Smoky quartzAugust 11, 2012
Your first visit to Namibia?August 11, 2012
Text Christine Hugo
It’s a strange phenomenon, but it’s indisputably true. Most tourists come to Namibia hoping to experience the Big Six – lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, rhinoceros and Joe’s Beerhouse.
There cannot be too many restaurants in the world that have become as much of a tourist destination as Joe’s. Over the past twenty years thousands of tourists have flocked to this famous waterhole to see what the fuss is all about. And what exactly, one has to wonder, is it about Joe’s that draws an average of 300 visitors a day, year in and year out, with as many as 600 people dropping in on busy days?
“I think people like the quirky atmosphere, the variety of game dishes on the menu and our generous portions,” offers Joe’s wife, Anette.
Quirky it is. In fact, Joe’s Beerhouse is a fine example of how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There is no sense to be made out of the enormous collection of stuff that makes up the interior decor of the restaurant. Scrap metal, old household relics, eccentric collections of memorabilia, bar stools made from toilet seats, the biggest ox horns you’ve ever seen, the trophies of two kudu bulls entwined, and more empty Jägermeister bottles than you’ll be able to contemplate in a lifetime.
“I’m very happy and proud of what we’ve achieved,” says Joe Gross – the Joe of Joe’s Beerhouse – creative director of the most famous restaurant in the country.
Travel companies started to book for busloads of foreign visitors and with every satisfied delegation that left, word spread and the demand grew
Not that he had any idea that this would be his destiny when he first immigrated to Namibia in 1986.
Qualified as a German master chef, Joe opened the Kaiserkrone Restaurant with a partner. After three years his partner decided to return to Germany, so they sold the business. Joe decided to open a cosy little pub where patrons could relax with a beer and a bite to eat, and so the very first Joe’s Beerhouse was opened in 1990 in Grimm Street. Before long the little pub was bursting at the seams, and after two years the beer house moved to a new location in Independence Avenue. Up until then Joe’s was primarily a pub with a limited food menu, but recognising the demand, Joe decided to develop the business into a full-fledged restaurant at the larger premises.
Tourists and locals welcomed the generous portions of game and other meat dishes, and before long the gemsbok fillets, Bushman’s sosaties (mixed game kebabs that include ostrich, crocodile, zebra and kudu) and meat platters were flying off the grill. Travel companies started to book for busloads of foreign visitors and with every satisfied delegation that left, word spread and the demand grew.
Ever a restless, creative soul, Joe continued to collect paraphernalia for his beer house, forever adding, changing and reinventing the restaurant. Six years later the former cosy pub had become a must-do on the Namibian tourist itinerary and showed no signs of slowing down. Yet again he had to move. “What I have built up here was done with passion,” says Joe, ascribing the popularity of the restaurant to good service and hands-on involvement.
Joe and Anette plan to open more Joe’s Beerhouse restaurants based on the same concept throughout Namibia and in South Africa
In 2000 Joe and Anette took a bold step and purchased their own property to accommodate Joe’s Beerhouse. “I was quite scared to make that move,” Joe recalls. “I wasn’t sure that all our customers would follow us to the new location, but fortunately they did.”
Everybody at the time wondered how Joe would manage to create the same quirky, intimate atmosphere in a space that was much larger than the previous one, but not only did he manage to match what he had achieved previously, but also to exceed it. The new venue at 160 Nelson Mandela Avenue includes three thatched bar areas, a thatched lapa, a beer garden, a well-stocked wine cellar and an open-air wooden boma with a fireplace that is excellent in winter and especially popular for private functions and parties.
In 2007 Joe and Anette converted Joe’s Beerhouse into a private company and introduced a unique shareholder policy with the vision to expand the business and open more Joe’s Beerhouse restaurants based on the same concept throughout Namibia and in South Africa.
With all these ambitions for the future, the couple is busier than ever before, and not only with the beer house. Joe is a keen bird photographer and is currently working on a Namibian book on birds. There is also talk of a lodge opening on the Zambezi River, so their work is far from done; in some respects it’s only just begun.
This article appeared in the Oct’11 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.