The pandemic hasn’t robbed Bree Street of its mojo. Far from it. The jewel in the CBD’s crown is constantly reinventing itself thanks to innovative entrepreneurs.
It’s the beating heart of the Cape Town CBD, still standing after having enduring 18 months of South Africa’s draconian lockdown. Sure, the curfews, alcohol bans and exodus of office workers from the once-bustling CBD have taken their toll.
But Bree Street is still brimming with life, its tenacious and talented business owners, entrepreneurs and property developers pulling out all the stops to survive through foresight, grit, determination, agility and hard work.
While recent reports have suggested it’s been reduced to a ghost town, they’re exaggerated. Currently there are only 12 vacant shops out of 90 retail and entertainment entities. Some of these have closed their doors for good or relocated due to impossibly high rentals and the economic downturn brought on by Covid-19.
They include stalwart destination establishments such as Le Tête, Jason Bakery, Kirsten Goss, Missibaba and Folk Coffee Anthropology. But all is not lost. Bree St is still home to 91 businesses including 15 architect, engineering and energy firms, 21 accounting, insurance and financial services establishments, 11 property and real estate companies and 9 corporate head offices.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
Heather Mills, owner of iconic Skilly laMinx, cites the resilience of entrepreneurs, especially those who own independent stores that add character to the Cape Town CBD offering. “These businesses add charm not only to Bree St but to town itself and are destination establishments that play an important role in the CBD economy.”
Skinny laMinx is one of them. Heather and her crew have been based in Bree St, which she calls “Long St for grownups”, for 10 years. It’s been an amazing ride, but she is quick to admit that operating in a pandemic has been testing. Problems with her online store and having to retrench staff were only two of the challenges. “But we pulled through: customers were extremely supportive and when the lockdowns started to ease, they came back to the store and placed their orders.”
Mills says Bree St business owners also reached out to each other and offered support. “There has been a lot of generosity and sharing of information over this time.”
ENTREPRENEURS PULL OUT THE STOPS
Mills is only one of a tribe of Bree St entrepreneurs who have showed their mettle. Take respected chef Matt Manning, owner of fine dining destination Grub & Vine, who has consistently adapted and added to his offering to survive the pandemic. From starting Culture Wine Bar to launching a Wine Library and hub, he has soldiered on with great success.
Then there’s Debbie Wynne, owner of the iconic Café Frank who recently celebrated 12 years in Bree St. She erected a parklet to extend her outdoor area and also reached out to dog owners by making her establishment pooch friendly with a doggie menu to boot.
Other female entrepreneurs who have gone the extra mile are Clay Café in the City owner Jade Saunders – with her unique Central City offering – and Between Us eatery co-owners, twin-sister duo Jamie and Jesse Friedberg.
Then there’s the husband-and-wife team, Alexandra Hojer and Barry Armitage, who own clothing design store Alexandra Hojer Atelier. And entrepreneur Ofer Hollinger, whose hole-in-the-wall hatch eatery, Nish Nush, has fast developed a cult following for its delicious falafel and schwarmas.
LIVING THE LIFE
Little wonder then that Bree St is also a prime residential location. With the completion of the soaring development 16 on Bree in 2020 – valued at R860 million – the Foreshore gained 392 units of prime residential real estate.
Following hot on its heels is the R150-million landmark heritage development, The Barracks, which is currently under construction after a decade of planning. Situated on the corner of Bree and Strand sts, the development (which is also home to iconic Bree St retailer Mike’s Sports) will add a striking new dimension to the residential and retail offering of the area.
The sleek residential complex will have 64 micro-apartments, an exclusive rooftop wellness as well as myriad upmarket restaurants. Already open is MiCaffè Milano, a chic cosmopolitan coffee shop with a nod to Milan’s coffee culture. The addition of The Barracks to the Bree Street residential pool will bring the number of units to 726.
AFRICA’S FIRST BIOPHILIC BUILDING
Then there’s The Fynbos, the brand-new kid on the block that, once completed, will add 689 apartments to the Bree St residential pool. Still in the planning phase, Africa’s first biophilic building, which will have 1 200 m² of vertical gardens, will rejuvenate the bland hub of Upper Bree St and turn it into a sought-after location, promoting plant-based living.
The investment in the street is heartening. Renewal is constant. As we went to print, La Tete’s venue had just been taken over by a new eatery, The Royal Oyster Bar. So, here’s to the band on Bree, who continue to make it happen.
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IMAGES: CCID, The Fynbos, Lane van Tonder