With the turning of the new year, and me full of vigour, I'm giving serious thought to opening my own speakeasy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
There is nothing like it here. I have a drove of followers begging me to do it as they are as sick and tired of these horrific franchises as I am and are in dire need of well made drinks.
What are the pros and cons of opening a speakeasy in your neck of the woods and is it a lucrative enough investment to lure angel investors?
What are your views, opinions etc?
Hmmm. I agree that your venture would have to be a profitable business in order to attract investors. You'll want to write a business plan, do all the necessary research, crunch the numbers and be very honest with yourself as you do all this. In my experience, writing a business plan is great fun and very enlightening regardless of whether the business materializes or not.
I also agree that the term speakeasy is misused and overdone - at least here in the US. Also, speakeasies were establishments that have historical significance here in the US and other countries that went through an ignorance-fueled dark period of history we call prohibition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition). I don't believe South Africa ever had such a dismal legally-mandated dry spell, but I could be mistaken. If not, however, how relevant would a speakeasy be in a country that never actually had them?
Your aim is to bring the cool cocktail revival much of the urban oases in the world are experiencing to South Africa and do so in a fun, mysterious manner such as a hidden bar with passwords and secret rooms, etc. Look at the market. Is South Africa ready for such a thing? Are South Afticans interested in "learning" about new and/or classic American and European cocktails? Are they able/willing to pay the premium prices for such things?
Would your investors be patient enough to wait 5 to 10 years for the trend to catch on and become profitable? Are they willing to risk it never actually catching on and losing their money? If so, what have you got to lose? Finding such investors might prove quite difficult, however.
My assessment: DON'T go with a "speakeasy" theme where the place is hidden and hard to get in - just use the decor and style attributes - be visible and accessible. DO target tourists from places that already have a thriving cocktail renaissance (US and Europe). NETWORK with existing successful similar places such as Milk & Honey and Bourbon & Branch (sponsor bartender exchange programs). Sponsor local cocktail contests; invite the other local bartenders to try their hand against your pros at creating top notch libations. have your staff enter international cocktail CONTESTS (and win!) and seek PRESS interviews for exposure. write a BOOK about your experience as the first prohibition-era cocktail bar in S. Africa with recipes, etc. (more publicity to make tourists aware you exist and want to seek you out.) Go big... attract investors with your vision and enthusiasm. But never exaggerate or embelish, because a savvy investor will see right through that.
Well, I'm in no position to comment on the business opportunities in South Africa, but I would laud any attempt to put together a quality drinks program anywhere in the world. I’m not sure what you mean by “speakeasy,” however. Strictly speaking, a “speakeasy” is—by definition—an illegal drinking establishment or liquor store. Is that what you have in mind? If not, then maybe it would be better to set the term aside. (I realize that the term is being thrown around a quite a bit—mainly to describe small bars that don't sport conventional storefronts—but it’s way past silly, now.)
Regardless, I would conjecture that your first concern will be fundamentals, all of which are specific to your geographic locale: cost of real estate in your market, locally accepted drink prices, local market size and dynamics, regulations for drinking establishments, &tc. Can you find any realistic way of putting together a profitable cocktail-oriented business under those circumstances? My guess is that you’re going to need somebody experienced in your marketplace to help answer that question.
You know I'll be there...Occasionally...It is a rather long trip...but I think it could be a good idea...There must be at least a couple of people in Joburg that know how to drink!
Gareth If you pull this off youl be my idol.
Its honestly been a longtime dream of mine opening a proper cocktail bar in South Africa. I have been out of the Joburg bar scene to long though to give my 5 bobs worth but I'l share my thoughts. In a market where
Is the South African consumer group ready and educated enough visit an establishment like Pegu or Milk and Honey? without any real competition it would be viable to say you can draw crowds from from P town and Johannesburg but is there a market? On my last trip to Joburg I talked my g&t drinking friends into trying a round of negroni and had to explain to the bartender how to make it. After my friends gasps at paying R 65.00 for a drink they hated it... and said I was wierd. (they are fairly educated ppl). In EVERY SINGLE BAR I had to explain how to or wait for the one bartender that can make a manhattan and on top of that had to explain that Jack is NOT a frikkin bourbon and its not going in my drink. I believe there is a nieche for an American speakeasy style bar, my worries are the consumers. In a country where Absolut is premium, a double brandy and coke is 15 bucks (thats 2 dollars) and Jack is bourbon I do not see ppl traveling and paying the required R70 for a basic drink.
BUT I have seen an increase of the availability in premium and previously "exotic" products and bartenders nowadays say to me: Aaah youre probably one of those guys that like gin marinis" meaning someone else is drinking them. The fact that the Mojito craze has even swept our continent (After I could not find lime in ANY bar 3 years ago) and my mother orders them gives me hope( I do wish Dutchmen would stop calling them MOGEETO'S). The south African market is growing steadily.
Lets say that you have the capital and means to start a venue like this in an area like Sandton, I think the question is when. Also I believe the Cape-Tonians will be more open minded to such a "new concept" venue and the tourist influence should make the markup required for these drinks more acceptable.
All in All I believe its possible but youl need to get the timing and location spot on. Keep us updated on this one please!
Why the long face?
Hey there, Gareth.
See if you can get your hands on a copy of the new Imbibe, because there's a really interesting story on Speakeasies.
Beyond that, I'm not sure what else to say. Some become legend, some go really really really pear-shaped.
Liberty Bar :: Seattle, WA :: Alcohology
If you're interested, I'm blogging about opening mine here: www.mixoogy.eu
It does have to be a business, though, not a labour of love or a charity work or an ego trip. It must make money. First, see if there is a gap in the market (yes, I think), then ask yourself if there is a market in that gap (only you can answer this, and ofn course it'll still be a bit of a gamble). Then go for it. And best of luck.
You're a hero to mixologists/the mixology community, nice people like you, you get to play the boss, you may win some awards.
Not scalable (can't open a chain of them) , dependent on key staff, usually a slow, organic accumulation of guests so not usually a huge moneyspinner from the get-go, you desperately need to be able to get quality, obscure spirits at reasonable prices, you need a late licence.
I can't imagine any serious angel investor putting their cash in unless it was part of a bigger picture, i.e. if you could also buy the building, or if you planned to have a dumbed-down speakeasy-lite type concept which you could roll out into a chain.
Bear in mind, modern high-class cocktail bars and speakeasies are like Michelin restaurants, which also famously barely pay the bills and are often subsidised by their landlord, non-serious angel investors who like to pimp it, the hotel they're in, etc.
I tend to agree with Alex in that I do think of Speakeasies as a very American specific thing like I tend to think of Members Bars or Gentlemen's Club's as a very English thing (although I know they aren't exclusively). What I think you should look at is what level you want your place to be at?If you want it to be a business (As Mr Duff has mentioned) or a labour of love...more of a "basement bar" where you invite like minded people to enjoy some quality drinks. If you want it to be a business then without a doubt i think something a little more high profile than a "Speakeasy" would be called for...perhaps keep, as Alex said, the fun, mysterious aspect but you would need to create a bit of a buzz around the place (although I realise that this is the antithisis of what a Speakeasy is all about!) If you could set it up as a "must-go" venue where your clientel come (no matter how uneducated) to experience your unique offering on your terms, you might still have the freedom to do things your way.
If on the other hand you wanted to do this as more of a low-profile, industry and friends type of thing, then yes I think you might be able to do it providing your overheads were low enough to be covered by this limited clientel. Convince Guy to set it up in the Joburg warehouse...You could do an Industrial Chic style speakeasy!
Seriously though I think you should look at a business plan etc. that lays out exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. Location will also be vital. As David said Cape Town might be more open to something like this (Although they also call them MOGEETO'S down there ) and it is a much more international city which would help but Joburg is where the money is!
All things considered I think there is definitely a place for what you want to do...For it to be a success though, market research will be key...as well as making it appeal to as broad a spectrum of people as possible without compromising your standards. Like it or not we don't have the market for a geek-bar in a place where a Franchise bar with 25 flavours of martini and a bottle of JC Le Roux are considered the height of drinking sophistication!
I actually read about a bar at sometime, that only rents low cost venues 6 months before the building was to be demolished/refurbished changed into a mall... you get the picture...nobody wants it so the rent was cheap. In these bars they had shebeen ( An African speakeasy) type of establishments.
The Decor and futniture was cheap, moveable and easy. The bar was semi Temporary and the licence was easy obtainable since it was not realy in busy neighbourhoods ,They marketed the concept underground and it started to gather a rather large cult following. 6 months everything was packed in boxes and moved to a different location, known to some unknown to others.
They were surprisingly succesfull, at least for a while. (I have know idea what happened to them nor if they still exist, but I can not imagine them losing much if they dont)
Its a consept that could work for the type of market you are aiming for and could keep the overheads low... Its way out there but it was always the type of thing I would love to try.
In SA one would have to cosider elements like safety etc though ;(
Damn... That's a cool concept! But ja... the possibilities of garnishing a Daquiri with a falling brick does spring to mind
this is an interesting article that briefly describes the difference between the "speakeasy" and the normal high-end bar in terms of profits/costs:
btw, in reference to your last post, Patron is not considered a very good tequila. it is the new Cuervo imho. Don Julio and Partida are almost as recognizable and available and MUCH better.
cheers and good luck!
"Any border-jumping, uneducated illegal immigrant" Aaaah, the old continent...