Kiff – South African slang meaning cool, awesome, positive quality or simply the best.
Greg Ardé takes a look at a Durban business with a touch of kiff Linkey Moodley is a complete surprise.
Rather ridiculously I expected a fat man to waddle out of a sweaty kitchen at Britannia Hotel, proffering a clammy paw at the end of a hairy forearm, the other wiping a sweaty brow.
Ha, more fool me. Moodley is not hot, bothered or fat. He’s a slim, thoughtful, bespectacled man, and sits Zen-like in his air-conditioned office. He sports
a Trotsky goatee and could head up a university philosophy department.
Actually, academia was his first love.
After he finished his honours in industrial psychology and had registered for his masters, in 1980 his uncle – the owner of Britannia – offered him a share in the enterprise. By 1983, at the age of 28, Moodley had secured full ownership of the hotel and historic building.
Britannia is an institution in Durban and has been since the early days of the city. It was built in 1879 by liquor company Castle Wine and E.K. Green, the forerunner to the alcohol giant Distell. It was perfectly situated on the old road north out of the city and must have had splendid views of the Umgeni River before the monolithic concrete monstrosity, the Connaught Interchange, was built beside it.
About the same time, the railway station that was situated directly across the road from the hotel relocated closer to Goble Road. This made a huge dent on the turnover and profitability of the business. Through a dint of fate, Linkey found premises in the busy downtown area of Beatrice Street to relocate the liquor store. This marked the turning point in the profitability of Britannia and that which paved the road to success.
Profits from the store as well as that of a very busy tote that Linkey opened at the hotel, were injected into the hotel with a view towards establishing an upmarket sports bar, 27 rooms and a restaurant. The idea of the restaurant was to provide authentic Durban-styled curries with an underlying business philosophy based on providing quality, novelty and creativity through its products. The rest is history.
For almost 140 years people have been getting grog and food at Britannia, but in the last 35 years, Moodley has put an indelible stamp on it. The place became renowned for its signature dishes like chops chutney and mutton curry. Today the Britannia offers a wide range of delectable exotic dishes like grilled prawns, prawn and chicken curry, crab curry, fish roe curry, butter chicken, chicken tikka and the like. Moodley is not a classic hospitality guru. He’s friendly but quiet. He’s an avid reader, an inveterate traveller, a music aficionado and an artist. When he’s not doing any of the above he’s ensconced in his home theatre in uMhlanga Ridge listening to the virtuosity of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Ray Vaughan and a wide range of artists ranging from the blues to hard rock.
The Britannia does well because it has become an institution. Moodley didn’t intend it to be so, he simply did his best, he says, and attributes much of its success to firstly, his mother – who exercised her touch in the kitchen for 20 years – and to an outstanding team of women managers who have aligned themselves to the ethos of the business based on a culture of striving for professionalism. High on the agenda is the need to provide quality products at affordable prices and to constantly create new ones.
“I employ only women as managers. They run the place with zest. I have learnt that women value innovation, espouse passion, are blatantly committed to their jobs, and express gratitude for their station in life. Men are egocentric and do not match my expectations."
“My managers are movers and shakers, and they even bring to the business a spiritual touch which, for me, is of paramount importance. For example, they ensure that before the commencement of the day the kitchen staff engage themselves collectively in prayer to charge the air and the food with positive vibrations. They are groomed to focus on the achievement of both medium and long-term goals and to constantly challenge themselves to create and innovate. Doing business must be fun.”
When Moodley started out, work was a bit of a grind. The hotel was in the doldrums. The liquor store and the tote were used as the financial springboard to re-invent the image
of the hotel through intensive refurbishment. The interior of the hotel was gutted and redesigned, with the rooms on the first floor and the pub, cafe, restaurant and kitchen on the ground floor. His enterprise now includes 76 staff, including six chefs and eight in management. His earnings from Britannia constantly funds upgrades to the hotel and its various restaurant and pub offerings. And, they’ve allowed him to travel extensively.
“I have swum in the Amazon and driven through Yosemite National Park in the US. I was the first charrou to own a catamaran in Durban, and I produced a rock show at Sibaya. I am impulsive. I do things on a whim.”
Moodley is laconic and too modest to describe himself as successful. In reply to my question about how to run a good gig, and one so quintessentially branded, he ponders and then replies.
“It’s a combination of things. I have trustworthy and committed management who have a passion for what they do. I also believe that once you’ve made a decision to do something you must be wholly positive and don’t harbour a single doubt about it. There is an amount of sheer luck in life, but when you consider
the essentials of this business it has to pride itself on customer satisfaction by serving the best products at prices that offer good value.”
Moodley believes in constantly challenging himself and in learning. He rattles off a list of books he’s read recently. His dialogue is interspersed with ideas, his references are vast.
“Don’t think, be aware,” (my notes are a bit patchy here, Moodley was in full swing and I was quite mesmerised, so this isn’t verbatim, but it went something like this),
“Archimedes had his eureka moment in the bath. Nothing is inanimate. Photons, electrons ... are constantly moving in an elliptical path within an atom. Where does this energy come from? We are too immersed in the spirit of science rather than in the science of the spirit. Where science ends, spirituality begins. Everything is created by God and everything is God. You should Google Jiddu Krishnamurti and listen to his exposition on spirituality intellectualised like no other has done. There’s an order to the universe and creation, an order that is confounding yet understandable. Man is merely the gross manifestation of divine energy.”
While Moodley owns one of the most popular watering holes in town, his drinking days are over. Now he spends time at home with an easel and oil paints, immersed in colour.
“I gave up drinking ages ago. I want to do more edifying things for the nourishment of my soul, to go
on adventures, to immerse myself in esoteric readings, to be creative in whatever way possible – to weld, to work with mosaics, to sculpt, to play the guitar, to write – I try not to waste my time.
“Although not frequently, I sit in silence for quite a while, for it is said, In the depth of silence will the voice of God be heard. With each passing day, I feel there’s not much time to achieve all of this.
“I was recently awestruck by the beauty and the grandeur of Zion National Park, Bryce and Antelope Canyon in the US. It stands as a testament to the power of the creative energies that shape our planet and even our lives. We need to step back and contemplate this.”
Greg Ardé is a journalist based in Durban, South Africa. He has written three books and currently edits a magazine.
In the course of his 30-year career Greg has been involved with a number of media, including newspapers, radio and television. He is the former bureau chief of the Sunday Times in Durban and editor of a monthly magazine which appeared in that newspaper.
He was previously deputy editor of the Sunday Tribune, property editor of the same publication and business editor of The Mercury.
He was political reporter on the Daily News and worked for the South African Press Association in the run-up to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. In that time he covered political violence extensively. Greg has a national diploma in journalism from the erstwhile Technikon Natal.
As part of this, he served a year’s internship at the Daily Dispatch in East London and later ran the Dispatch's Umtata bureau, close to the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. He is deeply committed to issues of justice, accountability and development and wrote a weekly column for 15 years.
Greg has a keen interest in the evolution of cities and in 2013 and 2014, contributed to the Resilient Cities series, an initiative sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Greg’s passion for politics, cities and development nurtured a curiosity in business and entrepreneurs and he has run three publications in that vein.
In the course of his career, Greg has also facilitated a number of roundtable talks aimed at improving education, economic development and job creation in Durban, the city he calls home.