Fresh News

An Interview with Gina Neilson

An Interview With Gina Neilson

In honour of Women's Month, we've reached out to one of our clients Gina Neilson of 9th Ave. Waterside, who was gracious enough to give us a little insight into her business and her other passion project.

A Little Background About You For Our Readers

How did you get into the industry?
When I was growing up my dad used to love to travel and took me with him so I spent lots of time in restaurants and hotels. All my favourite childhood memories are of eating out. He always said I should be a restaurateur. I actually have a teaching degree and wanted to be a teacher but ended up in the restaurant industry – obviously, he must have been right.

You have had the pleasure of working around the world, where would you love to work again?
The 2 countries I’d love to work in again are Bermuda just because it’s so incredibly beautiful and a special place and Austria because I love skiing and the culture, so much fun.

What is your favourite bottle of wine?
Right now any wine I can get my hands on! Although if I could choose I really love Volnay – an area in Burgundy known for Pinot Noir.

When you are not working, how do you keep busy?
I basically have 2 jobs and am a mum, so there’s very little free time but I love the beach (when we can go) Also hanging out with friends and having a laugh.

A Little Background about 9th Ave.

What inspired you and your husband, Graham, to take on the mammoth task of owning and running 9th Ave?
When I was studying I was a waitress at 9th Avenue and met my husband at the restaurant, so years later the previous owner offered the restaurant to us on a great deal so we kind of fell into it. It was a big decision at the time as I was teaching and loved working. My husband knew that I would be giving up my career to go back into the restaurant industry.

In your opinion, what makes 9th Ave. different from other Fine Dining restaurants?
It’s extremely personal, our food and service are all reflections of who we are. You won’t receive the same food and service in any other restaurant. We don’t think of 9th as fine dining more as upmarket dining. Our staff become part of the identity, some of the staff have been with the restaurant since it opened in 2001.

About a year ago, 9th Ave. changed location and is now called 9th Ave. Waterside, what spurred the change?
We knew we needed to grow and our old space was so tired but we didn’t want to just move anywhere we needed something that felt right. When we became aware of the opportunity to be involved with the Café Fish revamp we just knew it was time to move 9th there. Many people thought we were crazy to move to the city but that building is so special and is a landmark building in Durban.

What is the secret recipe that has made your restaurant so successful over the years?If you won’t tell us the secret recipe, tell us your favourite dish on the menu instead… ;)
Ah, there are 2 signature 9th Avenue dishes that have been untouched since 9th opened 19 years ago. The Pear Salad and the Butternut Ravioli – we could never take them off the menu.

Your Journey During COVID-19

COVID-19 has taken a toll on restaurants, how you been dealing with the stringent lockdown regulations?
It was a huge shock to go from being fully booked everyday to nothing and now slowly working our way back to being busier. The no alcohol ban is terrible for us as that is a huge chunk of our income. We have obviously had to reduce our staff – as that is our biggest expense. We have tried as far as possible to keep everyone’s job even if it’s less hours. Then when it opens up with can start increasing the hours again.

How has your view on the industry changed since the COVID-19 outbreak?
I think it’s shown the world how broken the restaurant industry is. Worldwide restaurants have closed. So far in SA there’ s been over 700 restaurants that have closed and by the end of 2020 that will be more. Between running costs and rentals, the restaurant industry is on its knees. Restaurants actually need to charge properly if they hope to survive long term, the problem is people undercutting each other in the hope to survive. On a positive note restaurants that were not following proper hygiene protocols hopefully now will be.

Of all the regulations, which one do you think should be removed and how would it benefit the industry?
The only one that would benefit restaurants would be to lift the alcohol ban. People don’t mind eating early and they are happy to sign in and do all the hygiene but they would really like a glass of wine with dinner.

Looking Towards the Future

You not only operate a successful restaurant, you uplift other women and support local business AND promote healthy living through the Dr Broth brand – are there any projects in the pipeline?
Yes, we do have projects in the pipeline but that’s still in the negotiation phase.

It is so important to keep immunity up and look after your general wellness during this pandemic, could you tell us a little more about Dr Broth?

What was the inspiration?
Dr Broth was started with my need to lose weight after having my daughter. I spent a lot of time researching various diets and bone broth kept popping up as a miracle cure. I couldn’t find a decent bone broth so I got my husband to make one. It worked so well, my friends begged us to make them bone broth and that is how Dr Broth was born. We spent time with a nutritionist so that every ingredient in Dr Broth has a medical purpose. It's not just a bone broth but a health elixir and that’s why it’s amazing for immunity and nutrition.

When did you start the brand?
2 year’s ago

How has the brand grown since you started producing it?
We now sell it all over South Africa and added a vegan broth – which the same principle applied as our bone broth. It’s not just a vegan soup but boosts immunity and micronutrients.

There are some incredible recipes on the Dr Broth website, which one is your favourite?
To be honest I actually love having it neat – and just add a little extra cayenne pepper and some spring onions. It reminds me of my Ouma’s Chicken broth she’d make with dumplings. Also, it’s a great base for smoothies and don’t tell my daughter but I make her ice lollies with it!