A few days before her debut as a flash restaurateur, Noji Matutu Gaylard was worried about the turnout.
“I hope people come,” she said as we maneouvered through the potholed streets of old Johannesburg seeking supplies.
She needn’t have worried. She received close to a hundred visitors on the day, and rustled up a neat profit.
Before the event, each ingredient had already been accounted for thrice over by Gaylard, formerly a media researcher by profession. She was meticulous, only free-range eggs and Norwegian smoked salmon would do. The success of her menu depended on the most delicate detail.
These were the beginnings of Gaylard’s Restaurant Day. Founded as Ravintolapäivä in 2011, the concept, now a global movement, was the brainchild of a group of Finnish entrepreneurs looking to give anyone with a knack for cuisine the chance to run their own restaurant, bar, cafe or food stall on a single day. Over the last three years, Restaurant Day has become a culinary movement celebrating food culture from living room restaurants to front-yard cafes. On the Sunday in August that Gaylard opened for business, over 2,000 pop-ups across the world were doing the same.
But her’s was the only one happening in Africa.
Perfection on a plate
It was a brunch special. The menu was diverse with additions from other burgeoning chefs in the neighborhood. The waffles were diligently pressed and plated by Belgian pastry chef Kris Van Damme, who went to night school for six years while holding down a day job as a social worker to ply his trade. This was the first time he and Gaylard met, in her kitchen, and he went straight to work churning out waffles and innovative pastries. His offerings were some of the most popular items on the menu.
Manning the coffee station was Eevastiina Hyvönen who was, appropriately, Finnish. She had labored the night before over the dough for the cinnamon rolls. The salmon bagels were churned out by Gaylard’s husband Joseph. And her eldest daughter had recruited friends to help with waitressing. The kitchen seemed deceptively chaotic but discipline was maintained throughout service. Gaylard’s marketing campaign had amply helped. In attendance was a heady mix of friends and strangers. The backpackers had come because of the menus she left at their usual haunts, the friends had come to support and the children had come to play with her little girl. It was, for many, the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Reflecting on her day as a restaurant owner, Gaylard says: “It was great fun.” Her punters were satisfied with the menu and the little touches: a DJ to set the mood, a playground to distract the kids and a special buffet for the famished. It must have done the trick because her cash registers kept ringing. Gaylard is planning a second Restaurant Day in November. If that succeeds, she is considering opening a food truck.