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KITCHEN Gangster…

Entrepreneur, self-made millionaire and owner of Umhlanga’s exclusive Café La Plage restaurant, David Manal recently released his autobiography, called Kitchen Gangster.

“I was the black sheep. The only one with no education. The only one with no schooling even. Look at me now.” David Manal has had one focus since he was just 15 years old: to make a lot of money.

His autobiography, Kitchen Gangster, tells the story of how, as a young boy growing up in Saudi Arabia, David learned to stand up against bullies, work extremely hard and keep his mind focused on his end-goal of becoming successful and very wealthy.
Now in his early forties, David has achieved exactly that. Not only does he own one of the most glamorous restaurants and entertainment venues on the North Coast, he also owns various other businesses, including a gym and IT company.

David moved to South Africa in 2001. “The only country I could go to without headaches with visas was South Africa. I went to a travel agent and bought a one-way ticket to Johannesburg.” Before he left, David had a conversation with his mother that has stuck with him throughout his life. “My mother explained to me how to live my life in ‘three 20s’: three stages, each lasting 20 years. That short conversation showed me the way forward and has guided my life.” When he arrived in South Africa, David says he was mentally prepared for anything and determined to reach his goal of being financially successful by the age of 40.

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The next 20 years, he explains, were about learning and growing and ‘paying his school fees in the school of life’. “I’ve learned so much over the years. I’ve been taken advantage of and I’ve lost and made a lot of money. But here I am, healthy, strong and successful. To make money, you must be willing to lose money. Only with high risk comes high reward.”

So, from a young boy selling ice lollies in the dusty streets of Saudi Arabia, to being a cleaner and server in various kitchens and restaurants in South Africa, David finally started to see his goal in sight when he partnered up with the owner of Plaka – a popular fine-dining Greek restaurant in Johannesburg in 2006. David helped him open his restaurant and then, he says, he worked hard, 16 hours a day, always giving one thousand percent to achieve success.

The memory of one busy night stands out in David’s mind. “We had a book launch at the restaurant and it was packed. I didn’t know who the author was, but he was clearly important. Later that night he came up to me and said, ‘let’s have a shooter together’. He introduced himself as Richard Branson. I had no idea who he was. He gave me a signed copy of his book, ‘Screw it, Let’s Do It’, and I told him that my English wasn’t great and I couldn’t read it. He said I should keep it and read it one day when my English was better, which I did, but only ten years later,” he laughs.

In 2007 David moved to Durban and opened his first restaurant in South Africa, a second Plaka franchise, situated opposite Gateway Theatre of Shopping. He later changed the name to Barrio. When he decided to open Café La Plage, which means ‘café by the beach’, he knew exactly what he wanted to create. Driven by his passion for music and inspired by the world-famous Café del Mare in Ibiza, David set his sights on a 1000m² space at The Pearls in Umhlanga. “I wanted the place to have the feel of the sea, with a French style and a rich look. I flew to Egypt, Dubai and China to source supplies.”

When it was eventually complete, Café La Plage was a R10million investment. He opened the doors in November 2016 and, since then, it has grown from strength to strength. “As the owner of such a big, expensive restaurant in Umhlanga, you would think I would have closed by now due to Covid, but I’ve kept it going.”

Now, David says, the restaurant is the place he goes to live out his dreams. A musician himself, he often deejays or plays piano. This, he says, is where he goes to be happy.
“Consistency is key. If you set a goal for yourself and work at it every day for six months, nothing can stop you. Too many people lose interest, become demotivated or just bored along the way. I still work 14 hours every day in my businesses. I spend an hour in the gym and sleep for maybe four to six hours. I hardly ever take a day off.”

Now a father of two daughters, Eva and Arabella, David says he wrote this book for them. “I want to show them where I came from, who I am, and that anyone with a dream who works hard can make a better life.”

Details: David’s book, Kitchen Gangster: 20 years to fight, grind and build an empire is available on www.amazon.com and www.takealot.com for R435.
Cafe La Plage is situated at: The Pearls of Umhlanga, McCausland Crescent, Umhlanga, www.cafelaplage.co.za, 031 561 9999

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