mom would make at home, like oxtail and stews.

“It morphed from there into half-restaurant and half-bar. We were busy from day one,” he says.

For Bowler, the opening of the restaurant was a way to put down roots. Before, he had worked in the hotel and hospitality industry for 13 years. Having moved around quite a bit – from the Lanzerac Hotel in Stellenbosch to the Cape Sun, to the Sun City Resort in the North West, to the Galagher Estate in Midrand and Spier – he wanted to open his own business; a place he could call home.

According to Bowler, despite the continual 10% yearly hike in property rental, the restaurant was doing well up until about a year before the outbreak of the pandemic. As he explains it, back then the economy already wasn’t in great shape.

“Twenty-one years of escalation in the rent at 10% per year was starting to bite. What started at R3 800 a month grew to R42 000. It ends up slowing you down. The longer you are at a site, the less chance you have of survival.”

Bowler describes the first six months of the national lockdown as bad for the business. “We tried to do takeaways. We put out menus on Facebook and offered a delivery service for free but it didn’t work. It isn’t our business model,” Bowler says.

Even after restrictions were eased, the restaurant continued to struggle. “The money we brought in was just covering staff cost and food cost. We were not making a profit,” he adds.

Having fallen behind in rental payments, Bowler says he had no choice but to call it quits. Once it had sunk in, he “was very upset and, funny enough, relieved at the same time”.

“To catch up on a year’s rental isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. Even in a good scenario, it would have taken four to five years,” he says.

Bowler says since the announcement of the restaurant’s closure, he has been overwhelmed by patrons’ well-wishes.

And being the great host that he is, Bowler vows not to disappoint his patrons.

He shares that he is already looking for another venue to open up shop, preferably in the area.

“But it will depend on the finances,” he says.

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