The Whippet: facelifted Linden fave to get a sister eatery

We find out more about the design influence behind the Joburg restaurant's sleek new look and the owners' exciting plans to expand the brand

20 January 2019 - 00:00 By Mila Crewe-Brown
The Whippet's grown-up identity speaks to its Linden premises' veiled back story - the building was once an Art Deco hotel.
The Whippet's grown-up identity speaks to its Linden premises' veiled back story - the building was once an Art Deco hotel.
Image: Chene Steyn/SilverSuitcase Photography

The Whippet, on the corner of 7th Street and 4th Avenue in Linden, Johannesburg, turns six this month. With that, the brand is evolving. "It's not a hipster brand," founder Divan Botha is quick to point out. "You'll find a guy with a sleeve sitting next to a school mom, and next to her a businessman."

This diversity is a reflection of The Whippet's refusal to be cool, trendy or even themed. It's about authenticity, community and having a conscience.

"Brands tend to arrive in an area with their stock-standard approach and have an attitude that the neighbourhood should take it or leave it," says Divan. To Divan and business partners Braam Heiberg and Suzanne Botha, this attitude lacks connection to the community.

DESIGN

The Whippet recently opened the doors on its newly renovated premises, shedding the rustic, farm-style aesthetic for a more refined, grown-up identity that speaks to the building's veiled back story - it was once an Art Deco hotel. "Old hotels used to be the central meeting point of suburbs and this one was on the most prominent corner of Linden," says Divan.

For the redesign, he turned to Kassa Studio's Korine Krüger and Sanet Stegmann, a potent young design duo. That they are ex-Lindonites was a happy coincidence. Leveraging the building's history and the brand's appetite for a local offering with integrity, the pair of designers have given the space a more refined look.

The interior features bespoke timber panelling, brass detailing, round glass pendant lights and custom-designed terrazzo tiles.
The interior features bespoke timber panelling, brass detailing, round glass pendant lights and custom-designed terrazzo tiles.
Image: Chene Steyn/Silversuitcase Photography

The interior features bespoke timber panelling, brass detailing, round glass pendant lights, custom-designed terrazzo tiles and a lighter, brighter interior combined with sage accents, all of which elegantly speak to its Art Deco history.

PHILOSOPHY

"You can't sell an experience without focusing on the people that make that experience," says Divan as we discuss The Whippet's impressive staff plan. Apart from paying higher salaries and carrying out comprehensive staff training, it aims to improve its employees' quality of life.

The new design nods to the space's Art Deco history.
The new design nods to the space's Art Deco history.
Image: Chene Steyn/Silversuitcase Photography

Having had in-depth conversations with staff about the challenges they face, The Whippet pays the two-month rental deposit for those members who want to live closer to work, reducing their travel time and hefty travel expenses.

Furthermore, it runs an initiative called Sisonke, which provides every staff member (currently 54 for both The Whippet and Flight Coffee) with an enormous monthly food hamper that closes the nutrition gap they ordinarily face in the last 10 days of the month. The hamper includes fresh fruit, vegetables and starch, as well as a recipe card from the head chef.

THE FUTURE

New sibling, The Whippet Melville - Harvest Store will open its doors on March 12. It is in another, even older Art Deco hotel on the corner of 7th Street and 3rd Avenue. As the name implies, it will harvest herbs, fruit and vegetables on the rooftop as well as inside the store.

Roughly three times bigger than the Linden premises, The Harvest Store's design is also being conceptualised by Kassa Studio, who are working on an artisanal, organic, botanical-inspired interior. Once it has its rooftop garden up and running, 80% of the food needs for both branches will be grown in-house.

The greenhouse will be one of its most beautifully conceived experiences: picture a glass box in which guests can sit at tables and see their food growing. Another feature will be the plant wall, where, in true Whippet style, cuttings from the Melville Koppies will be an ode to the neighbourhood.