Nestled on the outskirts of the Bagdad Centre in White River, Zannas Flavour Café is well known for enticing visitors from near and far, and lately even more so.
This is because Sue Butowsky and Vicky Venter, owners of Zannas, know a thing or two about customer satisfaction. From the shop’s al fresco, cosmopolitan setting to the mouth-watering food, Zannas is a firm favourite among locals. Sue opened the cafe in 2006, nurturing and growing it into the well-known and loved eatery it is today.
New kid on the block Vicky, who joined Zannas in November 2021, shares Sue’s vision completely. “We think along the same lines,” Sue says, smiling. “Vicky came along and breathed new life into Zannas. It couldn’t have been easy, coming into an established business of 15 years,” she continues, “but Vicky took it in her stride.” Vicky agrees, adding that although the two women have different strongpoints, their strengths play to each other, making for a winning combination.
As with most things in life, once the winds of change start blowing, they don’t stop. A fresh new look was called for, but Sue and Vicky didn’t stop there. “These days, everyone seems to have a little side hustle, whether it’s baking rusks or selling jam,” laughs Sue. “Businesses have to constantly reinvent and re-establish themselves. Vicky and I had both been toying with the idea of a gelato bar, which is something completely new to the area.”
With a little outside help, and a collab with an Italian family, Zannas made space to accommodate the new venture. “The whole shop got a bit of a revamp,” Sue says. “Vicky did most of the design for the gelato bar itself, and we moved everything else around. Now it just flows,” she beams. “There has been so much negativity floating around the last year or two, we really need something jolly to make us happy,” she adds. “Having the gelato bar also attracts the kids, which is one of our goals; to make the cafe more of a family destination. We have already started to make our space greener with the addition of plenty of plants, adding to the serene and beautiful home-away-from-home feel.”
Indeed, reclining on one of the couches in the open air brings to mind sun-drenched Italian hillsides, especially when indulging in a Zannas affogato (vanilla gelato topped with espresso, sheer bliss). The gelato flavours, which include Knickerbocker Glory, After Eight Mint, coffee, caramel and the universal favourites, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, have been causing ripples of delight through the Lowveld. “We also have vegan-friendly options, and sugar-free ice cream is soon going to be on the menu as well. Ultimately, we would like to cater for outside occasions, such as parties and weddings, and possibly develop a wholesale side.”
Sue and Vicky and are also planning movie-and-dinner nights, including three-course meals. There are plenty of ideas in the pipeline, and if the success of the gelato bar is anything to go by, we can expect great things. “People are pushing us to grow and expand, but we are taking it slowly,” Sue says, stressing that gelato is not something to be rushed. It is a labour of love and without the proper care and attention, will not have that distinctive something that makes Zannas gelato so special. “After all, it’s made with love,” Vicky smiles.
The intrepid duo definitely has a winning formula. Ever since Sue and Vicky opened up the gelato bar, they have noticed how much happier their guests are. They put this down to the joy invoked by good memories of happy times. “It’s a nostalgia thing … Remember when you were a kid and the ice cream truck drove around? Or eating ice lollies on the beach? We bring that back, reminding people what it’s like to live a little, enjoy the simple things in life, smell the proverbial roses. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that ice cream makes you happy!” Vicky says.
Sue adds that being part of the artisan initiative is important, now more than ever, and people are starting to see that. “The world is changing and we need to catch up, to see the importance of being water-wise, minimising plastic use, being sustainable. Not buying into mass-produced, faceless goods. By the same token, building relationships with your customers is so important,” she adds. “People who come here leave as friends. We greet them by name, they know they are welcome, they feel at home.”
It’s obvious that Zannas is a place to watch. Sue tells us that some of their guests make a specific detour on their travels, while others drive from far and wide, simply to pop in and get their fix. “It’s the ice cream,” Vicky repeats. “It takes them to their happy place.” And what better way to slip into an indulgent daydream than with handcrafted, made-with-love, sumptuous gelato?
Photographer: Mia Louw – Mia Louw Creative
Shot on location @Zannas