We recently caught up with Oliver and Tshepo – two of the partners who are part of the inspiration behind Mangrove (Kagiso and Bonolo being the other partners).
Mangrove’s one-year anniversary is coming up in September. It feels quite miraculous that the business opened during Covid and has not just survived the various lockdowns and levels of restrictions but is thriving. The reason is understanding landlords. “We have very supportive and wonderful landlords, namely Jonathan Gimpel and Steven Blend — for a small business like ours this is a big factor around whether we survive Covid or not.”
Mangrove planned to open in April last year but then the first lockdown happened and plans were put on hold –eventually it opened in September. “We had no choice but to open as we’d bought the chairs, the logo was up and the kitchen established!”
“We are not just a business, we have a vision for the inner city and we’re very optimistic about the potential that exists and where Braam is headed.” The concept of community is very close to the hearts of Oliver and Tshepo. “We are a place for community and it is one of the pillars of Mangrove. We have created a place and a home for Jozi culture. When you start a business, you have control around aspects such as what food to serve or music to play but what you don’t control is who your community becomes. That’s a big unknown. We are a restaurant and a bar, serving food and coffee but our core concept is about building community for creatives, activists, and people who are passionate about the city, and that’s what motivated us to start Mangrove.”
Another concept behind Mangrove is the sense that the space must feel “unfinished”. Oliver explains “We believe this activates the imagination and a world of possibilities for our community. An emerging artist can imagine their paintings on the wall, or a poet can imagine a spoken word event, or a designer a pop-up shop.” Mangrove provides the space for partnerships and collaborations and this is what shapes the business and community. Events are a big part of this. People meet each other and have conversations and this is how conscious communities can be built.
Mangrove seems to be about a lot of things. It has several personalities, explains Tshepo. There’s the bike and city cycle tours side of the business. There are also big live music events with emerging bands and established artists across the genres, including international artists. Mangrove is a place where people who are conscious of what is going on around them can feel at home. Events have a nostalgic feel to them and people from all over Joburg come to experience this. There is Battle of the Chefs — a high energy cook-off with emerging chefs battling for the title of best chef — with the crowd deciding on the winner.
Braam has always been a place of and for students. The students graduate and move on – and on the one side they are nostalgic for their student days but very aware that they are no longer students and belong somewhere else. Mangrove has disrupted this. The new high-end loft apartments to the west of Braam have attracted a young crowd of successful artists, brand strategists, designers, investors, etc and they are not students. Students are still in Braam but this is now broadening and expanding to include mid-career creatives who are living here and a new community is emerging.
“Despite Braams anchors being closed or running with limited numbers, Mangrove has survived. I can’t wait for the Wits Art Museum, Jobrug Theatre, Market Theatre and Neighbourgoods Market to open to full capacity and to watch our business explode,” says Oliver. The future looks promising for Mangrove and there are plans to develop the upstairs into a gallery space for established artists and next door build a space to engage with small emerging street brands and small emerging bike designers. “In a way even though things have been hard we are trying to grow something that is in line with our vision. We want to grow as a space where emerging groups, be it skateboarders or tattoo artists, can springboard from. We are still fascinated by who comes through the door.”
Mangrove has ambitions and wants to become the space for the international traveler — “the guys from LA who come to Joburg and want to experience street culture”. This vision for Mangrove to be the meeting point is on ice because of the pandemic but it’s a big opportunity for Braamfontein, and Oliver and Tshepo will be ready for it when our borders open up again. No doubt about it, Mangrove is putting Braam on the map.