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SSouth Africa is a marvel. Not only does the country boast warm and welcoming people, but it has also an array of culinary offerings enough to cater to any palate and feast. We continue with our celebration of South Africa’s women in the tourism and hospitality sector and this time we catch up with foodie, Marina Appelbaum
Marina Appelbaum grew up in the kitchen of the iconic Three Sisters Cafe in Hillbrow which her mother ran for 28 years, with a family legacy like hers it is unsurprising that she is the owner of two thriving eateries - Nikos and The Old Ducky French Café in Pineslopes in Fourways, Johannesburg.
“The Three Sisters restaurant was owned and run by my mother and her two sisters and was a very popular landmark meeting and eating place in Johannesburg’s Hillbrow’s eclectic hey-days. I loved the restaurant. It enabled me to meet and serve a diverse range of people: from corporates to former political exiles, artists, creatives, and a fairly large number of international visitors. I helped cook, serve, hostess, ‘laugh and link’ and became increasingly certain that I was fated to be a restaurateur,” she says.
But Appelbaum did not immediately dive into the often challenging restaurant business, she rather chose to first travel the world and explore the world of hospitality after completing her Honours Degree in Psychology at Wits University. This led to her becoming the assistant to the manager of The Ritz in Mayfair, London at the tender age of 24 years old.
“I learned to engage with and take responsibility for all sorts of people - from royalty and aristocracy to Russian oligarchs and many other nationalities. A highlight was also that we hosted the Academy Awards,” she fondly recalls.
Upon her return to South Africa Appelbaum made her first entry into the family business opening a restaurant in Johannesburg’s Rosebank with her brother as her business partner. The restaurant paid homage to their mother’s restaurant and they also named it The Three Sisters after their mother’s popular cafe. A few years later she opened two outlets of the fast-food franchise, Rocomamas with her sister and brother-in-law which they later sold. She went on to open the Greek eatery Nikos and then convinced her mother-in-law, Freda Appelbaum, to come out of retirement, and together they established the Old Ducky French Cafe, a quaint traditional French cafe with an undeniable je ne sais quoi. Freda is well renowned in restaurant circles as the force behind the famous Le Canard restaurant – which ran from 1987 to 2013. She is also one of very few women chefs in the world to be awarded the title ‘Disciple of Escoffier’ - an honor named after great chef Auguste Escoffier who had a long-lasting impact on the culinary world.
Working with food is in Appelbaum’s blood and Marina has a knack for dreaming up restaurants that offer a culinary experience that keeps a global clientele coming back for more. This expertise and natural talent were integral to ensuring her businesses survived the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.
“During the toughest of Covid times, with the help of our innovative landlords and loyal customers, 6 different restaurants from the centre in which our restaurants are situated worked together to open a drive-in type of roadhouse. We showed movies on a big outside screen and served a few dishes from each of our restaurants. We rented a golf buggy to be able to transport dishes quickly - crazy 2022 revision of 1970’s drive-in movies. The Covid pandemic taught me the value of compromise and teamwork. Also, since many diners have become post covid habitual hibernators, we now create a few dishes more particularly suited to ‘at home’ dining,” she says.
Appelbaum is passionate about providing memorable dining experiences that are rooted in prioritising excellent food and wine, as well as great service, as key ingredients for success. This is how she has been able to build and sustain restaurants that she says travel agents and hotels love to recommend to guests. Being located in South Africa and the vibrant city of Johannesburg also certainly does not hurt!
“South Africa is a beautiful, modern, multi-ethnic society. Its cities and towns have differing cultural markings: histories, languages, dance, cuisines, and so on. It is both characteristically African and European. It is modern and it is traditional. Its landscapes are diverse and incomparable. And notably, there are great restaurants to visit not only in food famous Cape Town but increasingly in Johannesburg - the gateway to; and commercial hub of Africa,” she says.
To visit Nikos:
Shop 33, Pineslopes Shopping Centre
corner The Straights Ave & Witkoppen Rd
To visit Old Ducky French Café
Shop GF22, Pineslopes Shopping Centre Corner
The Straights Avenue &, Witkoppen Rd, Fourways, Johannesburg, 2194