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The Business of restauranteering with Alessandro Khojane

By: Natasha Archary

Alessandro Khonjane
Image: Restaurateur Alessandro Khonjane and Kaya Biz

Free State-born and Italian-raised restaurateur, Alessandro Khojane joins Gugulethu Mfuphi for an in-depth discussion on The Business of restauranteering.

Better known as the “Italian Stallion”, Alessandro is the owner and creator of the popular Johannesburg Italian restaurant, Gemellli.

Looking at his success now, many people assume that Alessandro’s journey as a restaurant owner was an easy one, but it took years of hard work, sweat and tears to get to where he is today.

The inspiration behind Gemelli

Gemelli, which means “twins” in Italian was born in 2017, but Alessandro started his career in the restaurant industry in 2003 as a waiter at an Italian restaurant.

While he was raised in Italy, this isn’t what sparked his passion for Italian cuisine, and it was actually his time working for an Italian restaurant in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal called Marcos where Alessandro learnt how to cook Italian food.

Not one to follow the rules, Alessandro knew he wanted to break out on his own and open hisown restaurant which would be a reflection of his Italian background but firmly rooted in South African pride.

Gemelli is a contemporary Italian restaurant that gives diners the experience of “the Italian way of eating”, which is to have family sharing portions, and is where the family comes together to dine.

The highs and lows of owning a restaurant

In knowing the ins and outs of running a restaurant, Alessandro fell short by not understanding how to run a business, and found himself heavily in debt very quickly.

“Everyone sees the great success story of Gemelli but what people don’t know is the horror that I’ve been through. I couldn’t sleep, because there were a lot of mistakes that I made.

A great guy by the name of Thabiso Hermanus, a very good friend of my brother came into my life when I was in a lot of financial debt, unbeknownst to me.

That’s where people get it confused, there’s running a restaurant and running a business. I know how to run a restaurant, Thabio knows how to run a business.

My mess up was that bad, that he had to call his older brother, Andile Khumalo for help.

Andile asked me two questions, because I didn’t know about turnover and net profit was, I started as a waiter, I went on to work in a kitchen and then I opened a restaurant. At no point did I go to business school.

I know food, I know people, I know how to time when to have your dish ready by but I don’t know anything about SARS, UIF, turnover, net and VAT, what is that?”

Alessandro Khojane admits that without the help and support of Thabiso Hermanus and Andile Khumalo in 2018, Gemelli would have gone belly up.

The now successful restaurateur’s story may have ended being very similar to that of chef Lusizo Henna, who was sentenced to 10-years for defrauding SARS.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and today Alessandro’s Gemelli is a critically acclaimed restaurant, which has won many awards.

Alessandro has often been named restaurateur of the month.

Watch the full interview with Alessandro Khojane:

Also read: Chef Lusizo Henna sentenced to 10-years for defrauding SARS

Written by: Natasha


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