WATCH | Lockdown: Durban restaurant dedicates itself to feeding the hungry

  • D'urban Burger owners have fed nearly 3 000 people since the beginning of lockdown.
  • The couple, who started their business a year ago, resolved to feed vulnerable South Africans, despite their own business challenges.
  • They started off cooking 250 meals, and will this week conclude cooking 1 150 meals for the needy.

Restaurants throughout SA are feeling the pinch during the national lockdown, but the owners of D'urban Burger are cooking up a storm for the less fortunate - despite their own business challenges.

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Run by a husband and wife duo, Rokia and professional chef Khutso Masethe, the couple realised their dream of opening a gourmet restaurant in the heart of one of Durban's trendiest areas, Umhlanga.

But they were hit hard just a year later by the impact of Covid-19 and the national lockdown.

"D'urban Burger was Khutso's dream. He is a chef with extensive fine dining experience. We worked hard to get the brand going. We started with pop-up markets, selling sauces and doing everything we could do. Having the restaurant in Umhlanga was a dream that we realised," said Rokia Masethe.

However, Covid-19 soon put a hold on the couple's dream.

"It was hard. For the first week, we were just in our pyjamas in the house, stressing out. We knew that, if we don't work, we do not eat at all," she said.

Masethe said the couple then resolved to "ride the wave because we are people of faith".

Their faith would pay off sooner than expected.

"We were sitting on the couch one day and a friend of ours sent us a link to see what some other restaurants in Cape Town were doing."

The link revealed an Eat Out relief fund initiative, which saw many restaurant kitchens kept open to help others.

"We did not think about applying to Eat Out at first. For us, it was about feeding people. We knew this is what we had to do. We looked at each other and knew this is what we had to do. We did not know how far it would go. We said we have food in the shop, pots, and hungry people - let's go for it," she said.

Masethe added: "We said funding or no funding, let's feed people."

However, their resources were low, and the food could not even feed 20 people.

It took a shape of its own

Masethe said they called Dr Victoria Mubaiwa from House of Dorcas, a non-profit organisation (NPO) "that is always buying food for the vulnerable".

"We got in touch with her and expressed what we were feeling, and the urgency of what we needed to do."

By the following day, the couple were feeding 150 people.

"After we called her, the next day we had 10kg in rice, 10 mielie meal bags and chicken livers in our restaurant. We emptied the fridge and cooked all of our own stock. From that one cooking, a couple of people heard about it, and would rock up with more food. It became a ripple effect."

He said people then started donating food parcels.

"Three weeks into it, we saw that we needed to be more structured. We saw donations coming in, but they were random. We then made a list and it started taking shape."

Almost six weeks later and the couple have fed thousands.

"A month and a half later and we are at the brink of feeding 3 000 people. It's just taken a shape of its own," said Masethe.

She said they then got in touch with a few benefactors, personal friends and customers, and resolved to continue feeding the needy.

"We knew we had to connect with the NPOs on the ground. We realised this was important because we had to comply with regulations and not just go all over."

She said they worked with churches in Umlazi, Lamontville, as well as NPOs in Cato Manor and Lindelani, some of the poorest areas in eThekwini Metro.

Two weeks into the project, the couple resolved to apply to Eat Out, who responded last week.

"They sponsored 1 400 meals, which will make such a difference."

She said the numbers they were currently feeding were beyond what they thought was possible.

"In our first week, we cooked 250 meals - this week we are cooking 1 150 meals. By tomorrow (Friday), we would have fed well over 3 000."

Where to from here?

When asked about the uncertainty of Covid-19 and the future of their restaurant, Khutso Masethe said there could be a different direction in the future.

"During this period, it gave us time to introspect on why we do what we do. I've always been in love with cooking for people and am always excited about the industry. I grew up planting in a garden and looking at all aspects of cooking, besides making money."

He said they wanted to also find a way to help people.

"To see someone less privileged and to see the levels of poverty growing… it's one thing to hear on the news that 5 000 people lost jobs… when you see it and people are starving, when you go to these communities, this changes your mind."

He said they hoped to change the model of their business to find a way to continue their feeding project.

"It will take a year or two to reduce the level of hunger that has come about due to this pandemic. We will need another restaurant or two to do what we are doing."

We are not looking for profit

Masethe added that they were not after profit, but truly wanted to help.

"We just want to make enough to survive, to pay our rent and to feed our kids. That has been our new perspective, instead of profit, profit and more profit."

He said they were privileged to have options.

"We at least have options, other people do not. We can cut down, but some people don't even have that choice. When I stopped working, I felt depression kicking in - imagine people living in a 3m x 3m shack and the only breadwinner does not have a job anymore."

Masethe said they hoped to continue the work and were appealing to anyone who could assist with donations.

"We just want to do what we do for the vulnerable, for as long as we can."

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