Take a dive into one of Bo Kaap most loved cafes!
Against the Grain – a cafe that’s one to remember. Upon entry, you are met by a luminous sign with a warm and welcoming greeting of ” Hey, Salaam”. The cafe itself (their new premises), is filled with gorgeous decor and provides a laid back atmosphere where good food and conversation can be enjoyed. We recently sat down with the owners, Nabeela and Gesant to learn more about their inspiration for the brand.
What was the inspiration for the name “Against the Grain”?
“The inspiration for the name comes from the childhood memories of Gesant Abed, one of the owners of Against the Grain, who worked as a child at his father’s antique furniture store, restoring old furniture in his free time. Frustrated, sanding with the grain, he started sanding against the grain, trying to do things his way. Clearly, it wasn’t the desired way but it was his way and this is exactly what Against The Grain is today, unique, doing things our way.
Since we put pen to paper the idea and the name embodies the café going against the norm with a twist on traditional food, a cultural hub and great coffee being at its core. Our travels around the world discovering cafes, the people we’ve met along the way, the attention to small details and combining them as an extension of ourselves, incorporating art, food, coffee, music & décor into one space were all factors that have played a major influence into the creation and success of the business. The café is still growing into its character but has made a statement to all our visitors.”
What has your vision for “Against the grain” been as a restaurant and experience?
“At the core, we are a coffee shop with a love for coffee but this was just the common thread amongst everything we do and love. Coffee connects us, it strengthens bonds and is usually the start of new partnerships, fresh ideas and where the adventure begins. We wanted to create a space where these feelings and experiences are amplified and are the catalyst for so much more. Staying focused on quality coffee, quality food and quality service. We wanted to create an accessible space for young people to collab, for local businesses and start-ups to create, socialize & contribute in a safe environment, provide struggling artists with a platform to showcase their talent and the community a soapbox. A space for our customers to relieve their daily stresses by providing peace of mind through great ambience, convenient location, friendly customer service, and products of consistently high quality.”
If you could describe your restaurant a few words, what would it be?
“A cultural hub with great coffee.”
What do you wish for the restaurant to accomplish this 2022?
“On the 1st Feb 2022, we are celebrating our 2nd birthday. We have also recently moved to a bigger space located up the road from our original store and have to mention that we also spent the last 2 years of trade in a global pandemic and lockdown. We are eternally grateful for our small successes and have to be mindful that we are a young café. This year we would like to establish ourselves as a more recognizable brand, expand our offering into an evening service and formalize our rooftop section for events. We will take our time to grow our brand in all aspects of coffee, food, tourism and events.”
How would you describe your overall cooking philosophy?
“Traditional Cape Malay with a twist. That twist allows us to remain unique in our offering and create an experience for our customers while still remaining true to our roots. Through our menu, we would like our food to reflect the cultural influences of Bokaap and the greater community into our cuisine. Integrating existing simple breakfast dishes and traditional flavours to create unique offerings not available at other cafes in Cape Town.”
What is your favourite spice or ingredient to use at the cafe?
“This is a tough one but one consistent spice/ingredient would be chilli, whether it is dried crush chillies, fresh chillies, chilli powder, it is the 1 commonality in most of our dishes and just provides that perfect kick to get your taste buds going.”
What is the bestselling item and personal favourite on your menu or your favourite dish to make and why should we give them a try the next time we pop around?
“Our most popular item which is unique to other cafes in South Africa if not the world is our Gesmoorde Egg Bagel. Gesmoorde Egg is a Cape Malay spicy egg mix which we have paired with a cream cheese bagel and garnished with coriander, a unique twist on your ordinary breakfast bagel. It’s a filling meal for breakfast, even a late lunch and great for “on the go”. We have also added the Oui Oui Gesmoorde which is Gesmoorde Egg on a croissant, the name Oui Oui Gesmoorde, is a play on words, like most of our dishes, which is French for yes, which also eludes to the Gesmoorde egg-filled croissant, the flaky pastry and spicy traditional scrambled eggs. The perfect duo and definitely a must-try.”
What has been the inspiration behind the name of some of your menu items, for example, “ Oui Oui gesmoorde? And the “ Rebellious benni”?
“A play on words like most of our dishes. We were looking at how we could use existing ingredients in different ways to create more diversity on our menu and something for everyone, thus, the Oui Oui Gesmoorde was developed which is a traditional Cape Malay spicy egg mix on a French pastry being the croissant. The Rebellious Benni goes against the grain, a twist on your traditional eggs benedict. The Rebellious Benni is eggs benedict with a crumbed chicken fillet on a bagel, a filling breakfast dish something different than just the ordinary eggs benedict with salmon.”
The Against the Grain menu is small and specific but packed with creativity and flavour. Do you feel that this helps create consistency with your dishes as opposed to having a large number of menu items? What other benefits are there to having a small menu?
“The keyword is consistency, it definitely allows us to be more consistent, forecast future demand better, ensure the highest quality and limit our waste. It removes complexity and confusion and allows us to streamline our operations given covid-19 and all that has come with it.”
The colours and aesthetic of your brand is memorable, sophisticated yet playful and trendy, featuring a beautiful Islamic greeting as you enter this aesthetically pleasing and cosy restaurant. There is a tone of voice that echoes through the restaurant along with the smell of freshly made koeksister and coffee. What kind of planning and time goes into finding your own special voice and look?
“When developing our business plan we had to decide what we want to be, where do we want to fit alongside other coffee shops and cafes, we asked ourselves the hard questions, do we want to please everyone? Or do we choose our lane and work hard to deliver things we know with a high standard of quality by remaining ourselves and attracting customers who identify with our brand. With our research and experience, we know that a customer will build a good relationship with your business, your brand and with your space if they already are invested in the way you make them feel in it. We identified items we would not compromise on and we stuck to it, remaining consistent and unique in every aspect of our customer’s experience of our brand. The cafe space is an extension of our brand. Our voice is playfully but deeply connected to our cultural heritage and Islamic roots in the community. We are young, dynamic and generally go against the norm when it comes to our aesthetic and food. The brand is green as it denotes a calm and peaceful feel, the numerous plants and green highlight our connection with nature and our amazing views of historic Bokaap and Table Mountain helps to carry this message well to our customers. The entire experience of the customer is quietly curated from our coffee bean selection, our food combinations, the colour of our plates, the artworks, the views, the interior design aesthetic and the customer staff interaction.”
What types of events do you regularly host and what have been the most memorable and successful events? Can you tell us more about your next upcoming event and when it will be?
“Our most memorable events have been First Thursday’s, showcasing local talent and giving artists a platform to showcase their work. Since moving to our bigger space at 102 Wale Street, Bokaap, Cape Town CBD, we have hosted a few yoga sessions on our rooftop. We are also planning a few coffee tasting events as well.”
Up and coming events:
Our 2nd Birthday – 01st February 2022
- We will have live music and comedy events for the evening hosted on the rooftop.
First Thursday – February 2022 edition
- We will be showcasing the photography of the Bokaap community. The photographs have been taken by one of the owners who have a great eye and a keen interest in photography. We will be serving coffee and food.
Latte Art Competition and Coffee Tasting – Date TBC
A Taste of Bokaap – Date TBC
- A showcase of all the flavours of Bokaap and Cape Town. A taste experience which would be a food journey for the senses.
How often do you change your menu? And is it subject to holidays?
“Our menu changes slightly with the season but our most popular items always remain throughout the year.”
What do you think the overall flavour and inspiration for Against the Grain is based on the menu?
“Cape Malay flavours are at our core. Staying true to our roots and adding a modern twist to keep things interesting and customers coming back for more. Flavours that brings about nostalgia and memories.”
What is special about the employees (servers, chefs, people behind the scenes) at Against the Grain?
“They show up each and every day and give it their very best. Some of our employees have been with us since day 1 and see the business as their own, working hard to make it a success alongside us. We have a great team that is very much customer focused and ensuring they provide a memorable experience.”
So next time you are in the mood for a coffee and a quick bite to eat, be sure to make a stop at the Against the Grain, where they are doing coffee the same, but different!
For more information on the brand and to keep up to date with their news, be sure to give them a follow on Instagram here.