Elegant iXhosa Hospitality

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Wednesday, 26th August 2015

The Old Mill is situated on the site of Phoenix Roller Mill, which was for over a century, an integral feature of Grahamstown life and the farming community it serves. However, life moves on, properties change hands and functions. The current owner of the property renovated the building according to the specifications of his new tenants and the result is the well designed Old Mill Pub.  Tucked away in Dundas Street, off Bathurst Street it has an excellent, accessible location in a mixed commercial and residential zone.      

Thought has been given to function and aesthetics – the bar is painted a marvellous warm tomato-cum-guava red which is ideal for a place of happy drinking. It is a colour that embraces and unifies people and works subliminally. Most people probably don’t even notice it! However, it is one of the features that draws them in ... and keeps them returning. Likewise, the impeccably kept bar, the immaculate rest rooms and seriously user-friendly prices. 

The publican is one Bulelani Gaqa, Grahamstown born and bred, who has had several years in the hospitality industry. He has put his experience to good use and is the proprietor of a convivial, relaxed and popular pub characterised by unique iXhosa hospitality. He opened on the 2nd December 2013, with no launch, no publicity and, in our downturned economy, is doing steady business. This says a great deal for his business acumen. Mr Gaqa and his partners spotted a gap in the market, invested in it and above all, have a sustainable management practice. The success of The Old Mill rests almost entirely on Bulelani who is on the ground, mans the bar and is all about genial and wise control. This is his baby and he cherishes it. Whilst he is pouring someone’s drink, his antennae are also tuned into the mood of his guests, who is entering and how they are entering, and a myriad of other details that are so critical to a well run place of hospitality where one is selling a highly volatile substance – alcohol. The controlled flow of alcohol renders happiness. When it is out of control, anything, literally anything, can happen. Too many times, tragedy can be traced to the simple factor of drunkenness. Period.  

So what is the secret of the charismatic Bulelani Eddie Gaqa?

Niche marketing to a large extent. The decor of The Old Mill is that of a sophisticated, comfortable cocktail bar. Hence it attracts a somewhat upmarket clientele of working people of all ages and young people, some of whom are employed, some of whom are not, but are being sponsored by their friends. Everyone is stylishly dressed. It goes without saying.

He also loves what he does, is a natural psychologist who loves and understands people. Hence locals and visitors can pull into a place that epitomises designer indigenous sociability. Way to go, guys. We need more of this peaceful sanity. Africa by Africa for Africa. Yes!

By KJ Gutridge           

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