While the culinary scene in Hermanus is alive and well, with no shortage of coffee shops, bistros and restaurants to choose from, we all know that to survive – let alone thrive – in this highly competitive business is no easy task. Establishments often open and close in rapid succession and many struggle to stay afloat.
The exception to this rule is a handful of establishments in Hermanus that have continued to flourish for many years, even decades, and continue to be a firm favourite among customers. One such restaurant is Rossi’s, which is believed to be the oldest restaurant in Hermanus to have been trading under the same name, in the same location, for 33 years.
The building occupied by Rossi’s has an interesting link to the Adelphi cinema, which was the topic of an article written by Dr Robin Lee of the Hermanus History Society and published in our previous issue (Bringing Hermanus’ cinematic history into focus, The Village NEWS, 17 – 23 April). According to Dr Lee, the cinema was built by the Allen family in 1916 and managed by Simon Allen, one of the sons of David Allen and a grandson of the original Allen(gensky). He was Adel Allengensky who came to Hermanus from Latvia via Cape Town and Greyton in the early 1890s.
The cinema was immediately next door to Allen’s residence in Main Road, where Hermanus Property Sales is today. The Allens also owned the building just around the corner in High Street that has been home to Rossi’s for over three decades. The building was originally divided into three apartments and rented out to three different families – the De Kock, van Dyk and Smalberger families. Edward Smalberger was the projectionist at the Adelphi cinema for many years.
While the Adelphi was destroyed in a fire in 1981, the eighties saw the start of a whole new era for the Allens’ property in High Street. I’m not quite sure who decided to turn it into a restaurant, but in 1985 Rossi’s Italian Restaurant opened its doors. The story goes that the owner named the restaurant after his son, Ross, but not much more is known, so if any of our readers has information about Rossi’s original owner, please do let us know.
These days the restaurant is in the capable hands of Bruce Geddes, who ascribes Rossi’s enduring popularity to the high quality of their food and reasonable pricing – and most of all, consistency. The menu has not changed in years and while one might argue that this could create boredom, instead it appears to be a source of comfort to diners. Apart from the locals who dine out regularly at Rossi’s, there are the tourists, holiday-makers and weekend visitors who flock to Rossi’s whenever they are in Hermanus – and are relieved to find that nothing has changed.
The obvious deduction is that one should not try to fix something that is not broken. Removing popular dishes from your menu just for the sake of change will only disappoint diners – for that reason, says Bruce, there are certain items that will always feature on Rossi’s menu. These include several classics, such as their Minestrone della Casa, Lasagne al Forno, veal mains such as Ossobuco alla Milanese and Scaloppine alla Valdostana, and of course, their speciality pizzas, all prepared with traditional Italian ‘doppio zero’ flour and cooked in a traditional wood-burning pizza oven (they also offer yummy gluten-free pizzas made with coconut flour, tapioca flour, flax seed powder and butter).
Everything that comes out of the kitchen is wholesome Italian fare infused with the comfort of home cooking. The menu is complemented by the wine list, which features many local wines from Hemel-en-Aarde, Botrivier, Stanford and Elim, and most of which are available either by bottle or by the glass.
Bruce and his wife Nadine, who for many years ran the Africa Blue shop in the Village Square, both hail from Zimbabwe. Bruce’s father managed a hotel in Bulawayo and his son followed in his footsteps by studying hotel management. Shortly after marrying Nadine in 2003, the couple relocated to South Africa. Before settling in Johannesburg they visited Hermanus, where the Rev James Gray blessed their union at a scenic spot on Rotary Drive. “It was very romantic and we have both loved Hermanus since our honeymoon.”
However, the couple only settled here permanently in 2009. During the intervening years they managed a lodge in Zulu Land for a few years, followed by a stint in St Francis Bay where Bruce ran a real estate business specialising in the sale of B&Bs and guesthouses. Once in Hermanus they opened Africa Blue, a marine-themed gift shop which is still up and running in the Village Square. When Bruce’s brother, who lives in the UK, started Caffè Blu, Bruce jumped in as manager before taking over Rossi’s from his father-in-law, Brian Taylor.
Brian had bought Rossi’s in 2010 and two years later the premises were extensively renovated – and the walls decorated with paintings of local scenery by artist Leon Müller, whose gallery Art Thirst is just down the road from Rossi’s in High Street. The ambience in the restaurant is relaxed and welcoming and the customers have long-standing relationships with the staff, many of whom, like Melany Koekemoer, have waitressed at Rossi’s for 20 years. The chef, Elise van Neel, who is the driving force in the kitchen, has been there for 12 years.
“Many of our customers have been coming here for years,” says Bruce, “and now their children and even grandchildren are continuing the family tradition.” That kind of continuity and solidity is hard to find in a restaurant, and Rossi’s is one of the very few that has pulled it off.
Apart from the main dining area which is warmed in winter by a woodburning fireplace, there is a cosy bar area and a veranda that is ideal for sunny days. It’s very pleasant to sit outside and observe the comings and goings on High Street – during my interview with Bruce several people walked past with a friendly greeting or stopped for a quick chat. One can hardly imagine this bustling street without Rossi’s – not that I think we have to, as Rossi’s is bound to continue its proud tradition as a firm family favourite.