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Corky’s falls victim to Covid-19

CORKY’S Pub and Grill, Harare’s only Irish pub, has become the latest casualty of the changes brought about by the Covid-19 virus. Zimbabwe’s 21-day nation-wide lockdown, starting on March 30 this year, obliged restaurants to close their doors, and put paid to the social delights of eating out.

Harare’s best steak pie at Pemcol Bakery.

It also created a perfect storm for the restaurant business, causing job losses and financial hardship. Some companies kept their heads above water by changing their business model, and focusing on take-outs with pick-up and delivery services; others fared less well.

A sign put up outside Corky’s in March advertised that they were closed for business until further notice, and urged everyone to ‘stay safe’, and to ‘take care of your loved ones’. Time was not on the pub’s side, however, and last Saturday an enthusiastic crowd was in attendance, when, on Corky’s behalf, a well-known auction house sold off an array of teak tables and chairs, kitchen equipment, crockery, beer mugs and a handsome ceiling-high teak wine rack.

The sale took place in the stripped down premises of Corky’s, at Ballantyne Park shopping centre. Once home to Wombles, Duncan Barker’s wildly popular steak house, Shop 19 has since failed to bring long term prosperity to its tenants. After extensive and tasteful renovations, a new steak house known as Millers opened up, only to be replaced a few years later by the Mill. Following the demise of the Mill, and a further make over, Corky’s Irish Pub opened its doors.

A memorable visit to Corky’s was at the time of the military coup in November 2017, when George and I joined celebrating revellers for a glass of Guinness, and made plans for the good times ahead. The best laid plans of mice and men may often go awry, but in the hospitality business, there are often opportunities to be taken, where others have failed.

Cups for sale at Corky’s auction.

It’s thought that Chef Jasmine Fonseca, whose peri peri charcoal chicken is voted the best in Harare, might open another branch of Tinkabell Restaurant in Corky’s former premises. If all goes well, it will no longer be necessary to venture into the industrial sites of Ardbennie to taste Portuguese peri peri chicken ‘done the right way’ or Mozambique style grilled prawns.

After eight years in business, Sorella’s Pizzeria and Cafe, once the go-to place for authentic Italian pizzas, delectable gateaux and good coffee, has also closed permanently. The demolition squad is already busy at 1 Fisher Avenue in Colne Valley, where the premises will be transformed into a new enterprise for Garfunkel’s Grill, a popular meeting place for foodies in Sam Levy’s Village. Company director and forward thinking multitasker Daniel Marini is upbeat about the new venture, and strategic plans are underway to provide great meals for local patrons, and irresistible snacks for nearby St John’s school boys.

After several hours spent at the auction, it was long past lunch time. Luckily, Pemcol Bakery and Confectionary next door was still open and doing a roaring trade in meat pies. I remembered an article in Harare News written by film maker @Tomas Lutuli Tomas Brickhill, describing a pie tasting in 2013. Risking clinical obesity he sampled ten pies from supermarkets and cafes around Harare, and judged Pemcol’s steak pie ‘hands down’ the best.

With this in mind we joined a short queue and bought two steak pies to take home. The flaky pastry was crisp, the steak and gravy well seasoned and delicious. Whatever challenges Pemcol have faced during lockdown and beyond, their pies are still the best.

Managing uncertainty in the time of Covid-19 requires courage. Confronting the unknown head-on, and planning a successful business model, can make you a survivor and a player in the new normal of the business world. A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff

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