Q&A With Anat Apter Of Anat

South Africa’s favourite build-it-yourself food francise came from humble beginnings rooted in an old family falafel recipe. We pick Anat Apter’s brains, about what it took – and still takes – to run such an exciting brand.

Your father sold falafel. Growing up, did you ever think it’d go full circle and you’d end up opening one of South Africa’s most recognised and loved food franchises?

No, I didn’t want to be in the food business at all, because of the working hours associated with the industry. I remember my father having to work every Saturday – which at the time I felt influenced his family time as he had less time with his family. We didn’t have normal weekends and evenings together and never went on holidays as a family. I also remember that my father’s car always smelled like Falafel which I hated.

Then in 1992, I fell on hard financial times and I remembered how my mom said that if you ever need cash quickly go sell Falafel, so I did, and here we are! From your first stall at Bruma Lake in the early 90s, was the plan to grow the brand as big as it has? Not at the beginning. We started out to help with our finances and had no idea it would turn into what it is today, nor did we have any intention of running a major food brand business at the time. Following the success at Bruma Flea Market, we then saw the potential and made the decision to open up our first brick and mortar store in Sandton City, which still exists there today.

Has the entrepreneurial spirit always been in your blood or is it something that you had to develop during the early years of the eatery that now bears your name? 

I have always been entrepreneurial. When I was much younger I would baby site during school holidays. At one time in my young adulthood I was baking and selling cakes. I also sold bags at one point. I can’t remember never not working. Within my current business, I still always think about ways to improve iand how to expand on our current business and beyond.

The restaurant’s claim to fame is its falafel, but you’re also known to be the first to introduce shawarmas to the masses. How did that come about? 

I started selling only Falafel at the flea market, as that was what I knew best. After some time, my husband Menachem came with idea of selling meat as South Africans seem to love meat more than vegetables. In Israel, our culture is to primarily eat vegetables and legumes, and meat once a week because it was expensive when I was growing up. We then started selling Shwarma and the public loved it.

How long did it take you to perfect the falafel recipe that made the eatery so famous?  Was it a simple case of copying a family recipe or did you make subtle changes to it?

I took my family recipe from 1945 and purely did calculations to adapt for scale and larger production. The unique taste has remained from the small batches we had as kids at home, to the same taste you get in all our stores today. When my family come over now from Israel and eat at one of our stores, they actually comment on how it reminds them of “Aba” which is grandfather in Hebrew.

Anat recently searched for the ideal South African shwarma, did you receive any strange entries into the competition?

We did receive some unusual ones:

  • Nutella, Mini-marshmallows and Astros
  • Chicken-a-la-king and lettuce
  • Roast Turkey and Lamb with Roasted Vegetables with Roasted Potatoes.

Do you think that you put Middle Eastern cuisine on the South African map? Because we do!

Yes, definitely. I spent a lot of money on teaching South Africans about the our cuisine. We were the pioneers in bringing falafel and shwarma to this country and presenting the South African public with authentic Middle Eastern cuisine and flavours as well as the Make It Your Way concept. We remain the South African market leader in Middle Eastern and customised food concepts to this day, which I am very proud of!

Your falafel empire started out of hardship and given economic uncertainty in South Africa, do you have any inspiring final words for any budding entrepreneurs?

Do what you know best! If you have an idea and you feel if you can make a business out of it, make sure you know how to do it and do it properly. I didn’t realise I was inheriting a profession growing up and then it became one. Sometimes your “business” or “career” is not always what you perceive it to be initially, but the best advice I can give anyone is “Do what you know best and give it your best.”

Find out more about Anat here.

By Shawn Greyling

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