A guide to eating out in Francistown)
The scent of sizzling boerewors drifts across the spacious yard like smoke from a campsite braai and brings with it the promise of lunch.
Music, laughter, and carefree chatter accompany the enticing aroma.
For 35-year-old Sizwe Hlanti and his business partner, Tankiso Phodiso Odirile, 33, this feel-good set-up is precisely what they had in mind when they started La Rossa Cookout in late 2017.
Located along the A2 road on the outskirts of Bluetown, opposite the hiking spot to Maun, the small establishment has positioned itself as a big favourite in the area.
Famous for their juicy braai meat, crispy chicken, and special homemade marinade, La Rossa has already undergone several menu changes as the owners look to find a winning recipe.
“Initially we focused on traditional foods: so your pork, beef, seswa, oxtail, cow’s head with starches such as pap and rice. Regrettably, that didn’t prove as popular as we’d hoped so we decided to incorporate Western cuisine as well. This was mostly pasta and salads,” explains Hlanti, taking time out from the kitchen to chat to Ghetto Grub under the canvas of La Rossa’s leafy outdoor eating area.
Unfortunately, just as the restaurant was really starting to build momentum, Covid-19 came crashing in like a wrecking ball. Leftovers and waste rose as, due to new restrictions on eating out, customer numbers plummeted.
This prompted another re-jig.
“In November last year, we decided to concentrate on fast food. We sell boerewors hot dogs, fried chips as well as the old favourites: beef and chicken and will introduce burgers soon. Pap is now the only starch we offer while there’s also the option of a fresh green salad for our more health-conscious customers.”
The revamped menu has certainly won the heart (and stomach) of Oetsho Bato.
The 33-year-old Bluetown native is perhaps La Rossa’s most loyal customer.
“I’m here probably three times a week; the food is lekker and the hot dogs are the best in town! It’s my way of supporting two youth who are doing their best despite these tough times. This is a cool place, you see a lot of different faces because of the bus stop; I really enjoy chilling here,” gushes Bato.
Due to its proximity to the main road, the eatery has also emerged as an unlikely favourite amongst tourists, with international clients often popping in for a meal.
“Some of the standout guests include a group from Romania, three Italian cyclists, and a German couple heading to the Delta on holiday,” Hlanti reveals proudly.
As well as the fabulous food, a huge part of La Rossa’s appeal is the friendly staff (currently they have a team of five) and the chilled-out atmosphere that oozes through the venue.
“Tankiso and I wanted to create a vibrant space where people, both young and old, could come to eat, drink and chill. Our logo is ‘Fun has Begun’ and I’d like to think we’ve achieved that; it’s a safe place with a laidback vibe, the perfect setting for those looking to unwind and relax,” highlights Hlanti, a man born and bred in Francistown.
Indeed, La Rossa’s reputation as a late-night hangout spot, where revelers could gather and enjoy reasonably priced drinks with music pumping in the background, was rising steadily when the pandemic hit.
“Things were going really well. We used to have a DJ at the weekends and the place would be packed. The Covid regulations and curfew are killing us; we used to stay open till midnight but now have to shut up shop at 8. Also, we’re only permitted to sell alcohol on a take-away basis as sit-ins for booze remain banned.”
However, like the pictures of the great American boxer, Muhammed Ali that adorn the restaurant’s interior, Hlanti is not one to give up without a fight.
“We live in hope that tomorrow will be better!” declares the former John Mackenzie pupil, defiantly adding he still has big plans for the enterprise.
“We want to turn this into a franchise with outlets in Palapye and Gaborone, as well as introduce accommodation and expand our current F/town premises.”
The business also survives by catering for events, including both government and private functions, while the venue is available for hire at a standard P600 fee. For more information, check out their Facebook page: ‘La Rossa Cookout BW’.