Birillo brings the capital coffee culture

D7K_6700Let me just come out and say it – I dislike malls.

I’d much rather amble down shopping lanes with pretty facades or an open-air market, but malls and their ‘pay-for-your-parking public space’ is the norm in Pretoria. That’s why when there’s a mall-based enterprise that’s trying to be different and independent, I’m fully behind throwing our cash at their dream rather than another cookie cutter chain store.

D7K_6688The small but stylish Birillo Coffee is slotted into the space under an elevator in Glenfair Mall (Lynnwood Road). Moms with their weekly shop squeeze past you and all the cups are takeaway, but sit a while and you’ll see the charm.

First of all, the coffee is good and that’s the point. Owner Reone Louw says she chose the no-fuss set up and lack of a food menu purposefully to draw all attention to the caffeine.  Inspired by the coffee culture in Cape Town and further afield she wanted to ignite that love for a good cup here in the capital, and it certainly is the main draw card for Birillo, but not the only one.

D7K_6684When you look past the setting, you’ll see a row of loyal customers chatting to the truly friendly (not ‘please-just-tip-me’ friendly) baristas at the bar. There’s that magical brewing smell, trendy décor and tables perfect for people watching or reading while sipping. Frankly, it’s more relaxed and genuine than the majority of hipster-tastic espresso meccas.

I still would like there to be a pretty courtyard or seating nook, but admire how Reone chose a specific concept and uncompromisingly went for it. “Decide what you want to do and be the best at it,” she says to me, and you can see this in how Birillo is exactly the espresso bar she wanted, not more or less. It’s a calculated choice that works, given its oddly intimate charm considering the setting.

D7K_6691Here coffee culture meets mall culture, which reflects where our capital city is at the moment in my mind. There’s a drive for bringing originality and personality into spaces that have been previously commercial and generic. The trick is pursuing a dream without constant comparison to how other cities do ‘cool’ or completely ignoring the current norm. Birillo finds a way to find a comfy spot in this tension.

So, swing by the little shop under the elevator for a hazelnut latte and a chat.D7K_6679

So, you’re going to Rhodes – 5 pieces of advice for first-years

clocktower rhodesFive years ago around this time I was on my way to start studying in a hick town in the middle of nowhere Eastern Cape. I had never been to Grahamstown, knew no one there and had nothing to assure me this was a good idea apart from my wide-eyed belief that you make your own happiness.

Good luck with that, kid.

Turns out that I had an awesome  four years at Rhodes University and still miss quite a lot about it, despite now being in the grown-up world (where pitching up barefoot is frowned upon, by the way, and no one gives you cupcakes for wearing purple.)

Since the interwebs was useless back then in telling me what to expect,  here’s my personal list of advice I’d give to them newbies.

  1. Make lots of acquaintances but choice friends

The first two weeks are open season. Everyone is in that strange new space where they haven’t found their little groups yet, which means you can strike up conversations with pretty much anyone without extreme awkwardness.

You might not become OMG BFF’s with all of them, but Rhodes is a small place and walking through campus greeting everyone might make you feel like a rock star.

Make full use of it now and I promise you there will still be lots of time later to find your bubble of regular mates. You’ll need that support system, but don’t worry too much about finding it. Life after high school doesn’t come with assigned seating and you are free to choose people who are the same kind of weird as you.

  1. Get involved

I know your dad will tell you that you’re here to study not stuff around. Good on you, dad.

The thing is that while all varsities have a lot on offer, at Rhodes it’s hard not to get involved. You’re living, working and social life is all intertwined and that makes for an intense student culture that you don’t want to miss out on.

It sounds like obvious advice, but I really urge you to try new stuff, because this is your chance. Go hiking with the Mountain Club, watch all the funny experimental Drama department shows and get involved in the liberal debates and activism that are a big part of Rhodes’ legacy.

During my first O-Week I didn’t think I’d become a girl with dreadlocks who performs solo folk music and passionately debates gender equality. But, if I hadn’t gone to Rhodes and been able to try all those things without judgment, I may never have embraced them as a part of who I am.

Whatever it is, push yourself to explore. Ordering something unusual at Friar’s does not count.

  1. Be true to yourself (and other clichés)

This one is important, young grasshopper.

Your first year will see you discovering and enjoying all this new stuff, and soon you can’t imagine life without The Rat’s Bacovian pizza.  In the middle of it all, I urge you not to lose sight of things that you find important, even if they’re against the overall norm of Rhodes.

For instance, while it’s easy to find a party buddy, finding a church or religious community at Rhodes can come a lot less naturally.  Some friends missed things like the busyness of a big city or a certain activity that Rhodes didn’t offer, and it affected their overall happiness.

There are definitely lots of like-minded people and opportunities out there, but if you don’t actively pursue what you need, it might seem far out of reach later. Find things that make you feel like yourself and say no to the things that don’t.

grahamstown rhodes

  1. Be a Grahamstownian not just in Grahamstown

Some students, often of the stereotypical jock variety, would ignore this advice and spend three/four years at Rhodes without really living in Grahamstown. Sure, the varsity has all you need and you go never venture past Pepper Grove if you like, but you’d be missing out.

Beyond the arch there’s so much more that will widen your experience far beyond just student life. When you take it seriously and don’t act like an obnoxious visitor, you’ll see just how friendly and interesting the town can be.

A good start for this could be attending Reddit’s Poetry or the Acoustic Café, reading local media, and talking to your favourite coffee spot’s owner. If you have a car, there are amazing little places to take a walk just outside of town that’ll feel as good as a holiday, my favourite being a beautiful little monastery.

If you really want to know more stuff about town, sneakily get yourself subscribed to the GPN emails.

  1. Pay attention in class

Finally, a note on academics. Oh that.

The aforementioned Dad was of course right. In between all the loveliness, Rhodents are obediently taking care of their prized pet, DP (which is RU speak for your allowance to keep studying).

My advice here is to realise as quickly as possible that your studies are in fact for you, not them. If you’re doing something with a high-school mentality of being forced to do it, it is either not the right thing for you or you are missing out on the full potential of something you chose and are paying for. That’s not nonchalant and rebellious, it’s just dumb.

Yes, some classes and course requirements will be tedious and silly (I’m looking at you, Psych 101) and you will have days where you skip class to watch the new Scandal episode, but on the whole you should be going somewhere you want to go.

arch grahamstown

If you’re new to Rhodes and would like to chat more, drop me a comment (especially if you’re struggling with spiritual community, I’d love to talk to you).

Otherwise, what would your advice be to newbies?

INDUSTRY pop-up shop at the Grove mall

Hey hey, look at you Pretoria, being all swanky with your pop-up shops and what not.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

You might know design company Industry from Capital Urban Market or Market@the Sheds, but it’s good to see they’ve found a home of sorts.

The store is in the space that used to be a Maxi’s chain restaurant in Pretoria East’s favourite mall for teenagers on pseudo-dates, the Grove. In a typical array of predictable shops, Industry’s minimalist and (pun alert!) industrial look is a nice change.

It’s a great spot for the brand, since its sure to widen their customers to soccer moms and people who don’t like markets (if those exists, which I don’t think they do).

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

If you’re not familiar with them, Industry sells stylish laser cut things, like adorable fox brooches and engraved wooden boards. This shop has some extras, like vintage sunglasses and camera lens mugs that are definitely on my wishlist. Since the company also does commissioned vinyl decals and signage, we might see more of that when more of the stock arrives.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014 The very best thing about Industry, and the reason I’m blogging about this, is because they’re really affordable. ‘End of the month, student budget, Christmas is coming’ kind of affordable.

A pair of their black geometric studs or wooden bunny earrings will cost you under R40 and I didn’t see a thing over 200 bucks. Let the wallets rejoice!copyright Elna Schutz 2014

As far as I could make out, the shop’s set to be there for three months, with a chance of permanence after that.

Industry isn’t the only laser-cutting kid on the blog, and there are some other great Pretorian brands doing similar jewelry, but having their own space and good prices is a good step ahead.
Also, they have this wall vinyl:

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Check out Industry at shop U34 (upper South-East exit) at the Grove, on their website or facebook page.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Along Lynnwood #1: Afroboer

copyright Elna Schutz 2014
From students in Hatfield to the affluent soccer moms of Silver Lakes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Pretorian from the East that doesn’t use Lynnwood Road daily. Along it are some coffee shops that are obvious favourites, like Aroma, but there’s really no need to ever cue for Saturday breakfast to Fourno’s again.
We might not have a view of the ocean, but just off Pretoria’s favourite suburbian road you’ll find a trail of small and authentic cafés worth taking your mother to.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Around the corner from the busy Solomon Mahlangu (Hans Strydom) crossing is the relaxed and lovely Afroboer. The farmhouse-like café has a neat and simple look, relying on a few thoughtful touches and lots of fresh flowers for décor. Besides, the centrepiece of the ‘baker’s café’ is a scrumptious cake-filled counter that gives you enough to look at.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

The focus on cakes, tarts and bread is no wonder, considering that the restaurant grew out of owner Michelle Cronje-Cibulka’s kitchen and night-time baking business. The precision and creativity needed for great baking is a balance that’s clear throughout Afroboer’s menu.

There are local classics with unique touches, like the pap en vleis featuring beef short rib and chorizo stewed in beer. Many of the breakfast and lunch options are original but accessible. You may not have thought of eating baked oats with whiskey, cream and roast hazelnuts, but now that you know it exists, you can’t resist.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

I was happy to note that Michelle’s perfectionism (read dedication) continues throughout the drinks menu, which isn’t treated like a lazy second heir as is too often the case.
Pretoria East’s healthy living fanatics will love her red and green juices or Paleo recovery shake, while couch potatoes can get nostalgic over retro hot chocolate with a Marie biscuit marshmallow sandwich.
There’s a good coffee offering (Kilimanjaro single-origin roast), with an interesting tea collection on the way from one of the last remaining Malawian tea producers.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Finding a nice coffee shop is one thing, but I get even more excited by a business that tries to do good beyond making a profit. In this case the vast majority of Afroboer’s staff hasn’t graduated high school and almost none have previous culinary experience.
Michelle wanted to give unique chances to people that might not have had them, and trained all of them from scratch. Knowing this makes that white chocolate cheesecake taste even better.

Check out their Instagram for food pics or the rather adorable website and put Afroboer on your list of places to try.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Things to note:

– Great for breakfast, but be prepared for busyness
– Gluten-free and allergy options available
– Very kiddie friendly
– Closed evenings, Sundays and public holidays
– Garden upgrades and alcoholic options on their way
– Menu changed regularly

Open Pretoria

copyright Elna Schutz
I’ve been back in my hometown of Pretoria for a while now and am finally getting more involved with all those interesting things I always knew must have been hidden somewhere. I’m hoping to do a lot more writing about awesome things in the capital, so keep an eye on the blog.

In my personal opinion just too many of the culture and event websites in South Africa have an extremely cynical tone, as if something can only be remotely enjoyable if it’s the most ground-breaking and underground thing to have ever been made, preferably by equally cynical people with beards.

That’s not the kind of stuff I write. I happen to believe you don’t make stuff cooler by putting down everything else. In the wise words of The1Janitor:

you're allowed to like stuff

To kick off all things Pretoria, I recently went on a walking tour of the CBD hosted by  Capital Collective as part of Cool Capital 2014, who are both doing some great things for the city.

Led by local architect Andries Adriaan Louw, we  trekked through arcades and hidden side streets. From the half-built Rapid Transport System bus stops to the abandoned synagogue where the Rivonia trial took place, we went into some pretty awesome hidden corners. While similar photowalks and Instameets are popular Pta, it was lovely to see a mixed group, with some sketching or just along for the heck of it.

copyright Elna Schutz

I almost wish these kind of events would be superfluous. In a perfect world Pretorians would know and love their inner city and all its history as much as the locals of Barcelona or Rome. I know we’re far away from that, but it really is time get out from behind the hijack-proof car windows and explore our home beyond cushy shopping malls.

copyright Elna Schutz

Among my favourite childhood memories are school holiday trips into the CBD. Back when using public transport was dodgy at best and there was nothing rapid about it, my mom would take us into town with the bus. We’d feed the pigeons at Oom Paul square, visit museums and spend hours in the huge public library. For a European child this would be nothing out of the ordinary, but in my  insular world of security fences and carpooling this was an adventure like few others.

My mom’s insistence that her children wouldn’t be scared of their hometown seemed strange then, but crucial to me now. That pride and belief that Pretoria is a beautiful old city stuck and is now probably what’s making me so eager to be part of the drive to get people engaged.

copyright Elna Schutz

There’s definitely a revival brewing, and this is the time to not only get on the bandwagon but help shape it. Areas like Joburg’s Braamfontein and Maboneng should show us what’s possible as much as what we can do different. You don’t have to be one of those ‘arty creative types’  with purple hair to fit in either if that’s not your vibe. If there’s one thing about the capital that’s always been cool, it’s the authenticity of the people. Come in your tekkies and have a jol, even if you don’t care that the beer is craft and the coffee is single-origin.

copyright Elna SchutzConsidering that for the longest time couldn’t imagine living here full time again, I’m getting so excited about the possibilities and can’t wait to see what Pretoria looks like in five years.
Maybe I’ve seen the light, or just eaten one too many koeksisters.


What would you love to see happen in the capital? 
Drop me a comment. 

**Photos copyrighted to Elna Schütz. Don’t use without permission. It’s not nice.*